Cheng Library Sponsors Silk Strike Centennial Conference
On May 20- 21, the Cheng Library sponsored a two-day conference on the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike.
On May 20, 1913, a Tuesday, the striking women of the Paterson mills were anticipating gathering that evening for their weekly women’s meeting. As they assembled outside Turn Hall, they were surprised and dismayed to find the hall closed and surrounded by police officers. “On to Haledon!” one woman exclaimed. Undeterred and determined, the women proceeded to an alternate site in Haledon where they could assemble peacefully.
This site was outside the home of Pietro and Maria Botto which at that time was surrounded by fields and farmland. It was the place where, the previous Sunday, 18,000 strikers had met. The following Sunday, the crowd had swelled to nearly 25,000 persons. As keynote speaker, Dr. Steve Golin noted, the enormous Sunday gatherings during the month of May at the Botto house demonstrated the resolve and solidarity of the striking workers. The Botto House is now a National Landmark and the American Labor Museum.
These intimate stories about small but significant events of the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913 were shared at a conference observing the centennial of the strike. Local history and personal vignettes were woven into the larger picture of the broader aims and goals of the strike along with the collective aspirations of the striking workers.
The two-day conference took place on May 20-21, 2013 at William Paterson University. The conference commemorated the centennial of the six-month strike that took place in Paterson from February to July of 1913.
In her welcoming address, President Waldron mentioned the University’s long association with the City of Paterson where it was founded in 1855 as well as her personal connection to the city from her paternal great-grandparents who were married and resided in Paterson.
The program featured historian Dr. Steve Golin as keynote speaker. Dr. Golin, professor emeritus at Bloomfield College, is the author of the central resource about the strike, The Fragile Bridge: Paterson Silk Strike, 1913. He discussed the major events that precipitated the strike and the consequences that followed it. He spoke about the roles of prominent people, like Bill Haywood, leader of the International Workers of the World (IWW), and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, activist, feminist and labor leader of the IWW.
Dr. Golin also discussed local activists such as Hannah Silverman, a 17-year-old picket line captain who was arrested and released five times during the strike. Her natural talent for public speaking inspired the crowds she addressed and contributed to an understanding and appreciation of the plight of the striking workers.
The first day of the conference consisted of a plenary session followed by several individual sessions featuring professors, researchers and historians from universities nationwide. The day concluded with a panel discussion and a visit to the art exhibit “The Indignant Eye: Prints of Social Protest” held at the University Galleries in the Ben Shahn Center and curated by Prof. Alejandro Anreus of the Art Department.
The program for the second day consisted of a guided tour of several sites significant to the silk strike, including the Great Falls National Historical Park, the American Labor Museum / Botto House, and the Lambert Castle Museum.
Richard Kearney and Bob Wolk of the Cheng Library took leading roles on the conference planning committee, with responsibility for organizing the conference day and tour day respectively. The event also received generous support from the Friends of the Cheng Library, the Offices of the President and the Provost, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the History Department.
May 23, 2013