Boston Bolsheviks?

Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows: Part 19

Boston Bolsheviks?

This is Part 19 of a blog series titled “Donald Trump’s Strangest Bedfellows.”
Although each entry in the series has some information and commentary that
can be of interest “standing alone,” each builds on
information, concepts, and commentary
introduced in earlier entries in the series, and thus it is most effective to
read the material sequentially from the beginning.
Click here to go to the 
first entry in the series, Part 1



“The Look” for almost all young women to aspire to in the America of a century ago (no matter their social class) was the Gibson Girl. Illustrator Charles Dana Gibson created this look to represent the supposedly ideal young woman of that era. She was required to be slender and poised and pouty, and athletic—but with a BIG, ample bosom, an impossibly TINY waist, and BIG impossibly poofy hair. Gibson’s artwork, and that of many imitators, was featured on the covers (and also used for ads and story illustrations in) magazines and newspapers and elsewhere, such as these two Gibson covers, from 1902 and 1913.



As you might guess, even older women, including ones without athletic, slim figures, aspired to the look too, although they seldom could pull it off very convincingly.

When I was a child and teen in the 1940s/50s/60s, you still heard occasionally about Gibson Girls and their look because nostalgia for “turn of the century” pop culture was big from the 40s through the 60s’s. Think Meet Me In St Louis with Judy Garland in 1944, set in a backdrop of the 1904 World’s Fair.


Or Music Man from Broadway in 1957 and the movies in 1962, set in the same era.


You don’t hear the name much these days…unless you happen to visit Disneyland or Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Both have a Gibson Girl Ice Cream parlor, since Main Street is a (highly) fictionalized version of an early 1900s small town main street.


A while back I showed my 40-something daughter Ramona the bathing beauties picture above and asked if she had heard of “Gibson Girls” like those.

Ramona had indeed heard of Gibson Girls, but not from a “history book.” She knew of them because the term was used in a 1987 Anne of Green Gables TV movie (Anne of Avonlea), which was set in that time period. One character exclaimed to Anne, who had her hair piled on her head in the way you see on the young bathing beauty girls above, that she looked “just like a Gibson Girl.”


I bring this up, because, when not wearing a dress with a plunging neckline to show off her ample bosom…


…the typical Gibson Girl and Gibson Girl Wannabee would wear a long flared skirt and a “shirtwaist.”  Shirtwaist (sometimes shortened to just “waist”) was a term for a woman’s blouse, usually with a collar (often stand-up), cuffs, long poofy sleeves with cuffs, and a button-down front.  As you see on this group of high school girls from 1910.


Doing laundry was a real hassle before washing machines and dryers and perma-press fabrics back then, so I would suppose it would be very practical to have a closet full of blouses to change every day to go with skirts—which could go longer between washings (and ironings!)

If you were a young woman (or a young woman’s mother) who was handy with a needle and thread, or maybe even had a treadle sewing machine, you could make your own shirtwaists, using a pattern like this one from McCall’s.


But a significant portion of the women in the land had neither the skill to sew such fashions, nor a treadle machine. And I would guess that the average middle and upper class woman would look down on having to sew clothing for herself or her daughters anyway.

So they would go to the local department store shirtwaist department, or check their latest Sears Catalog for shirtwaists, such as this catalog from 1909. (“Lawn” isn’t used here to indicate where you’d wear them…lawn was a type of lightweight, delicate linen material, popular for blouses back at that time.)


And thus they might end up purchasing a mass-produced shirtwaist like this one, which was manufactured at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in Manhattan, New York in about 1910.


But few aspiring Gibson Girls had the slightest idea under what conditions their lovely, delicate shirtwaists were made. Or by whom.

Working conditions in the early twentieth century were not very safe for many factory workers. In June of 1909, a fire prevention specialist sent a letter to the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to discuss ways to improve safety in the factory. This letter was ignored.

The work day at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was 14 hours long with only one break throughout the day. Extra bathroom breaks were often denied forcing people to urinate on the factory room floor adding to the already unsanitary work space. Poor ventilation and locked factory room doors were common. Heaping piles of fabric scraps littered the factory room floors.

Here are two views of Triangle workrooms in about 1910. Although there were some men employed in the factory, they were mostly hired to cut the cloth. It was women who did the actual sewing.



The workers were paid two dollars a day, were docked pay for their errors and for the needles and thread they consumed. [If they pricked a finger and got blood on fabric, they were fined. If they did it a second time, they were fired.] Sometimes, they were docked more than they were paid.

At the end of September 1909, with the backing of Local 25 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) the Triangle Shirtwaist factory workers went on strike seeking increased wages, reduced working hours and union representation.

Conditions were no better at other factories. Unrest was infiltrating throughout the women’s garment workers industry. Something big was about to happen. On November 22, 1909, activist Clara Limlich [a petite 5 foot 4 inch young woman of 23] spoke out at a union meeting that they must do something.


“I have listened to all the speakers, and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I make a motion that we go out in a general strike.”

As most women’s garment workers faced these desperate times, Limlich’s call for action against these repressive conditions resulted in a vote to strike. On November 24, 1909, in the largest single work stoppage in the US up to that time, twenty thousand workers walked off the job in an industry-wide strike joining the already striking Triangle workers. They sought better wages, standardized work day, improved working conditions, and union representation.


Almost all of the women involved in this strike were recent immigrants, either Jewish or Italian. Notice the Yiddish writing on the signboard above in one of their protest marches.

At first, people paid little attention, and the press barely made mention of the strike in their newspapers. Until in December 1909 Anne Morgan, daughter of international financier JP Morgan, took up the cause of the striking workers. Joining her in support of the workers was Alva Vanderbuilt Belmont. With the voices of these rich, upper class women, also known as the mink brigade, by the middle of December the media picked up on the story of the horrible working conditions. Within forty-eight hours, smaller businesses capitulated and workers began to return to union only workshops.

Not so at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory housed in the Asch Building in Greenwich Village. Owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were angered and indignant. They attempted to stymie the workers by hiring prostitutes to fight with the women on the picket lines. Blanck and Harris hired ex-prize fighters to pick fights with the picketers. Bribed policemen arrested any who fought back and dragged them off to court bandaged and bloodied. Bribed judges found workers guilty.


700 of the women Limlich led on the strike were arrested, 19 were sentenced to labor camps. 

Blanck and Harris formed an association of the factory owners. By December 1909, they engaged in negotiations with the strikers offering increases in wages, and improvements in working conditions but stopped short of agreeing to allow the unions to organize in the factories.

Workers refused and the strike continued. Slowly one by one, individual factory owners agreed to the demands of the workers including union representation. But at Triangle, Harris and Blanck would not allow the union to be formed in their organization. Five months after they they began their strike, 23 February 1910, Triangle workers decided to accept increased wages and better hours. They did not get the much coveted union representation.  [Source]

But they got better hours and a bit of increase in wages. A cause for celebration, right?

Until 13 months later, on March 25, 1911.



The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history.

It was also one of the deadliest disasters that occurred in New York City – after the burning of the General Slocum on June 15, 1904 [over 1,000 people on their way to a German Lutheran church picnic died when that excursion steamship caught fire and sank in the East River] – until the destruction of the World Trade Center 90 years later.

The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, who died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Most of the victims were recent Jewish and Italian immigrant women aged sixteen to twenty-three; of the victims whose ages are known, the oldest victim was Providenza Panno at 43, and the youngest were 14-year-olds Kate Leone and “Sara” Rosaria Maltese.

Because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a common practice at the time to prevent pilferage and unauthorized breaks – many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below.

… Under the ownership of Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the factory produced women’s blouses, known as “shirtwaists.” The factory normally employed about 500 workers, mostly young immigrant women, who worked nine hours a day on weekdays plus seven hours on Saturdays, earning between $7 and $12 a week.

As the workday was ending on the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire flared up at approximately 4:40 PM in a scrap bin under one of the cutter’s tables at the northeast corner of the eighth floor. The first fire alarm was sent at 4:45 PM by a passerby on Washington Place who saw smoke coming from the eighth floor. Both owners of the factory were in attendance and had invited their children to the factory on that afternoon.

The Fire Marshal concluded that the likely cause of the fire was the disposal of an unextinguished match or cigarette butt in the scrap bin, which held two months’ worth of accumulated cuttings by the time of the fire. Beneath the table in the wooden bin were hundreds of pounds of scraps which were left over from the several thousand shirtwaist that had been cut at that table. …

A bookkeeper on the eighth floor was able to warn employees on the tenth floor via telephone, but there was no audible alarm and no way to contact staff on the ninth floor. According to survivor Yetta Lubitz, the first warning of the fire on the ninth floor arrived at the same time as the fire itself. Although the floor had a number of exits, including two freight elevators, a fire escape, and stairways down to Greene Street and Washington Place, flames prevented workers from descending the Greene Street stairway, and the door to the Washington Place stairway was locked to prevent theft by the workers; the locked doors allowed managers to check the women’s purses.


Locked door being inspected after the fire

The foreman who held the stairway door key had already escaped by another route. Dozens of employees escaped the fire by going up the Greene Street stairway to the roof. Other survivors were able to jam themselves into the elevators while they continued to operate.

Within three minutes, the Greene Street stairway became unusable in both directions.


Terrified employees crowded onto the single exterior fire escape, which city officials had allowed Asch to erect instead of the required third staircase. It was a flimsy and poorly anchored iron structure which may have been broken before the fire. It soon twisted and collapsed from the heat and overload, spilling about 20 victims nearly 100 feet (30 m) to their deaths on the concrete pavement below.

Just as in the Twin Towers inferno, there were heroes of the story that day…

Elevator operators Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo saved many lives by traveling three times up to the ninth floor for passengers, but Mortillalo was eventually forced to give up when the rails of his elevator buckled under the heat. Some victims pried the elevator doors open and jumped into the empty shaft, trying to slide down the cables or to land on top of the car. The weight and impacts of these bodies warped the elevator car and made it impossible for Zito to make another attempt.

A large crowd of bystanders gathered on the street, witnessing sixty-two people jumping or falling to their deaths from the burning building.


The remainder waited until smoke and fire overcame them. The fire department arrived quickly but was unable to stop the flames, as there were no ladders available that could reach beyond the sixth floor.

Which also meant there was no way to reach anyone on those floors with a ladder to rescue them.


Picture from the NY Times of that date in 1911 shows x’s on the windows
above where the ladder reaches, indicating where victims jumped.




The fallen bodies and falling victims also made it difficult for the fire department to approach the building.  [Source]

 There was a great outpouring of grief in New York City regarding the tragedy.


The parade of mourning above was viewed by close to 400,000 people standing in pouring rain along the route.


And there was a widespread outcry for “something to be done” about holding those responsible accountable.


But in the end, did anyone end up shouldering responsibility for this horror?

The company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who survived the fire by fleeing to the building’s roof when the fire began, were indicted on charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter in mid-April; the pair’s trial began on December 4, 1911.


And quickly ended with an acquittal for both. The defense lawyer convinced the jury that the prosecution needed to prove that the owners specifically KNEW that the exit doors were locked at the time of the fire. In spite of the fact that almost everyone knew that this was “standard procedure” for this sweat shop.

There was a subsequent civil trial, and the owners lost that one. The plaintiffs won $75 compensation to the survivors of each victim. Which ended up being no sweat for Blanck and Harris—their insurance company ended up paying them about $60,000 over their reported losses. About $400 per casualty. They came out ahead.

These jerks were not “robber barons,” of course. They were just petty small-time, greedy men, part of a grander scheme of heartless Capital and helpless, hapless Labor in the land at the time.

But surely the greedy jerks at least “learned their lesson” and dedicated the rest of their lives to factory safety out of a sense of guilt for so many innocent lives lost…

Harris and Blanck were to continue their defiant attitude toward the authorities. Just a few days after the fire, the new premises of their factory had been found not to be fireproof, without fire escapes, and without adequate exits.

In August of 1913, Max Blanck was charged with locking one of the doors of his factory during working hours. Brought to court, he was fined twenty dollars, and the judge apologized to him for the imposition.

In December of 1913, the interior of his factory was found to be littered with rubbish piled six feet high, with scraps kept in non-regulation, flammable wicker baskets. This time, instead of a court appearance and a fine, he was served a stern warning.

The Triangle Waist Company was to cease operations in 1918, but the owners maintained throughout that their factory was a “model of cleanliness and sanitary conditions,” and that it was “second to none in the country.”  [Source]

Oh. And Clara Limlich, the leader of that 1909 strike?


She had a cousin who worked at the Triangle Shirt Factory. The cousin evidently survived the fire.

For her outspoken union efforts, Clara was blacklisted from the garment industry. She then turned her efforts to the campaign for women’s suffrage, to being a consumer advocate, and eventually to campaigns against nuclear weapons, against the Viet Nam war, and for Civil Rights. She died in 1970 at age 96. You can even read a book about her many exploits.


The period of the “industrialization” of America that exploded after the Civil War, with the rise of huge corporations led by Robber Barons, led directly to the conditions among the working classes of the early 1900s typified by the Triangle Shirt Factory strike and subsequent fire. And in spite of pop-culture names that glossed over the various parts of the period in later years, such as “Gay ‘90s,” for vast portions of the population, nothing about it was gay or refreshing.

Growing even more rapidly than the general population, which almost doubled between 1870 and 1900, the industrial labor force expanded to more than a third of the population by the end of the century.

… A rough economic profile from the end of the 1880s indicates how close to the margin of poverty many workers were compelled to live. About 45% of the industrial laborers barely held on above the $500 per year poverty line; about 40% lived below the line of tolerable existence, surviving in shabby tenements and rundown neighborhoods by dent of income eked out by working wives and children. About a fourth of those below the poverty line lived in actual destitution. A small group of highly skilled workers, about 50%, were capable of earning from $800-$1100 a year. The common daily pay for unskilled labor remained about $1.50. Moreover hardships were exacerbated by periods of high unemployment (as much as 16%) during the depressions of the mid-1870s and mid-1880s.

As you might guess, this led to continual “labor unrest.”

…the 1880s witnessed almost 10,000 strikes and lockouts; close to 700,000 workers went out in 1886 alone…

And it wasn’t just long hours and low pay that concerned them.

…Hazards to health and to life its self were common in the heavy metal industries, in textile factories, and in chemical plants. The railroad took a particularly horrible toll: 72,000 employees killed on the tracks between 1890 and 1917, and close to 2 million injured; another 158,000 killed in repair shops and roundhouses. Workmen’s Compensation did not appear until the 1930s, and railroad disability insurance not until 1947.

But didn’t manufacturing wizardry of the era bring every housewife’s dream of “laborsaving devices”? Maybe for middle class housewives…

The image of machinery as “laborsaving” held a bitter irony for workers: not only did machines threaten life and limb, not only did they increasingly threaten the usefulness of craft skills, but, employed by capital to increase productivity as rapidly as possible, they often increased the amount of physical exertion over time. [Source]

And it wasn’t just adults who were toiling under miserable conditions and constant threat of death or serious injury. It has been estimated that by 1910, 2 million children in the US under the age of 15 were working at industrial jobs.  At times their work could be even more miserable and dangerous than that of adults since employers typically took advantage of their smaller size and forced them squeeze into tight, dangerous spaces.

Faced with back-breaking labor and long, exhausting shifts, fatigued child workers suffered high accident rates. Those who were injured or maimed in the course of their duties often received no compensation. [Source]

A few examples, photographed in the early 1900s by Lewis Hine as part of an expose’ of the child labor problem in the US:


An injured young mill worker. Giles Edmund Newsom, photographed on October 23, 1912. Giles was injured while working in Sanders Spinning Mill in Bessemer City, North Carolina, on August 21st, 1912. A piece of machinery fell on his foot, mashing his toe. This caused him to fall onto a spinning machine and his hand went into unprotected gearing, crushing and tearing out two fingers. He told the investigating attorney that he was 11 years old when it happened. He and his younger brother worked in the mill several months before the accident. Their father, R.L. Newsom, tried to compromise with the company when he found the boy would receive the money and not the parents. Their mother tried to blame the boys for getting jobs on their own, but she let them work several months. Their aunt said “Now he’s jes got to where he could be of some help to his ma, an’ then this happens and he can’t never work no more like he oughter.”


Frank P……., whose legs were cut off by a motor car in a coal mine in West Virginia when he was 14 years 10 months of age. Location: Monongah, West Virginia.


1909: Neil Gallagher, who lost his leg in an accident in a Pennsylvania mine at the age of 13.


Luther Watson, of Corinth, KY, 14 years old. Right arm had been cut off by a veneering saw in a box factory (in Cincinnati) on Nov. 14, 1907.

The reality of socio-economics in the US in that era:

[In 1890] Out of 12 million families, 11 million lived on incomes below $1200 a year. The average income of this group was $380, far below the accepted poverty line.

In the population as a whole, the richest 1% earned more than the total income of the poorest 50%, and commanded more wealth than the remaining 99%.

Yes, the Victorian Era had its own “1%.”

It was somewhat easy for that 1% to ignore the unwashed masses right up to World War 1. Oh, the masses occasionally stirred up a fuss with one of those tens of thousands of strikes against factories, sweatshops, mines, or mills. But the effects of those didn’t reach into their enclaves of mansions and estates.


Millionaire’s Row, New York City


Cornelious Vanderbilt II Mansion, New York 1898



Jay Gould Estate, Tarrytown NY 

Farther down the economic ladder from the 1%, the middle class was seldom supportive of any kind of strikes, as they were a bit closer to the front lines of unrest…the marches and sometimes boisterous public rallies in the streets by strikers were scary, and upset their sensibilities of the need for unquestioned law and order. So they were often, by nature, “anti-labor” when it came to disputes between employers and laborers.  And the government at local, state, and national levels was decidedly unsupportive of any disturbance of that law and order, almost always siding against labor…to the point of sending in the state militias, or even federal troops to quell labor unrest.

Strikes sometimes succeeded in getting minor victories for workers…a pittance more pay, a tiny adjustment of hours worked (but all too seldom no improvement in safety conditions, as is clear with the Triangle Fire example!) But as soon as they were over, and the headlines in the newspapers quit talking about them, the industrialists and the 1% and the middle class promptly went back to not worrying about them.

Until…the Russian Revolution.


At that point, the “narrative” changed drastically, both as expressed by the national press and the government. It seems that from that point on, the “aristocratic” part of the American populace began worrying. Because it was painfully obvious that the forces that wiped out the aristocracy of Russia, including the assassination of the royal family…


…whose mansion and estates didn’t protect them…


…might be headed directly to America’s shores. In fact… perhaps had already arrived and were infiltrating the nation.

This sense of things was exacerbated immediately after the end of the World War. Many working class men who had labored in decent jobs in bustling war-time industries in America to back up the war effort, suddenly found those jobs disappearing as the nation de-mobilized.  And what was worse, the labor market was suddenly inundated by millions of working-class men coming back from the European war to find no jobs waiting for them. Jobs were scarce, employers could fill any needs they had easily, with no need to cater to anyone complaining about long hours, low wages, or unsafe conditions…gripers could be replaced instantly with others eager to get any work at all.

When this led to labor unrest, suddenly it was easier to blame–not  the hellish working conditions and starvation wages—but “agitation” by Communists. If those fiendish Bolsheviks would just be ferreted out and deported back to wherever they came from, and any hapless converts among American citizens they made while here be incarcerated and deprogrammed,  the masses could go back to quietly suffering instead of being so belligerent.

Take the Boston Police, for instance.


In the Boston Police Strike, Boston police officers went on strike on September 9, 1919. [Source]


This is a crowd of Boston police leaving the meeting where they voted to strike.
Note how young so many look…many were WW1 veterans with young families.

They sought recognition for their trade union and improvements in wages and working conditions. Police Commissioner Edwin Upton Curtis denied that police officers had any right to form a union, much less one affiliated with a larger organization like the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Attempts at reconciliation between the Commissioner and the police officers, particularly on the part of Boston’s Mayor Andrew James Peters, failed.

During the strike, Boston experienced several nights of lawlessness, although property damage was not extensive. Several thousand members of the State Guard, supported by volunteers, restored order.


Governor (later President) Calvin Coolidge
inspects the militia that he called up.

Press reaction both locally and nationally described the strike as Bolshevik-inspired and directed at the destruction of civil society. The strikers were called “deserters” and “agents of Lenin.”

… When Governor Coolidge called the strikers “deserters” and “traitors,” a mass meeting of the Boston Police Union responded:

When we were honorably discharged from the United States army, we were hailed as heroes and saviors of our country. We returned to our duties on the police force of Boston.

Now, though only a few months have passed, we are denounced as deserters, as traitors to our city and violators of our oath of office.

The first men to raise the cry were those who have always been opposed to giving to labor a living wage. It was taken up by the newspapers, who cared little for the real facts. You finally added your word of condemnation….

Among us are men who have gone against spitting machine guns single-handed, and captured them, volunteering for the job. Among us are men who have ridden with dispatches through shell fire so dense that four men fell and only the fifth got through.

Not one man of us ever disgraced the flag or his service. It is bitter to come home and be called deserters and traitors. We are the same men who were on the French front.

Some of us fought in the Spanish war of 1898. Won’t you tell the people of Massachusetts in which war you [Coolidge] served?

(Coolidge, who indeed had never served in the military, was no doubt particularly miffed at this slam at his masculinity and patriotism…)

You might think police work wouldn’t be a good example of hellish working conditions such as could be found in the mines and factories. Until you find out the details of the life of the cop of the time.

In 1918, the salary for patrolmen was set at $1,400 a year. Police officers had to buy their own uniforms and equipment which cost over $200. New recruits received $730 during their first year, which increased annually to $821.25 and $1000, and to $1,400 after six years. In the years following World War I, inflation dramatically eroded the value of a police officer’s salary. From 1913 to May 1919, the cost of living rose by 76%, while police wages rose just 18%. Discontent and restiveness among the Boston police force grew as they compared their wages and found they were earning less than an unskilled steelworker, half as much as a carpenter or mechanic and 50 cents a day less than a streetcar conductor. Boston city laborers were earning a third more on an hourly basis.

Police officers had an extensive list of grievances. They worked ten-hour shifts and typically recorded weekly totals between 75 and 90 hours.

…Patrolmen worked a 7-day week, with one day off every 15 days. Patrolmen who worked the day shift put in 73 hours a week and “night men” worked 83 hours a week, while “wagon men” worked 98 hours.

After a day off, the men were required to serve a “house day” which meant they were on call at the station from 8:00am until 6:00pm performing various tasks such as recording duty, wagon runs and attending to the “signal desk.” After a three-hour break, they reported back to the station house at 9:00 pm where they slept for three hours until midnight at which time the bell rang for roll call and they “went out on the street” until 8:00am.

After that, they could go home, but had to be back at 6:00pm for what they called an “evening on the floor” which meant performing the same type of duties such as taking care of prisoners, wagon trips or “whatever turned up.” At 9:00pm the patrolmen went back to bed for three hours. The “day men,” in addition to their 10-hour day, were required to spend one night a week in the station house on reserve.

Although the commissioner and mayor had agreed to give the police a 24-hour holiday for every 8 days of work, this could be taken away “at will” and often was. Additionally, even during his free time, a patrolman could not leave the city limits without express permission. According to one patrolman; “That was the way it was day after day, round after round. We had no freedom, no home life at all. We couldn’t even go to Revere Beach without the captain’s permission.”

Revere Beach was the first public beach in the United States, founded in 1895. It was only four miles north of downtown Boston, and a popular refreshment spot for Bostonians…particularly among the working classes. Back in 1919 you could easily get there by a dedicated small “narrow gauge” railway…


…by ferry, or by auto if you were affluent enough to afford your own wheels.


It was much like Atlantic City in New Jersey, with a sandy beach for sunning, wading, and swimming…


…or ogling the bathing beauties…


… such as the Peekaboos, shown here in 1919…


I’m not sure how the Peekaboos got past the requirement on this Revere Beach sign, also from 1919. Those bathing outfits don’t seem to me to include “bloomers”!


…nor does the one worn by this young beauty, also in 1919.


But spending time on the beach was only a tiny portion of the excitement available at Revere Beach.  There was a Midway with amusement games and rides…




…a roller skating rink, and a dance pavilion out at the end of the long pier…



… bathhouses, many food and snack concessions, and much more.


But it sounds like the average steel worker or streetcar conductor got to enjoy an outing there more often than the average policeman.  Maybe the cops’ chances were better to ask for permission from their captain in the slow crime season of winter. You could still get to Revere Beach then. But not many bathing beauties to ogle…


Yes, life was pretty bleak for the Boston Police of 1919.

… They complained about having to share beds and the lack of sanitation, baths, and toilets at many of the 19 station houses where they were required to live, most of which dated to before the Civil War. The Court Street station had four toilets for 135 men, and one bathtub.  [ibid]

They didn’t get black lung disease like miners, nor seriously physically risk life and limb all day long every day like many in the steel mills. But it sure sounds like they had a pretty miserable working life.

But no, the federal government, the press, and the upper echelons of the Boston government couldn’t possibly conceive that these conditions would be enough to rebel against. Surely it was just that there were Bolsheviks stirring them up to not appreciate what they had!

So the answer to the grievances of these policemen, as well as those of the downtrodden workers in many industries in equally miserable circumstances, the answer to how to “fight the influence of Bolshevism,” wasn’t to remove the sources of complaints. It wasn’t to encourage all employers (including the city of Boston) to “turn over a new leaf” and give their employees a living wage, an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, under safe, sane, civilized working conditions, with the opportunity for employees to actually have a little bit of “pursuit of happiness” in a life outside work.

No, the answer was to blame an “outside force,” to insist it was what was causing the wheels of the country to not run smoothly and quietly like they should so that the American Aristocracy would not be inconvenienced.

… A Philadelphia paper viewed the Boston violence in the same light as other labor unrest and numerous race riots in 1919: “Bolshevism in the United States is no longer a specter. Boston in chaos reveals its sinister substance.”

… A report from Washington, D.C. included this headline: “Senators Think Effort to Sovietize the Government Is Started.”  Senator Henry Cabot Lodge saw in the strike the dangers of the national labor movement: “If the American Federation of Labor succeeds in getting hold of the police in Boston it will go all over the country, and we shall be in measurable distance of Soviet government by labor unions.”

And thus began the “First Red Scare.”


1919 movie—Based on a novel by Thomas Dixon,
the author of The Klansman, a novel made into
the widely-acclaimed but controversial 1915 movie Birth of a Nation
that glorified the Ku Klux Klan!


We’ll continue to trace this thread of the specter of Communism on into the following decades in the next installment of this series.  Click the link to read…

Red Scare–Red Summer



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