The Shoeleather History Project

Stories from Hartford's Grassroots

Teaching Working Class History to Our Kids

Beginning in 2018, Connecticut schools gained a new resource to teach students about the history of the American working class.  Centuries of struggle by workers and their unions to build … Continue reading

October 26, 2018 · Leave a comment

We March with Jesse Jackson to Rebuild America

Hartford and Bridgeport have long been known as the poorest cities in the country, but there is another statistic that completes the poverty picture. At the state’s southern tip is … Continue reading

July 2, 2016 · 1 Comment

The Rebel Girl on May Day

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn celebrated May Day with Connecticut textile workers on May 1, 1912. This little-known speech was a special moment, uniting the radical idealism of the Industrial Workers of the … Continue reading

April 30, 2016 · 1 Comment

Young Boot Blacks Struggle to Survive

A story circulated in Hartford toward the end of the 19th century about a young boot black who worked on a steamship. Perhaps he found the competition on dry land … Continue reading

February 27, 2016 · 1 Comment

Labor & Suffrage

The small plaque in the south corner of the State Capitol identifies the names of early 20th century Connecticut women who campaigned for the right to vote. One of those … Continue reading

November 13, 2015 · 1 Comment

The Woman in Red

If she hadn’t worn her red dress to the picket line, Amelia Sabich might have lived a normal, quiet life. But then, she would never have inspired thousands of workers–including … Continue reading

March 10, 2015 · Leave a comment

Mayor Mark Twain

Could Mark Twain have become mayor of Hartford? Apparently, the Knights of Labor thought so. This 19th century labor union considered running “Mayor Clemens” in March of 1886. The notion … Continue reading

February 17, 2014 · 1 Comment

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: Lessons from a Tragedy

Sol Bidek’s family lived in a tenement on Market Street in Hartford. They waited several days for word  from New York.  Finally, they got the news: their sister was safe. … Continue reading

January 19, 2014 · 1 Comment

Baseball Crazy

No ESPN, no sports radio, no internet scores. In 1913, all Hartford baseball fans had was the Megaphone Man. He stood in front of the old Hartford Courant building on … Continue reading

January 13, 2014 · 5 Comments

More Hidden History of the Wobblies

A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies: Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Connecticut is a new book that documents the organizing efforts of this unique labor group … Continue reading

January 10, 2014 · 5 Comments

The Gandhi Strike

It’s been more than 75 years since the legendary Flint sit-down strike by Michigan autoworkers, a watershed event in American labor history. The 44 day strike had a powerful impact … Continue reading

November 23, 2013 · 1 Comment

We Won’t Starve Quietly

At the height of the Great Depression, thousands of Hartford people were thrown out of work. Like the rest of the country, the 1929 stock market crash meant disaster for … Continue reading

November 12, 2013 · Leave a comment

Jay Gould: Octopus of the Wires

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half,” said Jay Gould, probably the most ruthless “robber baron” of the 19th century. It was not … Continue reading

November 9, 2013 · Leave a comment

They fought for me and I fought for them

When he was about eight years old, Ernie DeMaio came home after school– more than once– with a black eye. He had been wearing the button his mother gave him, … Continue reading

November 9, 2013 · 1 Comment

Why the Union Vote Counts

Will the union vote count on election day? For the last one hundred years it has, in Hartford and around the country. And every politician knows it, even if the … Continue reading

October 25, 2013 · Leave a comment

The Newsies Strike Back

The front page photo was startling, even to people who had lived in the city all their lives. On May 4, 1909, the Hartford Evening Post showed an alley just … Continue reading

July 30, 2013 · 3 Comments

Connecticut’s Jim Crow Law

A dozen farmworkers entered Windsor Town Hall, quietly following Erwyn Glanz, the local constable who had given them a ride. Most likely, this was the first time the men had … Continue reading

July 9, 2013 · Leave a comment

This Land is Your Land

In October 1944, weekend entertainment options for Hartford residents were limited. A family might take in the fall foliage, or just as likely, gather around the radio and tune in … Continue reading

July 3, 2013 · 1 Comment

Union Brew

In 1901, all Hartford saloons sold a glass of beer for a nickel. But if a thirsty man bought the same beer from a shop without a union card hanging … Continue reading

June 17, 2013 · Leave a comment

Hartford Sex Trade: Prostitutes and Politics

Ann Dunn and Caroline McElroy were unceremoniously escorted to the police station where they were charged with prostitution. The arrest of the two Hartford women came in the summer of … Continue reading

June 16, 2013 · Leave a comment

Peace Work with a Union Label

“While this war was on, you appropriated billions for the war. How much are you willing to appropriate for peace and for jobs?” When Michael Rosenberg challenged U.S. government priorities … Continue reading

May 14, 2013 · Leave a comment

A Feeling of Solidarity

It was March, 1912. Emily Pierson and her sister suffragists were on a statewide tour of Connecticut, putting up posters, distributing handbills, speaking wherever they could find a space. Pierson’s … Continue reading

May 10, 2013 · 2 Comments

Lincoln: “There is a Strike!”

March, 1860. Abraham Lincoln considers an invitation to Hartford, determined to widen his appeal as a possible presidential candidate. “Do not fail, for the sake of Connecticut,” his anxious host … Continue reading

May 7, 2013 · Leave a comment

Solidarity and 75 cents

It started out as a dispute over seventy-five cents and ended up as a test of wills between hundreds of Hartford construction workers and their employer. Decades before working people … Continue reading

May 6, 2013 · Leave a comment

Hobo Life

On the Big Rock Candy Mountain  /All the cops have wooden legs/ The bulldogs all have rubber teeth/ And the hens lay soft boiled eggs… The original hobo’s version of this … Continue reading

May 4, 2013 · Leave a comment

The Shameful Legacy of Sam Colt

Some Hartford people are pretty desperate for heroes. What other explanation could there be for the recent attempts to glorify gunmaker Samuel Colt?  His 19th century factory is now a … Continue reading

May 3, 2013 · 3 Comments

Two, Three, Many Rosa Parks

Sixty-one years ago, Rosa Parks was removed from a city bus by a Montgomery, Alabama police officer. Her arrest sparked a successful 381-day bus boycott by African Americans in that … Continue reading

May 3, 2013 · 1 Comment

Factory Girls Strike for Their Health

The factory owner demanded sixty hours a week from the young women employed at the Government Envelope Works on South Ann Street. But apparently this was not enough for the … Continue reading

May 2, 2013 · Leave a comment

Sand Hogs

We might drive over the Bulkeley Bridge every day, but we seldom think about the sweat and toil it took to produce the link between Hartford and East Hartford. Even … Continue reading

May 2, 2013 · Leave a comment

One Big Union in Hartford

In a few rooms above Giolito’s Restaurant on Market Street, not too far from the Hartford Police Station, Sam Bernowsky hung the charter for the local branch of the Industrial … Continue reading

May 2, 2013 · Leave a comment

The Peddler & the Shoemaker

What would have happened if Bartolomeo Vanzetti had found work in Hartford? He traveled to our city, probably in 1909, looking for employment. According to his biography, Vanzetti found some … Continue reading

May 2, 2013 · 1 Comment

The Tao of Danny

Some of the sayings of Danny Perez, union organizer.  Principles that signify the fundamental true nature of the organizing world.  ““The Tao of heaven is to take from those who … Continue reading

May 1, 2013 · 1 Comment

May Day !

Forget Loyalty Day, Health Day, Moving Day.  May 1st is a celebration for working people all around the world, and it should be reclaimed as a genuine American holiday. Depending … Continue reading

April 30, 2013 · 1 Comment

Hartford’s City Mother

 The small plaque in the south corner of the State Capitol identifies the names of early 20th century Connecticut women who campaigned for the right to vote. One of those … Continue reading

April 18, 2013 · Leave a comment

Sam Clemens, Union Man

He is best known for his American classics Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but Hartford resident Samuel Clemens– alias Mark Twain– was also a staunch advocate and … Continue reading

April 18, 2013 · Leave a comment

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The Shoeleather History Project