September 10, 2021
By Chelsea Reed
We hope everyone enjoyed the David Hunter Art Show and had a fun and restful Labor Day weekend! As we transition from summer to fall and begin to observe Patriot Day, it’s a great time to reflect and ponder the United States’ patriotic heritage. The Labor Day holiday in the United States is also observed in Canada and other countries today. But how did this national holiday get its start? Why do we celebrate it in the first place? Let’s discover how Labor Day began, who invented it and learn fascinating facts behind this recreational weekend.
The inspiration for Labor Day began in late 19th century America. Back then, the motivations for it were much more serious than today. With the Industrial Revolution in full swing, people in those days worked grueling manufacturing jobs. Conditions were sweltering, unsafe, and unsanitary. Americans worked each day 12-16 hours straight seven days a week, far below the value of today’s current minimum wage. Children often skipped school to go to work to support their families. In short, life for middle-class workers in 19th century America was miserable and even dangerous. And yet, the United States continued to grow and prosper from the hard work of these laborers.
Not surprisingly, workers began to protest for change across the country. Labor activists pushed the government to establish a national holiday in honor of American workers everywhere. Two activists credited to invent the holiday include Peter McGuire and Matthew Macguire. In time, the peoples’ voices would soon be heard. New York, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and other states began to adopt the holiday before it was federally recognized. On February 21, 1887, Oregon was the first state to pass Labor Day into law as an official holiday. On June 28, 1894, the fruits of these efforts finally came to be. Congress passed a law initiating the first Monday of September as a national holiday -- the first Labor Day.
Thankfully, the United States has laws and regulations that ensure safety and much better conditions for workers today. Americans also get to enjoy the three-day Labor Day weekend! Favorite pastimes include cookouts, retail shopping, going to the beach, and having parades.
The tradition of Labor Day parades actually started with the original 19th-century protests. Workers came together across the country to form organized unions and marches. On September 5, 1882, 10,000 union members in New York gave up a day’s pay to march for better labor from City Hall to Union Square. Today, workers celebrate their rights and hard work in Labor Day parades across the country.
Because of its place on the calendar, Labor Day has also become synonymous with the transition of summer to fall. This is why it’s also popular to enjoy fall activities such as pumpkin picking, sight-seeing fall foliage, and watching football. You might have heard about the tradition, “don’t wear white after Labor Day!” This comes from old-fashioned etiquette in the 1800s when Americans started getting away in vacation cottages for the summer. (Like those in the Outer Banks, NC!) When they returned to their cities, cooler fall temperatures meant thicker, darker fabrics. Hence, no need to wear the thinner white cotton clothes that were common in those days.
Fortunately, we don’t have to follow this fashion etiquette today. You can wear white anytime you like! Just like wearing white after Labor Day, you can still buy David Hunter’s etchings after the Labor Day Art Show. Check out his collection now while it’s here at Seaside Art Gallery!
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