October 24, 2020

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Who Founded Labor Day? Descendants of Two Men Tussle Over Legacy

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The mix-up may be explained by Maguire’s reservedness and his focus on seeking justice for workers, rather than on his legacy, Mr. Collins said, citing his mother’s description of his great-grandfather. McGuire, on the other hand, seemed to have no problem taking credit.

“It really has to do with the different personalities of the two men — one an extrovert, one an introvert, one self-serving and the other not,” Mr. Collins said.

At the center of the debate is a Central Labor Union meeting that took place in May 1882. In an 1897 article in The Carpenter, a monthly union publication, McGuire wrote that he first proposed the holiday at that meeting. The parade’s grand marshal, William McCabe, later recalled, in an 1897 article in The Cleveland Recorder, that Maguire, not McGuire, proposed the idea at that meeting.

Still, over time, McGuire became accepted as the founder. Maguire, who ran for vice president on the Socialist Labor Party ticket in 1896, may have been pushed aside because his political beliefs were deemed too radical to be associated with Labor Day, Mr. Collins said.

Michael Kazin, a history professor and labor historian at Georgetown University, said that he did not know who had the original idea, but that it took more than one person to persuade the federal government to adopt a new national holiday.

“It caught on locally, gradually, more than in one fell swoop,” he said.

Mr. Collins said he was not bothered that, for 126 years, Maguire, his great-grandfather, had been overshadowed.

“Both of them were working for the same goal: an eight-hour workday for workers and a holiday to celebrate the laboring-class people,” Mr. Collins said. “In the long run, it really doesn’t matter. We have Labor Day.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

Jenny Gross

2020-09-05 08:00:10

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