We have a McGuire to thank for this Labor Day weekend. Was it Peter McGuire, the co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, or Matthew McGuire, an officer with Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists? Both men have about the same idea at about the same time. New York City hosted the first Labor Day celebration on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. But the first state to pass a law establishing Labor Day as an official holiday was Oregon (yay!) back in February 21, 1887.
When Blue Thread opens in September 1912, Labor Day had been around in Oregon for a while. The labor movement was on the rise, challenging the abysmal working conditions that Charity Osborne hints at in her conversation with Miriam:
We worked in a millinery factory and squeezed six cents out of every nickel…We started at the factory when I was fourteen. Thirteen actually, but we lied to the foreman. Prudence never let me handle the blocking solutions or the dyes. They still sicken her.”
In the backstory to Blue Thread, Charity and Prudence made hats in a millinery factory in Chicago before coming to Portland. Besides a variety of harmful dyes and solvents, mercury compounds were particularly toxic. By the early 1900s, it was common knowledge that the mercury used to prepare felt for hats poisoned millinery workers and caused neurological damage. That’s why the “hatter” in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (published in 1865) was “mad. The expression “mad as a hatter” had been used since the early 1800s. However, the United States Public Health Service did not ban the use of mercury compounds in the felt-processing industry until 1941.
When you go shopping for all those goodies on sale, remember the folks who made them. Click here for information on Labor Day and a lot more from the U.S. Department of Labor. Go on. Click! And enjoy your Labor Day weekend.