By Hillary Delaney
Each year, Labor Day brings parades, barbeques and the last “hurrah” of summertime. As we enjoy a day off work and school to celebrate, the history of this holiday is often forgotten. The labor movement began to grow in America soon after the Civil War, picking up momentum in the 1880s through calls for reform and organization of workers. This was a largely popular movement, and localities began to hold celebrations and parades in honor of fair labor. By 1894, the Labor Day holiday was recognized in 23 states, prompting Congress to pass an act declaring a federal holiday on the first Monday each September, set aside to recognize American workers. The cause of workers’ rights brought controversy, and began to turn violent in the 1910s. When the United States entered WWI, the cause of war and the labor movement began to collide. Many labor activists disagreed with the draft, and striking workers in industries necessary to the war effort brought an angry response from proponents of the war. On a late October evening in 1917, one of these leaders suffered harm and humiliation for the cause. The pastor of the Vine Street Congregational Church, Herbert S. Bigelow, was kidnapped upon his arrival to a speaking engagement at a Socialist meeting in Newport. A crusader for social and political reform, Bigelow was a well-known pacifist and champion of workers’ rights and was targeted for his outspoken views. Several men handcuffed Bigelow and threw him into a waiting car. Once held captive, Bigelow was gagged, his feet were bound and a bag was placed over his head. He recalled a long drive out to the hills of Northern Kentucky, where he finally was taken from the car by his captors, his hood and bindings removed. Bigelow described being near a railroad and a schoolhouse in the country, though he had little sense of the nearest town. There was a long line of men, 25-40 by Bigelow’s estimation, all wearing masks and long white robes. Bigelow was stripped to the waist, given scores of lashes with a bullwhip, and covered in crude oil before being released. Somehow, he made his way, on foot, to Florence, where he saw the sign for a “Dr. Grant.” The Doctor and his family cared for Bigelow as he would a “lifelong friend,” according to the wounded man. Bigelow was severely traumatized by the attack; he remained largely uninvolved in public life for a number of years. In the mid-1920s, his passion for social justice began to return; he advocated for political justice as individual citizen, then as a Cincinnati Councilman, later as a U.S. Congressman.
Read more about Herbert S. Bigelow here