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William Bauchop Wilson

William Bauchop Wilson


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William Bauchop Wilson, the son of a coal miner, was born in Blantyre, Scotland, on 2nd April, 1862. His father, Adam Wilson, was an active trade unionist and in 1868 his family was evicted from their company-owned house. Blacklisted, Wilson was unable to find work in Scotland and in 1870 the family emigrated to the United States.

The Wilson family settled in Arnot, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. William's father was barely literate and they used to attend lessons together at Hugh Kerwin's cobbler shop. Wilson later wrote: "As I look back on the group of men that formed our little circle in the early days at Arnot, many of them classed as illiterate, I am still amazed at the knowledge they possessed of many religious, social, economic, political, historical and scientific questions, their wisdom and tolerance in discussing them, and their wide acquaintance with good literature. It was a splendid school for any boy to attend."

At the age of nine William began work with his father in the local coal mine. In 1874 the two men joined the Miners and Laborers Benevolent Association. When they went on the strike later that year the family were evicted from their company owned home. However, the miners won the dispute when it was agreed that in future they would have the freedom to shop at non-company stores. At the age of fourteen Wilson agreed to become secretary of the local Miners' and Laborers' Benevolent Association.

Wilson remained active in the union until he was sacked and blacklisted in 1882. Forced to leave Tioga County, Wilson worked as a lumber jack, wood chopper, bark peeler and a log driver. Later he found employment as a fireman on the Illinois Central Railroad and as a typesetter in Blossburg, Pennsylvania.

On 7th June, 1883, Wilson married Agnes Williamson. Over the next few years the couple had eleven children. During this period he worked for the Amalgamated Association of Miners and the Knights of Labor. In January 1890, he helped establish the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). The following year he became a member of the UMWA's National Executive Board.

Wilson led the campaign to try to get a eight-hour workday. This brought him into conflict with the mine owners and he was arrested and imprisoned several times. Between July, 1899 and February, 1900, Wilson and Mary 'Mother' Jones led a bitter strike in Tioga County that led to a lockout and evictions from company-owned homes. Soon afterwards, John Mitchell, the president of the United Mine Workers of America, appointed Wilson as Secretary-Treasurer of the organization.

Wilson was member of the Democratic Party and in November 1906 was elected to Congress for the 15th Congressional District (Lycoming, Clinton, Potter and Tioga counties). Soon after his election Wilson introduced a bill to appoint a committee to investigate mining disasters. This committee eventually developed into the Bureau of Mines and Mining.

Reelected in November 1908, Wilson served on the Committee on Patents and the Committee on Ventilation and Acoustics during his second term in Congress. He also served on the committee that organized the 1910 Census. After the 1910 election Wilson was appointed chairman of the Labor Committee. However, Wilson lost the 1912 election when the Socialist Party candidate split the left-wing vote.

On 4th March 1913, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Wilson as America's first Secretary of Labor. During the First World War Wilson had the task of coordinating the movement of 6 million workers from non-essential to essential industries. He was also a member of America's Council of National Defense.

In 1917 the American government became concerned about the conviction and imprisonment of Tom Mooney and Warren Billings. Both men were trade union activists in San Francisco, and it was claimed they had not received a fair trial. Wilson delegated John Densmore, the Director of General Employment, to investigate the case. By secretly installing a dictaphone in the private office of the District Attorney it was discovered that Mooney and Billings had been framed by Charles Fickert and Martin Swanson.

The report was leaked to Fremont Older who published it in the San Francisco Call on 23rd November 1917. There were protests all over the world about this miscarriage of justice and President Woodrow Wilson called on William Stephens, the Governor of California, to look again at the case. Two weeks before Tom Mooney was scheduled to hang, Stephens commuted his sentence to life imprisonment in San Quentin. However, the two men remained in prison for another twenty-two years.

After leaving office in March 1921 Wilson became a member of the International Joint Commission created to prevent disputes regarding the use of the boundary waters between the United States and Canada.

William Bauchop Wilson died on 25th May, 1934.

We moved to Haughhead in the suburbs of Hamilton. There I witnessed the only mine explosion I ever saw. I was playing with a number of children not far from the pit. In the midst of our games we were startled by a loud roar, and a great cloud of black smoke and rubbish shot out of the shaft as though propelled from the mouth of a cannon. Immediately there was consternation in the village. Women and children ran, excitedly screaming, to the pithead. Fortunately there were a number of experienced miners at hand. The mines had been shut down for repairs and most of the miners were at home. It was known, however, that there were eight men in the pit making repairs. A rescue party was organized at once. It was comprised of my father, two uncles and two other men. Shortly after they had been lowered into the pit, a second explosion took place. They were all given up for lost. Yet they were safe. Their search for the other men had taken them into a place where there was only one opening... and the explosion swept past them leaving them uninjured...This was in 1868, but young as I was it left a deep impression on my mind.

Mr. Wilson took charge of the situation (1899-1900 strike) resulting from a prolonged lockout. A change of managers of a mine property and the abrogation by the new manager of the conference system...resulted in a lockout. It was a long and bitter contest in which Mr. Wilson, while steadily working to bring the opposing forces together and to re-establish the conference plan, sometimes lost the confidence of some of the more radical of the men he was leading.

After months of terrible hardships the strike was about won. The mines were not working. The spirit of the men was splendid. William B. Wilson had come home from the western part of the state. I was staying at his home. The family had gone to bed. We sat up late talking over matters when there came a knock at the door. A very cautious knock.

"Come in," said Mr. Wilson.

Three men entered. The looked at me uneasily and Mr. Wilson asked me to step in an adjoining room. They talked the strike over and called Wilson's attention to the fact that there were mortgages on his little home, held by the bank which was owned by the coal company, and they said, "We will take the mortgage off your home and give you $25,000 in cash if you will just leave and the strike die out."

I shall never forget his reply: "Gentlemen, if you come to visit my family the hospitality of the whole house is yours. But if you come to bribe me with dollars to betray my manhood and my brothers who trust me, I want you to leave this door and never come here again."

The strike lasted a few weeks longer. Meantime, Wilson, when strikers were evicted, cleaned out his barn and took care of the evicted miners until homes could be provided. One by one he killed his chickens and his hogs. Everything that he had he shared. He ate dry bread and drank chicory (instead of coffee). He knew every hardship that the rank and file of the organization knew. We do not have such leaders now."

Union men generally believe that there is no such thing as an open shop except on a small and insignificant scale. An operation either becomes all union or all non-union and is ... promulgated principally by antagonistic employers who do not hesitate to discharge a union man whenever they find him in their establishment.... It is generally acknowledged that the aggressive power of a union in periods of industrial activity and its defensive strength during periods of depression maintain a higher standard of living not only for themselves but for nonunion men in the same line of work than would be obtained with out it. Reasoning from that standpoint, they insist that common honesty should teach the person who receives the benefits brought about by the union to pay his share to maintain it.

As one reads the testimony and studies the way in which the cases were conducted one is apt to wonder at many things - at the apparent failure of the district attorney's office to conduct a real investigation at the scene of the crime; at the easy adaptability of some of the star witnesses; at the irregular methods pursued by the prosecution in identifying the various defendants; at the sorry type of men and women brought forward to prove essential matters of fact in a case of the gravest importance; at the seeming inefficacy of even a well-established alibi; at the sangfroid with which the prosecution occasionally discarded an untenable theory to adopt another not quite so preposterous; at the refusal of the public prosecutor to call as witnesses people who actually saw the falling of the bomb; in short, at the general flimsiness and improbability of the testimony adduced, together with a total absence of anything that looks like a genuine effort

to arrive at the facts in the case.

These things, as one reads and studies the complete record, are calculated to cause in the minds of even the most blasé a decided mental rebellion. The plain truth is, there is nothing about the cases to produce a feeling of confidence that the dignity and majesty of the law have been upheld. There is nowhere anything even remotely resembling consistency, the effect being that of patchwork, of incongruous makeshift, of clumsy and often desperate expediency.

It is not the purpose of this report to enter into a detailed analysis of the evidence presented in these cases - evidence which, in its general outlines at least, is already familiar to you in your capacity as president, ex officio, of the Mediation Commission. It will be enough to remind you that Billings was tried first; that in September 1916, he was found guilty, owing largely to the testimony of Estelle Smith, John McDonald, Mellie and Sadie Edeau, and Louis Rominger, all of whom have long since been thoroughly discredited; that when Mooney was placed on trial, in January of the year following, the prosecution decided, for reasons which were obvious, not to use Rominger or Estelle Smith, but to add to the list of witnesses a certain Frank C. Oxman, whose testimony, corroborative of the testimony of the two Edeau women, formed the strongest link in the chain of evidence against the defendant; that on the strength of this testimony Mooney was found guilty; that on February 24, 1917, he was sentenced to death; and that subsequently, to wit, in April of the same year, it was demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that Oxman, the prosecution's star witness, had attempted to suborn perjury and had thus in effect destroyed his own credibility.

The exposure of Oxman's perfidy, involving as it did the district attorney's office, seemed at first to promise that Mooney would be granted a new trial. The district attorney himself, Mr. Charles M. Fickert, when confronted with the facts, acknowledged in the presence of reputable witnesses that he would agree to a new trial. His principal assistant, Mr. Edward A. Cunha, made a virtual confession of guilty knowledge of the facts relating to Oxman, and promised, in a spirit of contrition, to see that justice should be done the man who had been convicted through Oxman's testimony. The trial judge, Franklin A. Griffin, one of the first to recognize the terrible significance of the expose, and keenly jealous of his own honor, lost no time in officially suggesting the propriety of a new trial. The attorney general of the state, Hon. Ulysses S. Webb, urged similar action in a request filed with the Supreme Court of California.

Matters thus seemed in a fair way to be rectified, when two things occurred to upset the hopes of the defense. The first was a sudden change of front on the part of Fickert, who now denied that he had ever agreed to a new trial, and whose efforts henceforth were devoted to a clumsy attempt to whitewash Oxman and justify his own motives and conduct throughout. The second was a decision of the Supreme Court to the effect that it could not go outside the record in the case - in other words, that judgment could not be set aside merely for the reason that it was predicated upon perjured testimony.

There are excellent grounds for believing that Fickert's sudden change of attitude was prompted by emissaries from some of the local corporate interests most bitterly opposed to union labor. It was charged by the Mooney defendants, with considerable plausibility, that Fickert was the creature and tool of these powerful interests, chief among which are the Chamber of Commerce and the principal public-service utilities of the city of San Francisco. In this connection it is of the utmost significance that Fickert should have entrusted the major portion of the investigating work necessary in these cases to Martin Swanson, a corporation detective, who for some time prior to the bomb explosion had been vainly attempting to connect these same defendants with other crimes of violence.

Since the Oxman exposure, the district attorney's case has melted steadily away until there is little left but an unsavory record of manipulation and perjury, further revelations having impeached the credibility of practically all the principal witnesses for the prosecution. And if any additional confirmation were needed of the inherent weakness of the cases against these codefendants, the acquittal of Mrs. Mooney on July 26, 1917, and of Israel Weinberg on the 27th of the following October would seem to supply it.

These acquittals were followed by the investigation of the Mediation Commission and its report to the President under date of January 16, 1918. The Commission's report, while disregarding entirely the question of the guilt or innocence of the accused, nevertheless found in the attendant circumstances sufficient grounds for uneasiness and doubt as to whether the two men convicted had received fair and impartial trials.

Ordinarily the relentless persecution of four or five defendants, even though it resulted in unmerited punishment for them all, would conceivably have but a local effect, which would soon be obliterated and forgotten. But in the Mooney case, which is nothing but a phase of the old war between capital and organized labor, a miscarriage of justice would inflame the passions of laboring men everywhere and add to a conviction, already too widespread, that workingmen can expect no justice from an orderly appeal to the established courts.

Yet this miscarriage of justice is in process of rapid consummation. One man is about to be hanged; another is in prison for life; the remaining defendants are still in peril of their liberty or lives, one or the other of which they will surely lose if some check is not given to the activities of this most amazing of district attorneys.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life 1.1
    • United Mine Workers official 1.2
    • House of Representatives 1.3
    • Secretary of Labor 1.4
    • Later years and death 1.5
    • Legacy 1.6

    Early life

    William B. Wilson was born in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the third child of Adam Black Wilson and Helen Nelson Bauchop Wilson, and the first surviving early childhood. [2] His father was a coal miner.

    During a mining strike in February 1868 the family was unceremoniously evicted from their company-owned home. [2] Adam Wilson unsuccessfully traveled around Scotland attempting to find other work. He ultimately decided to emigrate to the United States to find employment there, leaving his wife and three children to set sail across the Atlantic in April 1870. [2]

    Adam Wilson found his place in the bituminous coal region of Pennsylvania, setting in the little town of Arnot, located in Tioga County. [2] After finding a job, Adam Wilson sent for his wife and family, who — together with his father-in-law — departed Glasgow for America in August 1870. [2]

    Immediately after arriving in the United States William was enrolled in public school in Arnot. [3] This interval proved to be short-lived, however, as William's father began to suffer serious back problems and was unable to complete his work without assistance. Therefore, at the age of 9, William was removed from school and sent to help his father in the mines. [3] He would continue to work as a miner for nearly two decades.

    In 1874, young William engaged in labor organizing for the first time when he attempted to launch a union for the boys who worked as trappers, manually operating the ventilation of the mines. [3] When the fledgling union threatened a strike over a wage reduction, union representative Wilson discovered the limits of union solidarity in the face of superior force, when he was thrown over a foreman's knee and paddled. The incipient strike was broken. [3]

    The event proved to be a valuable learning experience for William, who later recalled in his unpublished memoirs:

    In 1876, when Wilson was just 14 years old, declining membership in the local Miners' and Laborers' Benevolent Association caused the remaining members of that group to select the energetic youngster as the organization's Secretary. [3] Wilson began to correspond with other labor activists around the country and the groundwork for his career as a trade union functionary was laid. [3]

    United Mine Workers official

    He served as international secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America from 1900 to 1908.

    House of Representatives

    He was elected as a Democrat to the Sixtieth, Sixty-first, and Sixty-second Congresses. He served as chairman of the United States House Committee on Labor during the Sixty-second Congress. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1912 and for election in 1914.

    Secretary of Labor

    He was appointed United States Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President Woodrow Wilson and served from March 5, 1913, to March 5, 1921. During the First World War, he was a member of the Council of National Defense.

    He was a member of the Federal Board for Vocational Education from 1914 to 1921 and served as chairman of the board in 1920 and 1921. He was appointed on March 4, 1921, a member of the International Joint Commission, created to prevent disputes regarding the use of the boundary waters between the United States and Canada, and served until March 21, 1921, when he resigned.

    In December 1916, Wilson addressed a conference on social insurance in which he discussed State developments in that field such as the provision of mothers’ pensions and workmen’s compensation, and also spoke of the possibility of the United States introducing old-age pensions and universal health insurance. [5]


    William Bauchop Wilson

    Wilson, who came from South Lanarkshire in Scotland , emigrated with his parents to the United States as a boy, where the family settled in Arnot ( Pennsylvania ) in 1870 . From the following year he had to work in coal mining , which he did until 1898. During this time he was also active in the UMWA trade union , as its international secretary-treasurer between 1900 and 1908.

    From March 4, 1907, William B. Wilson was a member of the US House of Representatives for the Democrats . He represented the 15th District of Pennsylvania until March 3, 1913, before retiring after missing re-election in 1912 He also missed the return planned for 1914. During his tenure in Congress , he was Chairman of the House Committee on Labor .

    Woodrow Wilson appointed his namesake after his election as US president in the federal cabinet, which William B. Wilson belonged from March 5, 1913 to March 5, 1921 as the first Secretary of Labor. Previously, these were trade and the Ministry of Labor in the Department of Commerce and Labor was united. During the First World War he was a member of the National Defense Council ( Council of National Defense ).

    Between 1914 and 1921 Wilson also worked for the Federal Board for Vocational Education , which he chaired from 1920 to 1921. After leaving the federal government, he was appointed to the International Joint Commission in early March 1921 , which was supposed to arbitrate disputes relating to the border waters between the United States and Canada however, he resigned his post on March 21, 1921 after just under three weeks.

    In 1926, William B. Wilson ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the US Senate , whereupon he ended his political career and devoted himself to business activities in mining and agriculture in Pennsylvania. He died in 1934 while on a train ride near Savannah.


    The Archivist’s Nook: Speaking Labor to Power – W. B. Wilson

    Photos of John Mitchell and W. B. Wilson from the pamphlet ‘Speech of William B. Wilson on Mitchell Day, October 29, 1901,’ Box 127, John Mitchell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

    Scottish immigrant and Pennsylvania coal miner, William Bauchop (W. B.) Wilson (1862-1934), became the voice of workers speaking to power as a founder of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union, the first representative for labor in Congress, and the first secretary of labor in the Woodrow Wilson (no relation) administration. Although not a Catholic, W.B. worked during the Gilded Age and Progressive era to advance labor’s cause along with many Catholics such as T. V. Powderly , John Mitchell , John W. Hayes , and ‘Mother’ Jones . Wilson’s papers reside with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, but his documentary trail is well represented in the papers of his Catholic colleagues at the Catholic University of America Archives , and the digital version available by subscription at The History Vault .

    W. B.’s family settled in the tightly controlled coal company town of Arnot, Tioga County, in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. In 1871, not yet 10, Wilson went to work in the mines. As a young man he began to organize his fellow workers, becoming blacklisted by mine owners, and thus working a series of jobs as lumberjack, mill hand, and railroad worker. Active in the Knights of Labor, where he was a supporter of leader Terence V. Powderly, as evidenced by his letter of March 5, 1895. W. B. was also a founder of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in 1890, serving on their National Executive Board though he remained an active coal miner until 1898. He served as UMWA Secretary-Treasurer, 1900-1908, working closely with President John Mitchell as his “wise and sagacious counselor”¹ during the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 , winning higher wages, shorter working days, and national recognition of the union. During this time he also became a colleague of celebrated labor activist, ‘the Miner’s Angel,’ Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones, who usually addressed him as “My Dear Comrade’ in her numerous letters.²

    Letter denouncing John W. Hayes, who had engineered the ouster of T. V. Powderly from leadership of the Knights of Labor. W. B. Wilson to T. V. Powderly, May 24, 1895, Box 48, T.V. Powderly Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

    W. B. went on to serve three terms, March 4, 1907-March 3, 1913, as a Democratic congressman from Tioga County. In Congress, he introduced legislation creating the Bureau of Mines and established a Department of Labor, which included the Bureau of Labor Statistics that had been headed successively by Catholic University professors Carroll D. Wright and Charles P. Neill . In 1912, W. B. became chairman of the House Labor Committee but was defeated for a fourth term in Congress. However, incoming Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson appointed W. B. as Secretary of Labor, heading the department he had created from March 5, 1913, to March 5, 1921. There he conciliated numerous potential strikes, regulate working conditions for women, and during World War I created an employment service moving more than six million workers to places where workers were needed. He also worked to provide insurance for military members and housing and higher wages for war workers. W. B. also worked diligently to restrain excesses of Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer during ‘The Red Scare’ regarding Communist threats in 1919-1920.

    W. B. left the Labor Department in 1921, where incidentally he had been reunited with his former Knights of Labor chief Powderly who now reported to the Secretary from his position as head of the department’s Information Bureau. Out of government, W. B. engaged in mining and agricultural pursuits near Blossburg , Tioga County . He made a foray back into politics for an unsuccessful run for the U. S. Senate in 1926. Thereafter, W. B. did some work as an arbiter in Illinois coal fields but otherwise lived in retirement until dying on a train returning from Florida near Savannah, Georgia, on May 25, 1934. He is buried beside his wife, fellow immigrant Agnes Williamson, whom he married in 1883, in Blossburg’s Arbon Cemetery, not far from other family members. He is remembered for speaking labor’s “truth to power.”³ He was also an occasional poet, poignantly expressing the immigrant’s longing in Memories (1916):

    Group portrait of Anthony Caminetti and T. V. Powderly flanking their boss, William B. Wilson, at the Labor Department, n.d., This photo and others of Wilson can be found in both the John Mitchell and T. V. Powderly online digital photo collections.

    True, there stood Penn’s forest as stately as ever,
    And, there, the wide meadows and tall growing grain,
    And down in the valley the swift flowing river
    Fast winding its way to the billowy main.
    Yet though my heart loves them with loyal devotion,
    My memory dwells on sweet visions of yore,
    And pictures that country far over the ocean,
    The land of my fathers, old Scotia’s loved shore.

    Special thanks to the best online source for William B. Wilson: Blossburg.org . I also owe a personal debt to ‘Dunny’ Dunlap, an aged corner store owner in my hometown of Cherry Tree, Pennsylvania, who would regale me with stories about his wife’s uncle, W. B. Wilson.

    ¹ Craig Phelan. Divided Loyalties: The Public and Private Life of Labor Leader John Mitchell . State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 91, citing the United Mine Workers Journal of June 18, 1903.

    ² See Edward M. Steel (ed.) The Correspondence of Mother Jones . University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

    ³ To borrow an iconic phrase attributed to later civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.


    The Archivist’s Nook: Speaking Labor to Power – W. B. Wilson

    Photos of John Mitchell and W. B. Wilson from the pamphlet ‘Speech of William B. Wilson on Mitchell Day, October 29, 1901,’ Box 127, John Mitchell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

    Scottish immigrant and Pennsylvania coal miner, William Bauchop (W. B.) Wilson (1862-1934), became the voice of workers speaking to power as a founder of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) union, the first representative for labor in Congress, and the first secretary of labor in the Woodrow Wilson (no relation) administration. Although not a Catholic, W.B. worked during the Gilded Age and Progressive era to advance labor’s cause along with many Catholics such as T. V. Powderly , John Mitchell , John W. Hayes , and ‘Mother’ Jones . Wilson’s papers reside with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, but his documentary trail is well represented in the papers of his Catholic colleagues at the Catholic University of America Archives , and the digital version available by subscription at The History Vault .

    W. B.’s family settled in the tightly controlled coal company town of Arnot, Tioga County, in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania. In 1871, not yet 10, Wilson went to work in the mines. As a young man he began to organize his fellow workers, becoming blacklisted by mine owners, and thus working a series of jobs as lumberjack, mill hand, and railroad worker. Active in the Knights of Labor, where he was a supporter of leader Terence V. Powderly, as evidenced by his letter of March 5, 1895. W. B. was also a founder of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in 1890, serving on their National Executive Board though he remained an active coal miner until 1898. He served as UMWA Secretary-Treasurer, 1900-1908, working closely with President John Mitchell as his “wise and sagacious counselor”¹ during the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 , winning higher wages, shorter working days, and national recognition of the union. During this time he also became a colleague of celebrated labor activist, ‘the Miner’s Angel,’ Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones, who usually addressed him as “My Dear Comrade’ in her numerous letters.²

    Letter denouncing John W. Hayes, who had engineered the ouster of T. V. Powderly from leadership of the Knights of Labor. W. B. Wilson to T. V. Powderly, May 24, 1895, Box 48, T.V. Powderly Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

    W. B. went on to serve three terms, March 4, 1907-March 3, 1913, as a Democratic congressman from Tioga County. In Congress, he introduced legislation creating the Bureau of Mines and established a Department of Labor, which included the Bureau of Labor Statistics that had been headed successively by Catholic University professors Carroll D. Wright and Charles P. Neill . In 1912, W. B. became chairman of the House Labor Committee but was defeated for a fourth term in Congress. However, incoming Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson appointed W. B. as Secretary of Labor, heading the department he had created from March 5, 1913, to March 5, 1921. There he conciliated numerous potential strikes, regulate working conditions for women, and during World War I created an employment service moving more than six million workers to places where workers were needed. He also worked to provide insurance for military members and housing and higher wages for war workers. W. B. also worked diligently to restrain excesses of Attorney-General A. Mitchell Palmer during ‘The Red Scare’ regarding Communist threats in 1919-1920.

    W. B. left the Labor Department in 1921, where incidentally he had been reunited with his former Knights of Labor chief Powderly who now reported to the Secretary from his position as head of the department’s Information Bureau. Out of government, W. B. engaged in mining and agricultural pursuits near Blossburg , Tioga County . He made a foray back into politics for an unsuccessful run for the U. S. Senate in 1926. Thereafter, W. B. did some work as an arbiter in Illinois coal fields but otherwise lived in retirement until dying on a train returning from Florida near Savannah, Georgia, on May 25, 1934. He is buried beside his wife, fellow immigrant Agnes Williamson, whom he married in 1883, in Blossburg’s Arbon Cemetery, not far from other family members. He is remembered for speaking labor’s “truth to power.”³ He was also an occasional poet, poignantly expressing the immigrant’s longing in Memories (1916):

    Group portrait of Anthony Caminetti and T. V. Powderly flanking their boss, William B. Wilson, at the Labor Department, n.d., This photo and others of Wilson can be found in both the John Mitchell and T. V. Powderly online digital photo collections.

    True, there stood Penn’s forest as stately as ever,
    And, there, the wide meadows and tall growing grain,
    And down in the valley the swift flowing river
    Fast winding its way to the billowy main.
    Yet though my heart loves them with loyal devotion,
    My memory dwells on sweet visions of yore,
    And pictures that country far over the ocean,
    The land of my fathers, old Scotia’s loved shore.

    Special thanks to the best online source for William B. Wilson: Blossburg.org . I also owe a personal debt to ‘Dunny’ Dunlap, an aged corner store owner in my hometown of Cherry Tree, Pennsylvania, who would regale me with stories about his wife’s uncle, W. B. Wilson.

    ¹ Craig Phelan. Divided Loyalties: The Public and Private Life of Labor Leader John Mitchell . State University of New York Press, 1994, p. 91, citing the United Mine Workers Journal of June 18, 1903.

    ² See Edward M. Steel (ed.) The Correspondence of Mother Jones . University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

    ³ To borrow an iconic phrase attributed to later civil rights leader Bayard Rustin.


    Contents

    Early life [ edit ]

    William B. Wilson was born in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the third child of Adam Black Wilson and Helen Nelson (Bauchop) Wilson, and the first to survive early childhood. Α] His father was a coal miner.

    During a mining strike in February 1868, the family was evicted from their company-owned home as the company tried to suppress the strike. Α] His father Adam Wilson traveled around Scotland unsuccessfully trying to find other work. He ultimately decided to emigrate to the United States to find employment there, and left his wife and three children, sailing by ship across the Atlantic in April 1870. Α]

    Adam Wilson found work in the bituminous coal region of Pennsylvania, settling in the little town of Arnot, located in Tioga County. Α] After finding a job, he sent for his wife and family. Together with his father-in-law, they departed Glasgow for the United States in August 1870. Α]

    Immediately after arriving in the United States, the boy William Wilson was enrolled in public school in Arnot. Β] This interval proved to be short-lived, however, as his father began to suffer serious back problems and was unable to complete his work without assistance. At the age of 9, William was removed from school and sent to help his father in the mines. Β] He continued to work as a miner for nearly two decades.

    In 1874, young William engaged in labor organizing for the first time when he attempted to launch a union for the boys who worked as trappers, manually operating the ventilation of the mines. Β] When the fledgling union threatened a strike over a wage reduction, union representative Wilson discovered the limits of union solidarity. He was paddled by a foreman and the incipient strike was broken. Β]

    The event proved to be a valuable learning experience for Wilson, who later recalled in his unpublished memoirs:

    His argument had been forceful and effective, but it was applied to the wrong part of my anatomy to be permanently convincing. It helped impress upon my mind the fact that until working men were as strong, collectively, as their employers, they would be forced. to accept whatever conditions were imposed upon them. Γ]

    In 1876, when Wilson was just 14 years old, there was declining membership in the local Miners' and Laborers' Benevolent Association. They selected Wilson, the energetic youngster, as the organization's Secretary. Β] He began to correspond with other labor activists around the country, laying the groundwork for his career as a trade union organizer and leader. Β]

    United Mine Workers official [ edit ]

    He served as international secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America from 1900 to 1908.

    House of Representatives [ edit ]

    He was elected as a Democrat from Pennsylvania's 15th congressional district to the Sixtieth, Sixty-first, and Sixty-second Congresses. He served as chairman of the United States House Committee on Labor during the Sixty-second Congress. Wilson was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1912 and for election in 1914.

    Secretary of Labor [ edit ]

    He was appointed United States Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President Woodrow Wilson and served from March 5, 1913, to March 5, 1921. During the First World War, he was a member of the Council of National Defense. The administration was working to encourage African-American support for the war effort, both among men who served and those who were working in war industries.

    Among his special assistants was George Edmund Haynes, 1918 to 1921, who was the first African American to earn a doctorate from Columbia University. Haynes served as Director of Negro Economics in the United States Department of Labor. Competition was fierce for the higher-paying jobs in the defense industries, and during Red Summer of 1919, whites attacked blacks in numerous cities. Haynes tried to mitigate racial conflict in employment, housing, and recreation. He also continued his earlier work in studying how blacks were excluded from certain trade unions, interracial conditions in the workplace, and issues in child labor. Δ]

    Wilson was a member of the Federal Board for Vocational Education from 1914 to 1921 and served as chairman of the board in 1920 and 1921. He was appointed on March 4, 1921, a member of the International Joint Commission, created to prevent disputes regarding the use of the boundary waters between the United States and Canada, and served until March 21, 1921, when he resigned.

    In December 1916, Wilson addressed a conference on social insurance in which he discussed State developments in that field, such as the provision of mothers' pensions and workmen's compensation, and also spoke of the possibility of the United States introducing old-age pensions and universal health insurance. Ε]

    Later years and death [ edit ]

    Wilson was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate in 1926 against Republican William Scott Vare. Ζ] After his public service he was engaged in mining and agricultural pursuits near Blossburg, Pennsylvania.

    He died on board a train near Savannah, Georgia on May 25, 1934. Ώ] He was buried in Arbon Cemetery in Blossburg. Η]


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    Labor's Relation to the World War (Classic Reprint)

    I know that amongst our own people the claim was put forth that no man should be permitted to go upon these vessels as a passenger, taking the chance of having his life destroyed and thereby endanger ing the peace of his own country, and that our country should prohibit passengers from. Going upon vessels. But that was only a p Excerpt from Labor's Relation to the World War

    I know that amongst our own people the claim was put forth that no man should be permitted to go upon these vessels as a passenger, taking the chance of having his life destroyed and thereby endanger ing the peace of his own country, and that our country should prohibit passengers from. Going upon vessels. But that was only a part of the problem. Suppose that we had as a Government, as a people, said to those who desired to travel upon those vessels as passengers, You must not travel upon those vessels, or, if you do, you do so at your own risk. We would not then have solved the problem, because there were the seamen to take into consideration, the sailor upon the bridge, the fireman and the engineer in the hold, the cook and the steward and the vast numbers of men who daily earned their bread in manning the vessels. Even if we had taken the passengers off, we would then have been placed in the position of having to abandon our overseas trade altogether or of supporting, maintaining. And defending our sailors in their right to earn their bread in their daily vocation. I don't know what your judgment may be in the matter. I know what my judgment is, what the judg ment of the administration was, and that is that the sailor earning his bread before the mast is just as much entitled to the protection of the United States Government as the most wealthy millionaire.

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    Watch the video: Dr Wilson- William Video (May 2022).


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