Militia Mayhem in Lawrence, February 24, 1912

Bob Forrant, professor of history at UMass Lowell and director of the Bread & Roses Strike Centennial, sent me the following post about events in Lawrence one hundred years ago this month. Check out the Bread & Roses Strike Centennial website for more info about upcoming events.

On the morning of February 24, 1912, police and militia assaulted women and children at the Lawrence train station. Eyewitness Max Bogatin stated to Congress, “While I was there at the station I saw them (the militia) take little children and pick them up by the leg and throw them in the patrol wagon like they were mere rags; and one of the women put up a little resistance and a policeman grabbed her by the neck and choked her until she was not able to resist anymore.”

Begun in early February, the tactic of sending children of textile workers to live with supporters in Barre, VT, New York City, and Philadelphia for their care and safety generated public sympathy and financial support. According to Michael Slone, the tactic originally conceived in Europe, “had helped French, Belgian, and Italian workers win bitter strikes in their home countries.”

Police and the militia tried preventing children from leaving by train to Philadelphia on February 24. The melee resulted in injuries and the arrest and jailing of mothers and children. The following poem by Jane Roulston appeared in the New York Call on February 15, 1912, titled The Coming of the Children.

Was it an army’s martial tread
That beat through the traffic’s sullen roar?
And was it the shouting of warriors dread
That the icy blasts of North wind bore?

Nay, ’twas but the patter of little feet
And children’s voices clear and sweet
Loud rang their call o’er the city’s din
“We are the strikers, and we shall win!”

When the children arrived in New York City in mid-February the New York Times reported the children sang the “Marseillaise” as they marched down Fifth Avenue. They carried signs reading “A Little Child Shall Lead Them” and “Suffer the Little Children Come Unto Us” (Slone, unpublished paper).

The press reported extensively on the February 24 Lawrence train station attack. When the women and children were taken to the Police Court, most of them refused to pay their fines and opted for a jail cell, some with babies in arms. Headlines read: “Arrest Children in Textile Strike” Cleveland Plain Dealer; “Police Prevent Children’s Exile” Lawrence Eagle-Tribune; “Children and Mothers Taken by Police” Boston Globe; “Police Clubs Keep Waifs In” New York Times.

The police action against the mothers and children gained the nation’s attention and in particular that of Helen Herron Taft, wife of President Taft. Soon after, the House and Senate investigated the strike. In the early days of March a special House committee heard testimony from some of the strikers children, and various city, state and union officials. In the end the House and the Senate published reports detailing conditions in Lawrence.