From the Wise Master (September, 2010)

posted May 19, 2015, 5:21 PM by San Jose Scottish Rite   [ updated May 19, 2015, 5:21 PM ]
For the month of September I again found myself stumped by what to write about when the General Secretary suggested that, since I’d been writing about holidays, why not write about Labor Day?
I thought that that might be interesting. Surely there’s a Masonic connection to a holiday dedicated to general labor, but no! Much to my surprise, I found the origin of Labor Day involved the deadly Haymarket Affair which occurred in Chicago on 4 May 1886. Further labor unrest and deadly confrontations with both police and military in the ensuing years prompted President Grover Cleveland, in an effort to appease labor, to rush legislation recognizing labor with a holiday through congress in a mere six days. The first Labor Day celebration was held 5 September 1894. That date carefully chosen to avoid coinciding the with International May Day celebration of labor, which it was thought would only fan the flames of labor unrest. (The Haymarket Affair having occurred in the same month.)
This, however, is where our story takes an interesting twist because the origins of the Haymarket Affair did have Masonic origins!
The Noble Order of Knights of Labor of America was founded in 1869 by Freemason Uriah S. Stephens. It sought to organize all workers, regardless of skill or trade. By 1886, the Knights of Labor membership reached 711,000, as it welcomed black and female workers. After the brutal failures of the 1886 Haymarket riot, the 1892 Homestead Steal Strike and the 1894 Pullman strike, the Knight of Labor membership dropped dramatically, and by 1900, it was nearly extinct. To its credit though, its demands for an eight hour work day, the end of child labor and equal pay for equal work became the cornerstones of the 20th century labor movement.
In writing this column it is remarkable that, seemingly everywhere I look, I find the fingerprints of our fraternity.

Bryant Day—Wise Master