Today's History Highlights Archive

Censorship, a Police Strike and the Perils of Poker in Today’s History Highlights – 9.9.2013

(Note: Updated to Correct that colonies declared war on Narragansetts, not Wampanoags)

Massachusetts Censors Tourism Guide

In 1937, Massachusetts Gov. Charles Hurley received the first copy of the American Guide Series guidebook to Massachusetts and proudly announced the book belonged in every library and school in the Commonwealth.  He apparently hadn’t read it, as he changed his mind the next day.

The reason? The book included an essay on “Labor” that described the controversial Sacco-Vanzetti trial, the Boston Police Strike, the Sacco-Vanzetti trial and Massachusetts’ failure to ratify the Child Labor Amendment, citing Census figures that showed nearly 10,000 children between the ages of 10 and 15 working in the Commonwealth. The Boston Reporter asked, “is it a Guide to Massachusetts or a Guide to the Sacco-Vanzetti case?” according to the MIT Library blog, 150 Years in the Stacks,

The book was produced by the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal program that hired 5,000 people a year as writers, editors, historians, art critics, researchers and cartographers. Between 1935 and 1939, they produced guidebooks to all 48 states, the Alaska Territory, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.  Many of the employees supported the labor movement, which drew intense criticism from Texas Congressman Martin Dies, who chaired the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The purpose of the series was “to present a collective vision of America that drew on the richness and diversity of the people, history, and culture to be found in each state.” Writers were encouraged to describe places through the people who lived there – fishermen, lumberjacks, farmers and mill workers, for example.

To its credit, the central office in Washington tried to squelch boosterism and banned the use of the word “first” and words ending in “–est.”

Despite the criticism, the book sold well in Massachusetts; in fact, it’s still in print. You can preview the book, Massachusetts; a Guide to its Places and People, here, or buy it on Amazon here.

King Philip’s War Begins

On this day in history, Sept. 9, 1675, most of the New England colonies -- Massachusetts Bay ColonyPlymouth ColonyNew Haven Colony and Connecticut Colony -- declared war on the Narragansetts tribe in what would be known as King Philip’s War. The Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations tried to stay out of it, but got drawn in. When the war was pretty much over a year later, Baptists from Boston moved to Tiverton, R.I., to get away from the rigid Puritans. Their church, the First Baptist Old Stone Church, was just named to the National Register of Historic Places.

1919 Boston Police Strike

Also on this day in history, Sept. 9, 1919, Boston police walked off the job at the 5:45 pm roll call. They were tired of being paid less than unskilled factory workers and working 73-, 83- and 98-hour workweeks. All they demanded was the right to affiliate with the American Federation of Labor. Once they walked out, a couple of street gangs took advantage of the strike to loot and vandalize. The national news media went into a frenzy, declaring the streets were filled with rioters and the police officers were “agents of Lenin.”  Gov. Calvin Coolidge called in the state militia to keep order. The striking policemen offered to come back to work, but Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis refused to give them their jobs back. The strike was broken and Coolidge parlayed the national attention he got into the White House. (With thanks to Commonwealth of Toil, by Tom Juravich, William F. Hartford and James R. Green.)

Today’s Flashback Photo was taken in Hartford, Conn., in 1909 by Lewis Hine. The caption reads: 8:00 P.M. Flashlight photo of messengers absorbed in their usual Poker game in the "Den of the Terrible Nine" (the waiting room for Western Union Messengers, Hartford, Conn.) They play for money. Some lose a whole month's wages in a day and then are afraid to go home.

Flashback Photo...

hartford boys

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