Beacon Street Diary blog

Washington Gladden and the 19th Century Labor Question: A Social Gospel Response

One of our board members, Norm Erlendson, has gifted us with an essay about Rev. Washington Gladden and his role in advocating for fair labor practices in 19th century America.

The old adage, "the more things change, the more they remain the same" is certainly true of the plight of the working poor and their struggle for a living wage in the present day, as well as in the Gilded Age. Then, as now, the call by workers for increased wages and benefits did not usually receive a sympathetic hearing by employers or the general public. Then as now, the power of labor was weak in comparison to the power of capital. In the 1870s and '80s the American Labor Movement began to gain momentum on a national scale around a list of demands to improve the lives of the millions of wage earning men and women across all trades and industries. Unionization was a response to cutthroat business practices which kept wages at rock bottom levels.

Read the full article.


photograph of child workers at the Washington Cotton Mills in Fries, VA (1911) by Lewis Hine, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons