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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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"In Memory of Fannie Sellins & Joe Starzeleski"; Union Cemetery, Arnold, Pa. Photo courtesy of Fannie Sellins Memorial
At the turn-of-the-century in the Allegheny County of Pittsburgh, union organizers like Fannie Sellins led the efforts of workmen for decent wages, fair treatment and safe working conditions.

Sellins organized steelworkers and mine workers in the Allegheny valley. She was born in 1872 in New Orleans. After the death of her husband, a garment worker in St. Louis, she got a job working in the same industry to support her four children.

The organizer rose through the ranks and became Secretary of the Garment Workers local where her efforts attracted the attention of the United Mine Workers of America. Sellin’s unwavering belief in the workers combined with a tenacious personality inspired people around her.

She eventually settled in New Kensington, Pa., where she became involved in the union's effort to organize the miners of the valley. Living in shanties with no bathtubs and working an 84-hour work week was routine.

In July 1919, the employees of the Allegheny Steel Coal companies went on strike for better wages and improved working conditions. Six weeks into the strike, Fannie Sellins was attending to the women and children of the striking miners when she was shot and killed.

"Mrs. Fannie Sellins, who was an organizer on the staff of the United Mine Workers of District 5, and a striker named Starzelski, were shot down in cold blood, without provocation and without excuse. They fell victims of a gang of gunmen mine guards, who posed as deputy sheriffs...Mrs. Sellins was well known throughout all of the region as an angel of mercy among the families of mine workers and other laboring men,” reported the United Mine Workers Journal on Sept. 15, 1919.

Four gunmen went on trial in Pittsburgh for the murder in June 1923 and all four were acquitted. Afterwards, a photo taken in the morgue of Fannie Sellin’s bullet-ridden body hung in every union headquarters as a reminder of the sacrifice and cost of the union movement in Pennsylvania.

Fannie Sellins is buried at Union Cemetery in Arnold, Pa. At the entrance to the graveyard is a State Historical and Museum marker honoring the fallen leader. A UMWA monument near the grave, dedicated in 1920, has become the site for annual Labor Day commemorations.

"Had the employers of the past generation dealt fairly with men, there would have been no trade unions," Stanley Baldwin said.

The struggles and loss of human lives in bringing about fairness in the labor market would go on and on for years to come.

No holiday is more reflective of the American Dream than Labor Day. It’s a day when the importance of hard work as the key factor in being successful gets rewarded for most people with a day off.

Whether you call it the "work ethic" or "competitive spirit," that energy is the fundamental ingredient fueling the American way of life.

At one point in history, Labor Day was tied to the militant labor movement. Today, people see Labor Day as the last big celebration of summer, one last weekend of warm weather and relaxing before autumn descends.

"Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing," Theodore Roosevelt said.

Labor Day means different things to different people. Some of us remember being kids at the Labor Day parade and standing three-deep in hot, muggy weather to catch a glimpse of the local high school band marching past in step to the music.

Thirteen-year-old Erin Gingell, explains it this way, "Labor Day is a day off school for me, I think it will mean more when I grow up.”

The first Labor Day festivities and parade took place on Sept. 5, 1882 in New York City. More than 10,000 workers gathered and marched around Union Square.

Similar to today's celebrations, the day was highlighted with picnics, dancing, fireworks and a popular 19th century pastime, oratory. Acclaimed as a huge success, the event took place annually after that.

Peter J. McGuire one of the leaders of the Knights of Labor and President and Founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America is credited with originating the idea. McGuire was the epitome of a 19th century Irish-American immigrant. His career began at age 11 as a laborer in piano and furniture factories.

Growing up in a family of 10 children, he needed to help out however he could. The fruits of McGuire’s efforts came years later when he convinced the Central Labor Union to set aside one day a year to honor workers. In 1884, the General Assembly of the Knights of Labor designated the first Monday of September as Labor Day.

"I suggested the first Monday in September of every year for such a holiday, as it would come at the most pleasant season time of the year, nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, and would fill a wide gap in the chronology of legal holidays,” McGuire said.

In 1887, Oregon became the first state to grant legal holiday status to Labor Day and President Grover Cleveland signed a congressional bill on June 28, 1894, making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia.

Quotes On Working

My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it.

Abraham Lincoln

Life gives nothing to man without labor.


Labor, if it were not necessary for the existence would be indispensable for the happiness of man.

Samuel Johnson

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.


If my doctor told me I had only six months to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.

Isaac Asimov

You seem to have no real purpose in life and won't realize at the age of twenty-two that for a man, life means work and hard work if you mean to succeed.

Jennie Churchill to her 23-year-old son Winston.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy--and Jill a wealthy widow.

Evan Esar

Do your work with your whole heart and you will succeed--there is so little competition.

Elbert Hubbard

In order that people be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it: They must not do too much of it: And they must have a sense of success in it.

John Ruskin

A man's work is his dilemma; his job is his bondage, but it also gives him a fair share of his identity and keeps him from being a bystander in somebody else's world.

Melvin Madocks

I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.

Nora Watson, from Studs Terkel's book "Working"

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