Samuel Gompers and Jane Addams

Do these names sound familiar? They didn’t to me. So when I came across them in my history reading, I wanted to know a little bit more about these people. The one thing that connects them is that they both fought for workers rights.

Samuel Gompers was born on January 27, 1850, in London. He had to drop out of school at the age of ten to become an apprentice, first as a shoemaker, then to his father as a cigar-maker. His family immigrated to New York in 1863, when Samuel was 13. He found work as a cigar-maker, but the poor working conditions made him and his fellow workers start a union, and go on strike. However, due to lack of funds, the union didn’t work out. However, after raising funds, the union went on strike again, this time with enough money to care for the employees not working.

In 1866, Samuel married Sophia Julian. Six years later, in 1872, he became a citizen of the United States. In 1875, Gompers was elected as the president of the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations), a position he held every year (except 1895) from 1886-1924. On a trip in Mexico in 1924, Gompers collapsed. He knew he was dying, but wanted to die in the United States. He was rushed to San Antonio, TX, where he died on December 13, 1924.

Today, the work of Samuel Gompers has been recognized by means of schools (several all over the U.S.),parks (Gompers Park in Chicago, Ill.), and a statue of him that was put there in 2007. Also, his grave in Sleepy Hollow Cementary in Sleepy Hollow, NY, has gotten many visitors.

Jane Addams, one of the few rich people who dedicated their lives to helping the poor, also fought for workers, mostly women workers. Born on September 6, 1860, in Cedarville, Ill., Jane was the eighth of nine children. Her father was a banker, a mill owner, a lawmaker, and a friend of President Lincoln. (Lincoln, in his letters to Addams’ father, often referred to him as “My dear double-D’d Addams”) Jane’s mother died when Jane was two. Her father did a good job of raising the nine children (whether or not he remarried, I don’t know).

In 1881, Jane was valedictorian in a class of 31 women at the Rockford Female Seminary, but was only accredited the bachelor’s degree after the school became Rockford College for Women the next year. Over the next six years, Jane studied medicine, but left because of poor health (a congenital spinal defect that was remedied later), was hospitalized? intermittently, traveled? and studied in Europe for 21 months, and spent almost two years in reading and writing.

In 1889, with friend Ellen G. Starr, Addams leased a building in Chicago built by Charles Hull. Thus began Hull-House, an organization designed to help unemployed female workers get through their tough times. Addams became a public figure of women’s rights, writing many books and giving speeches at ceremonies. Her work earned her a Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10, 1931, but she was hospitalized that same day. Addams never fully recovered, and died on May 21, 1935, three days after an unsuspected cancer was revealed after an operation.

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