Massachusetts

A 27-year-old Woman Died in a 1913 Ipswich Mill Strike; She Never Did Get Justice

On June 10, 1913 a long simmering Ipswich mill strike ground onward. For weeks, 700 mostly Greek workers at the Ipswich Hosiery Mill picketed outside the mill while 200 replacement scabs kept the machinery turning inside.

In a five-minute flashover, a violent riot erupted. When the bullets and bottles stopped flying, a 27-year-old woman, Nicholetta Paudelopoulou, lay dead. She would never receive justice.

Ipswich, Mass. was not a hotbed of radical labor protest, but a company town. Its selectmen, police and newspaper editor supported the mill owners in the dispute with labor. Many at the factory were paid by the piece. Salaries ranged from $2.50 a week to $6.50 a week.

When the International Workers of the World (IWW) demanded an increase in pay, the mill refused.

IWW Poster from Paterson, N.J.

IWW Poster from Paterson, N.J.

The Ipswich Mill Strike

When the workers struck, the mill managers went to the docks in Boston to find replacements. Police later acknowledged that the IWW had instructed its pickets to keep their hands in their pockets as they marched at the factory gates. Yet the exiting workers got jostled and bumped as they left the plant that day.

To keep order, Ipswich’s 30-man police force was supplemented by the state police and other towns, including Swampscott and Haverhill. The plant also hired private security. As the crowds seemed to be growing during a June 10 demonstration march, Selectman Charles Hull stepped forward to read a “riot act” to the strikers, ordering them to disburse. As most of the workers spoke only Greek, Hull’s message was likely lost on them.

How the riot erupted shortly before 6 p.m. was hotly debated. Initially, the police said they were fired on from tenement houses near the factory. No evidence ever materialized that the strikers had any guns. Selectman Hull would later estimate that perhaps six shots were fired at police.

Estimates of how many bullets police fired vary from 50 to 100.  Police would later testify about two millworkers shot in the melee. George Kalvas was shot in the leg because he was holding a brick. Panagiova Paganus was shot through the cheek because she brandished a club.  Archas Parskavas was shot above the knee, but no one knew why.

Ipswich riverfront, 1906

Casualties

In addition to the three workers, three bystanders were also shot. Flora Cornelius, described as a 36-year-old housewife, was shot above the knee. She was not involved in the strike.

Satffis Jorokopoulos, an 18-year-old fruit vendor, got a bullet in the ankle. When the violence broke out, he had been manning his stand.

Most seriously, Nicholetta Paudelopoulou was shot in the head and died nearly instantaneously. She was also not a striker. The young woman worked at the nearby Brown’s Essex Mill. She had left work and went to watch the crowds and commotion at the riot scene.

Initially police circulated a story that the young woman was shot from the second floor of a tenement. The angle of the bullet, which entered the front of her head, suggested otherwise.

The Case of the Ipswich Mill Strike

Judge Charles Sayward handled the court case against the strikers. Nineteen were charged, in all, with disturbing the peace. Sayward tried to build a murder case against three people: Mr. and Mrs. Carroll L. Pingree of Lowell and Nathan Hermann of Boston.

Carroll Pingree, an IWW member who had run for office as a Socialist and Hermann was an IWW strike coordinator. They were “outside agitators” that the local newspapers blamed for the strikes.

Judge Sayward’s son, Harry Sayward, represented the defendants.

John Baker of Rochester, N.H., had come to Massachusetts looking for work. He had witnessed what happened, and came forward to describe to the court what he had seen.

Baker saw two women arguing with a police officer. “The tall woman had a brick in her hand. I do not know whether she was going to throw it or not. While they were battling, another woman rushed over. The officer saw her, aimed at her, fired, and the woman fell.”

Sayward asked, “Have you seen the officer since?”

Baker replied. “Yes, I saw him on the street today.”

No Justice, No Peace

The officer was not in the courtroom, however. A lawyer for the town asked Judge Sayward to hold Baker on bail so he could testify further, as Baker had already said he planned to leave town in search of work in Lowell. The judge declined, and that was the last anyone heard from John Baker.

In the course of court hearings, the picture grew clearer. Police had fired on the rioters. They had been joined by plant managers who carried special police badges and guns. Yet no one could find any striker who had any weapon.

The murder charges that Judge Sayward had wanted to bring against Hermann and the Pingrees disappeared, though he declared them “morally responsible” for the death of Nicholetta Paudelopoulou.

Carroll Pingree eventually received a sentence of three months in jail. Nathan Hermann got a sentence of six months for disturbing the peace.

The town of Ipswich was mindful of the Bread and Roses Strike that had taken place in Lawrence just 18 months earlier. It had lasted for months and resulted in three deaths when militia arrived to suppress the strikers.

The company evicted workers from their homes, and the strike collapsed. The striking workers got no raise and returned to work later in the year.


This story last updated in 2022. 

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