Life in the Little Things

When selecting the classes I would take for Spring Quarter, I never anticipated just how well all three would align in terms of content and issues being discussed. In retrospect, it seems all too predictable that I would have gravitated to a study of labor, given how the working world and its many complexities and complications became a recurring theme. But while my courses in geography and urbanization offered a look at contemporary issues, our work in historical archaeology has allowed me an opportunity to look at some of the underlying causes and earlier-emerging instances of labor injustice, as well as both the everyday and extraordinary responses to these conditions.

My initial investigation into the historical and material records left by the industrialization of the U.S. led me to a series of interesting finds, the first being The Bread and Roses Riot of 1912. Significant for its impacts on working conditions, including an increase in wages, the riot stood out to me for the fact that it was begun by women. In January of 1912, female immigrant workers from the Everett Mill responded to recent cuts to their hours and pay with an uproar. They eventually roused tens of thousands of workers, from several locations, all calling for “bread, and roses, too!” (for a more detailed recount, see Klein 2012). The knowledge of this event in turn led me to wonder about the circumstances leading up to the riot. What did the day-to-day lives of these women look like? How did they maneuver the changing urban landscape and increasing demands of the workforce?

At this point, it seems no surprise that women and other laborers, including children, developed a number of strategies for themselves and their families that hinged on social, economic, cultural, and spatial factors. This is something we’ve seen before in historical archaeology. Indeed, to uncover and make known such strategies is tied to one of the main goals of historical archaeology: to recover the excluded past. My attempt to do just that takes the form of a short story, and can be found here if you fancy a look at one of the many ways in which such topics can be explored.


Klein, Christopher
2012 The Strike That Shook American 100 Years Ago.
strike-that-shook-america-100-years-ago, accessed May 28, 2015.

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