Mission & History
Mission & History
It shall be the Purpose of the Illinois Labor History Society to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois Region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present.
History of Organization
The Illinois Labor History Society (ILHS) was formed on August 5, 1969 in the office of the late Joseph M. Jacobs, attorney for the Chicago Teachers Union, Meatcutters, and other labor organizations. Over the years, the ILHS has advocated for the protection of important Illinois labor history sites, published guidebooks by the later Professor William Adelman, and provided labor history programs and tours for thousands of union members, students, teachers, and members of the general public.
Here are some of the highlights of more than forty years of telling the people’s history:
1972 - Led the successful application to place the Union Miners Cemetery and Mother Jones Monument at Mount Olive on the National Register of Historic Places.
1972 - Supported the successful drive for Chicago City Council to name the Stone Gate of the Chicago Stockyards as an official Chicago Landmark.
1972 - Published “Touring Pullman” by William Adelman, a tour guide to points of interest at the scene of the Great Pullman Strike of 1894.
1974 - As part of the American Bicentennial Celebration, commissioned the painting of a large exterior mural entitled “The Packinghouse Worker” by William Walker (located at 49th and Wabash” funded by the Illinois Arts Council.
1974 - In collaboration with the Film Department of Columbia college, produced “The Memorial Day Massacre of 1937,” a 17-minute documentary film containing the unedited version the Paramount newsreel of the event.
1976 - Opened a major traveling photographic exhibition, “On the Job in Illinois: Then and Now” as a Bicentennial project funded by the Illinois Humanities Council and the Bicentennial Commission of Illinois. Recruited to document workers at their jobs in industrial settings throughout Illinois were 30 professional photographers. The exhibition also included images reflecting the history of labor in Illinois. 100 photographs were selected for a display which was toured to labor organizations throughout the state.
1976 - Published “Haymarket Revisited” by William Adelman, second of the ILHS tour guide series.
1977 - Held a conference at the University of Chicago on the 1877 Railroad Strike or “Great Upheaval,” as it related to the neighborhoods of Pilsen and the west side of Chicago.
1977 - Received the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History
1978 - Held a dinner “Tribute to the Italian American Workers in Illinois, 1880-1978” with guest of honor, Peter Fosco, a third generation leader of the Laborers International Union.
1979 - Published “Pilsen and the West Side” by William Adelman, third of the ILHS tour guide series.
1979 - Held a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Joe Hill and initiated petition drive asking the Governor of the State of Utah to issue a posthumous pardon for the renowned labor musician. The drive would collect more than 20,000 signatures, including some from overseas. Although the Governor refused to see the delegation delivering the petition, it was placed in the archives of the Utah State Historical Society.
1981 - Began a project to tell history of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, which resulted in the 1988 book “Union Brotherhood, Union Town,” authored by Richard Schneirov and Thomas J. Suhrubur.
1981 - Founded the ILHS Union Hall of Honor, at a conference entitled “100 years of Organized Labor in Illinois,” held at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The first two inductees were Joseph Keenan of the IBEW and Sybil Mollie Levitas, long-time secretary to President John Fitzpatrick and Secretary-Treasurer Edward Nockels of the Chicago Federation of Labor. Since then dozens of labor heroes have been inducted into the Union Hall of Honor, and the Hall of Honor dinner has become a highlight on the annual Illinois labor calendar.
1983 - Supported and funded the production of the film “Palace Cars and Paradise” directed by Martin Buechley, telling the story of the Pullman car workers.
1984 - Sponsored a “A Grand Get Together” with Pete Seeger and friends at the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Hall.
1986 - Joined the Chicago Federation of Labor to co-sponsor a major event to commemorate the Centennial Haymarket affair. Held at the University of Illinois in Chicago, the commemoration included music, scholarship and drama. Mayor Harold Washington proclaimed May “Labor History Month in Chicago” and dedicated Ashland Avenue from Van Buren north to Randolph as “Union Row.”
1987 - Held an annual meeting that included part of the play “Carry On/Lucy Parson” by Virginia Smith, starring Alma Washington.
1992 - After twenty years of petitions, secured Chicago City Council approval for Landmark status for site of the Haymarket Tragedy on May 4, 1886.
1994 - Held several events to commemorate the centennial of the Great Pullman Strike of 1894. Sponsored a series of presentations by members of Actor’s Equity representing leaders of the Pullman Strike. The Chicago Federation Labor held a Labor Day parade in Pullman, on Chicago’s south side.
1995 - Launched the ILHS website, a platform that has continued to serve as a valuable resource for researchers, teachers, and people interested in learning more about our state’s rich labor history.
1996 - Under the slogan “Chicago Remembers Haymarket” held a ceremony to place a plaque at the site of the Haymarket Tragedy of 1886.
1997 - Opened the “Labor History Museum” at the ILHS offices, made possible by special donations and contributions from individuals and labor groups.
1998 - Over 1,000 people attended a ceremony unveiling the plaque naming the Haymarket Martyrs Monument in Forest Home Cemetery as a National Historic Landmark.
2000 - Irish Rail Workers Monument dedicated in Funk's Grove.
2002 - Published “Fiery Struggle: Illinois Fire Fighters Build a Union, 1901-1985” by Mike Matejka, supported by the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois.
2002 - Published “Mother Jones and The Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive” edited by Les Orear and published in support from the Mike Walsh Fund.
2004 - Supported the successful naming a city park at 4712 W. Belmont Avenue after Lucy Ella Gonzales Parsons by the Chicago Park district.
2004 - Helped realize the long effort to place a sculpture memorializing the Haymarket at the site of the 1886 tragedy. The bronze memorial was designed by Mary Brogger and selected from designs submitted by seven sculptors.
2005 - Sponsored a photographic and audio exhibition titled “Daily Meaning: Life Inside America’s Service Industries.” The show was produced by Ben Calhoun of Public Radio station WBEZ. Located at the Peace Museum in Garfield Park, the exhibition was so popular that it was extended.
2007 - Supported the effort to place a life-size statue of Samuel Gompers at the park named for him at the park named for the labor leader on the northwest side of Chicago.
2009 - Participated in the centennial commemoration of the Cherry Mine Disaster, where 259 miners lost their lives in a tragic fire. A new memorial was unveiled listing the names of those who lost their lives
2015 - Supported the successful designation of Pullman as National Monument, part of the National Park System.