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Strike Talk

Last fall I was in a readers’ theatre play called Strike Story, written by Little Falls, NY, resident Angela Harris. It told the story of the 1912 strike by Little Falls textile workers. Last Thursday Harris gave a lecture on the history of the strike at the Herkimer County Historical Society.

I had learned a lot about the strike by being in the play. However, I was sure there was more to learn. I was certain I had forgotten a lot from the play as well.

A small but interested crowd had gathered at 406 N. Main St. in Herkimer. Steven and I greeted some friends and found seats. A slide show accompanied the talk, showing many photographs of the period.

I guess I’d better not try to re-tell the whole talk as Harris gave it. For one thing, I would probably get some stuff wrong and embarrass myself. I would like to give a few highlights, however.

As in the play, Harris started her story before the workers actually walked off the job and the strike began. Little Falls was a manufacturing hub that was growing too fast for its own good. Soon Little Falls could beat New York City for bad tenements.

The people in the tenements were not complaining, but some attention was being paid. The Fortnightly Club, a group of civic-minded ladies further up the economic ladder, hired a contagion nurse to try to address the growing epidemic of tuberculosis. That was my part in the play.

Harris also talked about the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, MA, which was remembered for its violence. That strike came before the one in Little Falls, and some of the Little Falls organizers tried to do some of the same things those strikers did.

Another new thing I learned was that there were Shoddy Mills, which got the cast offs from the other mills. That was where we get the term “shoddy workmanship.” I always like to hear about word origins.

We really enjoyed the talk. I asked Angela if she was writing any more plays. I should have asked if she intended to write a book about the strike. I’d buy that book. Maybe she could have a book signing at the Historical Society.