100 Years Ago Today

Everyone Was Expected to Help the US Fight the War

The International Workers of the World, sometimes known as Wobblies, were active in the Pacific Northwest in the early decades of the 20th century, organizing workers to protect their rights but also calling for more radical changes to American labor conditions. They tended to frighten many people with their discussions of Socialism and Anarchism at a time of rapid social change, and some employers actively fought to keep the IWW out of their towns.

William B. Wilson, who had his own history as a union organizer, served President Wilson as Secretary of Labor from 1913 to 1921. In this letter from a century ago, he writes to the President that he has information that the Sinn Féin movement was gaining ground among the Wobblies and threatening copper production in Butte, Montana and Tooele, Utah. This was a year after the Easter Rising in Ireland, and the independence movement there was thought by many Americans to be a threat not only to the British Empire, but also the Allied war effort.

We can’t really judge the degree of labor or Irish unrest in the American West from this letter, but it certainly gives a sense of some of the anxieties in the administration as the country geared up its efforts to send American troops to war. They wanted people to work at their war industry jobs without complaint and support America’s allies.

You can read more about the Great War and President Wilson’s work to direct the energies of the United States toward ending that conflict in our WWI Letters. These manuscripts were taken from the microfilm rolls of the Woodrow Wilson Papers at the Library of Congress. The Collection includes transcripts of the letters and digital scans of each page so you can follow the details of historic developments from this important era yourself.