The Great Strike of 1912: Summer Lessons in Lawrence 100 Years Later
In order to enhance the long-term impact of Centennial Commemoration of the Bread & Roses Labor Strike of 1912, the Lawrence History Center partnered with Small Planet Communications of Lawrence (curriculum developers) to develop a student text and an accompanying teacher’s guide to be used as an instructional vehicle to educate area students (and citizens) about this historic strike that took place in Lawrence entitled, “The Great Strike: Lawrence, Massachusetts 1912.”
The curriculum, published in June, was recently taught during a summer learning program sponsored by the Lawrence History Center and funded by the ECCF Betty Beland Greater Lawrence Summer Fund. Whimpper Barahona, foreign language teacher at Lawrence's International High School, and Bob Forrant, history professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Bread and Roses Centennial Committee Chairperson, were the instructors for the program that reached 18 Lawrence High School students. The 3-week long program incorporated both classroom time at Lawrence High School and time spent on walking tours of the city that included the Lawrence History Center, the Lawrence Heritage State Park, the Pemberton Mill, and the Lawrence History Center's bilingual exhibit, "Short pay! All out!" on the 6th floor of the Everett Mill. Click here for more photos!
According to teachers Barahona and Forrant:
"The new curriculum worked quite well with the students in the class. We read several passages out loud and students were able to grasp the key vocabulary and in conversation gather the essential information needed to understand the strike’s underlying causes. We worked with them to understand the idea of underlying causes and immediate causes and through their reading they quickly understood the concepts. For us this means the curriculum helped them with their critical thinking skills.
None of the students knew much about the strike at the start of the program; by the end, each one of them could participate in a wide-ranging conversation about the strike. And, most of them could make analogies to the current struggles in their city to find meaningful employment for people and improve the city’s image. One student remarked that understanding the strike better made her appreciate her city more than she had previously.
The structure of the curriculum—its generous use of photos, the highlighted key vocabulary words, the content questions running down the sides of pages—made it easy for the students to follow. At the same time, the structure helped us as we considered key things we wanted to focus on during our time with the students."
The instructors supplemented the curriculum with some additional primary source materials that worked well with high school students, but might not with middle school students. These materials included:
- A 1910 City Atlas map, which delineated all the city’s neighborhoods and helped the students to understand population density and the overwhelming presence of the mills. This also proved exciting as the students spent some time looking up the streets they live on and at the same time could begin to figure out what their neighborhood looked like 100 years ago.
- Several charts and tables with: population figures for the city of Lawrence from 1845 to 1910; wages paid to males and females and by nationality; and life expectancy. They were asked to look at the numbers and them each make three observations based on what they observed from the data. This worked quite well and it connected the use of numbers to how we understand history.
- A series of five photographs taken by Lewis Hine in 1911 of young Lawrence mill workers. We asked the students to imagine what Hine’s subjects might have been thinking when their photos were taken.
While at the Lawrence Heritage State Park, the students took part in a History Scavenger Hunt. Afterward, they engaged in a dialogue about what they had learned about the strike and the history of Lawrence overall. They were particularly moved by the children's exodus during the strike and the dismal living and working conditions that existed for children, some of whom were under the age of 14. The students, who were between the ages of 15 and 17, quickly applied these conditions to their own lives imagining that, if they had lived in the city 100 years ago, they would likely have been working in the mills for 3 years already without the opportunity to attend school. This prompted a discussion about their own academic goals and the majority of the students expressed a desire to attend college.
The students were also told of the 104 year old man, Salvatore Savinelli, who was sent to Barre, VT during the strike as a four year old with his father. Salvatore came to the opening of the exhibit, "Short pay! All out!" on January 12, 2012 and received a standing ovation from the other attendees as he was the only person who was alive at the time of the strike. The students were so intrigued by his story that, as part of a final project, decided to write a letter to him.
During one of the walking tours, the students, upon learning of the details of the Pemberton Mill collapse in 1860, felt that there should be some kind of historical marker at the site to memorialize the people who were injured or killed in the disaster. They had a long discussion about what such a marker should look like and, also part of a final project, began designing one.
Based on feedback from both the teachers and the students, the summer program was a success! The goal is to have this be a pilot project for integrating this important education piece into the Lawrence Public School curriculum in the fall of 2012 and to reach thousands of school age children in the City of Lawrence and in the Merrimack Valley. For more information about the curriculum -- its content and how to purchase -- please visit http://www.lawrencehistory.org/node/20526.