Labor Day’s history in Junction City is somewhat sparse, judging by articles printed in the Junction City Union after it became a federal holiday in 1894.
Chapman has a longstanding tradition of Labor Day festivities going back more than a century This year was to be Chapman’s 111th Labor Day celebration, but all of the events associated with it were canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Geary County has no history of such celebrations, according to Director of the Geary County Historical Museum Katie Goerl.
“It looks to me like Labor Day was not a major holiday in the early 20th century in Junction City,” she said. "In 1905, the only indication that Labor Day was observed in Junction City was a notice that banks would be closed and the post office would operate on Sunday hours. In 1907, the fraternal organization Modern Woodmen of America, commonly known simply as Woodmen, threw a picnic for Labor Day, but it seems that like today, the event was focused on recreation rather than politics or labor. A 1918 article indicates that banks and post offices closed for Labor Day and union men had the day off, but to attend Labor Day rallies, they traveled to places like Topeka and Kansas City, which have a much longer history of labor organizing and Labor Day celebrations.”
According to the Department of Labor’s website at www.dol.gov, Labor Day was first enacted as a tribute to working people in the late 1800s. The holiday was first celebrated Sept. 5, 1882 in New York.
"The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed in 1885 and 1886,” the website reads. "From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation."
Oregon was the first state to enact the new holiday with a bill passing the state legislature Feb. 21, 1887, though New York was the first state to introduce a bill acknowledging Labor Day to its state legislature.
While today many people treat Labor Day as just a long weekend and perhaps an excuse to get in another barbecue before the weather grows chilly, it started as an acknowledgment of the rights and contributions of the working class.
According to an article at theconversation.com/have-we-forgotten-the-true-meaning-of-labor-day-64526 , the holiday came about after members of the working class chose to strike in protest of excessive hours.
"In the 1830s, manufacturing workers were putting in 70-hour weeks on average,” the article reads. "Sixty years later, in 1890, hours of work had dropped, although the average manufacturing worker still toiled in a factory 60 hours a week.”
Union organizers took issue with these long hours and organized to fight for a six-day workweek and the eight-hour workday which is more typical for today’s working people.
But none of this was not as cut and dried as it sounds. Labor Day and the protests and strikes surrounding it were as controversial in their time as many protests are today, according to the theconversation.com article.
More radical members of the labor movement advocated for a Labor Day to take place May 1, commemorating a day when violence had broken out between the police and workers who were taking part in a demonstration.
The more radical members wanted Labor Day to be a day of protests while moderate members felt Labor Day should be used by workers for leisure time.
"In the U.S., picnics, instead of street protests, won the day,” the article reads.