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The 19th century's largest and most influential labor union, The Knights of Labor, was not trade-specific. It accomplished more for the cause of the American worker than any organization until the American Federation of Labor superseded its power in the early 20th century. The Knights of Labor crossed trades and united American workers on a national scale at a pivotal point in labor history.

The Powderly and Hayes papers span the entire life of the Knights of Labor, allowing researchers to view this unique organization from the vantage point of two of its most important leaders. Students of labor law, history, and political science will use this collection to assist them in studying the American labor movement through a period of hard times and a changing economic structure in this country. Among topics to be explored through the complementary personal histories in this collection are:


  • the influence of Powderly and Hayes on the labor movement
  • the impact of these men on political, economic, and social issues
  • major issues related to the labor movement, such as anarchism, women's rights, race relations, presidential politics, immigration, wages and hours, and the closed shop

Largely due to the charismatic leadership of Powderly and Hayes, the Knights of Labor comprised a tightly organized national network of Local Assemblies. It also was the first national labor organization to recruit women and blacks extensively and as a matter of policy. Researchers in African-American studies and women's studies will find this collection valuable as they trace the evolution of black and women's rights in relation to the labor movement.

The Knights of Labor was also the largest organization of its day, with a peak membership of nearly one million. This number was not matched until 1902 when the American Federation of Labor came into its own. This collection also provides valuable information on the first comprehensive body of national employment information, which the Knights compiled and disseminated to its membership.

Featured in the collection are correspondence, pamphlets relating to the Knights of Labor, speeches by Powderly and Hayes, reports on the meetings of various Local Assemblies, newspaper clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, and legal files. Of special interest are numerous records pertaining specifically to the Knights of Labor and its organization, which provide essential material for a comprehensive study of labor and its history.

Because the Powderly and Hayes papers reveal the inside, day-to-day story of the Knights, they complement in vital ways other collections about the labor movement and its leaders available to scholars.

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