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A Look at Labor Day

Labor Day: A Look At How It Came To Be

by Amy M. O’Quinn

When most of us think of Labor Day, we automatically associate it with a long holiday weekend and time off from the job. It is a day to relax, spend time with family, say goodbye to summer and hello to autumn, squeeze in one more picnic or vacation, or attend a hometown celebration or parade with friends.

Labor Day is always observed on the first Monday in September, yet how much do we really know about this special day set aside to recognize those who toil daily to keep our country moving and growing socially, civically, and economically? Let’s take a closer look at this “workingman’s” holiday!

How Did Labor Day Begin?

The very first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 in New York City in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. There is some discrepancy about who first proposed the holiday, but some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those "who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold." (From the U.S. Department of Labor website).

Others believe that it was actually Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic. (From the U.S. Department of Labor website).

Regardless of who actually proposed Labor Day, it became an official national holiday in 1894, not long after the Pullman Strike, and is dedicated to honoring the working class of American citizens. However, until Labor Day became a federal holiday, laborers who chose to participate in parades had to forfeit a day's wages. (From Nevertheless, since that time, all fifty states have made it an official state holiday as well!

Find Out More

Labor Day is a great time to teach about community workers and different kinds of jobs as well. To find out more about this important (yet often underemphasized) holiday, check out these links: (Lists books about Labor Day) (A large collection of Labor Day links)

This post originally published at the National Writing For Children Website here.

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