by Shannon Butler

Here we are! We’ve made it to September and Labor Day weekend. Which also means that we have come to what is now known as the “unofficial end of summer.” Vacations are coming to an end, kids are getting ready to go back to school, and many of us will get a nice three day weekend (including us PPLD employees, as the library will be closed Saturday, Sunday, and Monday). The holiday is not terribly old, but it is still appreciated by working-class individuals throughout the country and right here in Poughkeepsie, it was seen as an occasion to not just close down for the day, but to have a parade!

The organization known as the Knights of Labor gathered for a parade in 1882 and that small event would inspire the future Labor Day of the 20th century. This group had members not only here in Poughkeepsie, but all around the nation. At first, the organization was very secretive about where they met and who they were. It was claimed by the Poughkeepsie Eagle News that there were between 400 and 500 members of the Knights of Labor in the City of Poughkeepsie alone and that they had a regular meeting place, but did not say where it was. The organization had a clear goal in mind; to create the 8-hour work day. They also endeavored to boycott any businesses with unfair labor practices. However, over time, the Knights disbanded as many laborers formed unions based on their individual trades.

By the late 1880s, mentions of parades that honored fair labor fighters could be found in newspapers (seen in the images on the right), quickly followed by several institutions closing their doors for the day. Over the years, various unions would organize parades, like the Carpenters Union here in Poughkeepsie did in 1892. In 1901, there was a scandal during a Labor Day parade when the float carrying the Brewery Workers Union incorporated a keg of beer from which the members drank as the parade moved down Mill Street. Apparently the members of this union enjoyed a bit too much of the fruits of their labor and caused a scene in front of the public (which included telling stories of a naughty nature very loudly).

The government made Labor Day an official holiday in 1894, but at the time it was only for government workers. Since then, has made Labor Day a statutory holiday. At the beginning of the 20th century and leading up to recent years, unions of all sorts have marched in the Labor Day parade, from police and firemen to plumbers and steel workers. From all of us here at the Poughkeepsie Public Library District, enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Poughkeepsie Eagle News – 20 Sep 1886, 01 Sep 1888, 6 Sep 1887, 31 Aug 1892, 04 Sep 1901

01 – Newspaper article from the Poughkeepsie Eagle News which mentions a parade and the Knights of Labor – 01 Sep 1888
02 – Newspaper article mentions the meeting of the Knights of Labor in Poughkeepsie – 28 Apr 1890
03 – Newspaper article mentions the Labor Day parade scandal – 04 Sep 1901
04 – Photograph showing the Exempt Firemen’s Association of Poughkeepsie who traveled all the way to Washington DC for the Fireman’s National Labor Day Parade in 1931