Labor Day, traditionally the end of summer in the U.S., is more importantly remembered as a holiday that pays tribute to the labor movement of the late nineteenth century in celebration of workers’ social and economic contributions. Promoting workers’ rights was risky business in those days. After a series of states celebrated their own Labor Days, in 1984 Congress passed an act making the first Monday in October a national holiday.
I love working real history into my books. The labor movement plays a role in The Dilemma of Charlotte Farrow, book 2 in the Avenue of Dreams series and set in 1983. Here’s a snippet.
Archie held the chair for her until she was seated. She said five minutes, but he knew it would be more like three. He sat next to her, removing his blue and yellow jacket with the brass buttons and tossing a pamphlet on the table in one smooth motion. “The beginning of September is too warm for these woolen uniforms.”
Charlotte reached for the pamphlet. “What are you doing with this?”
He shrugged. “It’s just a pamphlet. People are handing them out all around town.”
“I know what it is, and I know who is handing them out. If Mr. Penard finds this, he’ll be fit to be tied.” Charlotte folded the pamphlet and pressed a crease across it. “Anarchist propaganda.”
“That’s a rather extreme position.” Archie was surprised to hear such a phrase out of Charlotte’s gentle mouth.
“That’s what Mr. Penard calls it.” Charlotte laid the pamphlet in her lap, half out of sight. “And ever since June when the governor pardoned the men convicted of the Haymarket riot, he has nothing kind to say about the people who stir up the workers.”
“Those men were railroaded into prison. No one ever had any proof they threw that bomb into the crowd or intended to hurt anyone.”
“I don’t think that matters,” Charlotte said. “The point is Mr. Penard thinks of them as rabble-rousers and malcontents, and the people who hand out these pamphlets are the same lot.”
“These people have a point, Charlotte. We work very long days for a pitiful wage. All they’re suggesting is a measure of justice.”
“But an eight-hour work day? That would be like having a half-day off every day. Is that realistic?”
“It’s certainly humane,” Archie said. “The families of Prairie Avenue might have to hire more people and not run them half as ragged.”
Charlotte turned to face him square on. “Are you unhappy being in service?”
Archie soaked up her eyes. For once she was really looking at him, her blue-gray eyes shrouded in secrets as they always were. “Unhappy? Not exactly. The Bannings are probably more reasonable than many households. But that doesn’t mean I expect to be a footman or a coachman my entire life.”
“A butler, then? You can work your way up, I’m sure.”
“There must be something else.” He shook his head. “Look at you, for instance. Up before dawn to work on meals, up and down stairs all day to the nursery, and now every evening you’re waiting up half the night for a woman who needs help unbuttoning her dress. In the middle of all that, you’re afraid to take ten minutes off your feet.”
Charlotte sighed heavily as Archie continued.
“All this for a few hours off on Thursday and every other Sunday afternoon—if the family doesn’t plan something that requires your presence, which they do without giving it a second thought. We’re supposed to be grateful for the pittance they pay us.”
“But we have a secure place to live and enough to eat—at a time when jobs are hard to find. Mr. Banning says we are in an economic depression.”
“A place to live is not a life,” Archie countered. “The butler is the only one of us who is even allowed to be married.”
“But Mr. Penard’s not married, and he works as hard as we do.”
“He could be, though. And his rooms are a far cry more comfortable than mine or yours—enough for a family. If we were to marry . . . I mean . . . one of us . . . well, we’d have to leave our positions. We’re held hostage.”
Charlotte fingered the pamphlet. “Still, it’s dangerous to have this literature in the house. Mr. Penard will have your head.” She stood up, smoothed her work apron, and pressed the pamphlet against Archie’s chest with her flat palm. “I would hate to see that happen.”