Labor Day…..you know it’s celebrated every year on the first Monday of September, with cookouts, quick trips out of town, and the knowledge that summer is drawing to a close and fall festivities are just around the corner. But how and when did this final long weekend of the summer come about? Read on for some information about Labor Day and how it came to be celebrated.
It Began as a Protest
In the late 1900s, as manufacturing supplanted agriculture as the main manner of employment, working conditions for the average American worker were unsafe and miserable. The average American worked 12 hour days, 7 days per week, beginning as young as 5 years old, and still barely managed to get by. Lacking access to fresh air, sanitation and breaks, workers were growing increasingly unhappy with employers, and began organizing strikes and protest rallies. On September 2nd, 1882, 10,000 workers used unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, both in protest of working conditions and as part of the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.
The Movement Came to a Head in Chicago
The idea of an early September holiday celebrating the American worker spread to other manufacturing centers across the country, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Soon state legislatures began passing laws recognizing the holiday. Twelve years after the original NYC march, a strike of employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago led to a nationwide boycott of Pullman railway cars, crippling railway traffic across the country. Federal troops were dispatched to Chicago and dozens of workers were killed in the ensuing riots. In the aftermath, in an attempt to repair relationships with American workers Congress passed an act establishing Labor Day as a national holiday to honor all American workers.
What’s Up with the “No White After Labor Day” Rule?
The tradition actually dates back before Labor Day, to the Victorian tradition of not wearing white after the end of summer vacations. When upper class families returned from their stints at summer vacation homes, lightweight white clothing was packed away until the following season and replaced with warmer, thicker and darker fabrics. This practice was also a way for the upper class to thumb their noses at anyone beneath them in social status. If one wore white after Labor Day, it was assumed that the person could not afford separate summer and winter clothing.
So grab a beer, grill a burger and enjoy this last lazy day of summer….and if you wear white while doing it, we won’t tell!