Monday, October 3, 2016

The Crown Prince of Dolgeville

An excerpt from current work in progress: An historical novel inspired by the life and family of Alfred Dolge

     On a bright morning in March of 1893 when the fields and pastures were still covered with snow, two boys climbed high on the leafless branches of a maple tree and scanned the southern horizon. When they heard the steady huffing of a steam engine and saw a plume of smoke rounding the hills, they shouted to the crowd waiting in High Falls Park. “The train is coming! They're here!”
   “Ach, the crown prince of Dolgeville has brought home a bride,” declared a bearded old man, speaking in heavily accented English.
  “You must be indeed proud of your grandson,” replied the slender and younger man on whose arm the old man leaned. Then he added with a mischievous smile: “Though I cannot share your monarchical views, sir. Are you certain that you are the same Christian Dolge who fought on the barricades in 1848?”
    “You young rascal!” growled Christian Dolge. “I was there and so was your father, the bravest man of us all!”
    “I cannot wait to tell him of all that Alfred has built here in the New World.” The younger man smiled and took off his pince-nez, wiping the lenses. Karl Liebknecht had arrived in Dolgeville a week earlier on his tour of the United States and had spent much more time with Alfred Dolge's father than with the industrialist himself. His father's old pupil had barely a minute to spare from his busy schedule of supervising the felt mill, the autoharp shop, the piano manufactory, and the school board – not to mention second-guessing his wife on every detail of the approaching wedding ceremonies for his oldest son and his bride.

 Karl Leibknecht

Christian Dolge

    Karl was not disappointed to have the time with Christian. Even if he had mellowed in the decades since he and Bakunin had raised the red flag in Dresden, the old radical was still an inspiration in many ways. For one, he had actually known Marx in his youth before he had even written the Manifesto or put together the massive edifice of Kapital. The old man had paid a heavy price for his heroism, and spent years in the dungeons of the mad Bavarian king..
    At twenty-two, Karl Leibknecht had just completed service with the Imperial Guards and would begin his legal studies in Leipzig after returning to his homeland. This journey to America represented a small rebellion against his father's plans for him, one that would pass as quickly as his brief infatuation with the trappings of monarchy. As he listened to the tales of his father's old comrade, Karl's resolve to follow the revolutionary path was strengthened. And already he was beginning to doubt the efficacy of his father's decision to found a socialist party and work for a better future only within the confines of Bismarck's tightly controlled Reichstag.
    In his mid seventies, Christian Dolge's materialism was now more focused on zoology and botany than economics, and he delighted in showing off the menagerie that surrounded the sturdy home his son had built for him on the edge of the village. Prairie dogs, coyotes, raccoons and even an eagle could be viewed in their cages along the roadway beside the creek. Nearby was a five acre fenced area for deer, peacocks and a variety of wild local fowl. A den on the cliff above the creek contained a high wall that prevented, for the most part, wandering by the old man's beloved bears, Schnippsal and Schnappsal. At the foot of an adjacent hill, three fishponds were filled with trout, bass and bullheads – and the village children were welcomed to cast their lines at any time except during school hours
    To Karl, Dolgeville represented a model of what all of Germany, all the world in fact, could be once the socialist revolution was achieved. Thanks to Alfred's keen sense of business, well-paid work was provided for all. Even more, workers became eligible for old age pensions and sick leave funded by what was, in effect, a tax on their incomes. Every child was guaranteed a free education in the excellent public school he had built. Dissatisfied with the abilities of the typical, poorly paid American teachers, he doubled and tripled the salaries for teachers, thereby attracting well educated normal school graduates. In the company of Old Christian, Karl had visited the school and was particularly impressed by the charming kindergarten, an institution developed in Germany but hitherto unknown in the United States.
    “This village is a living illustration of what Marx meant by surplus value!” he exclaimed to the old man as they stepped out of the high school where a German lesson was in progress. “This is what can happen when the true value produced by workers is directed to the betterment of all instead of being diverted into the wasteful extravagances of the owner class.”
    “I agree with you, young man,” returned Christian with a sly smile. “But surely you have observed that my son also provides very well for himself and his family, have you not? Do you think that Karl Marx would approve?”
    Taken aback for a moment, Karl hesitated before answering. “Yes, I could not help but notice your son's fine mansion and of course I know of his annual trips to Europe, having met him on more than one occasion in my father's humble house. I confess, with respect, that I was concerned by the difference in wealth between your family and that of the workers. It seems at first...not truly socialist.”
    “And what is your verdict on our little utopia?”
    “In all honesty, I do not think your utopia could exist at all had not Alfred taken on himself the role and accoutrements of a capitalist. It is, unfortunately, what workers and particularly the German workers who come here, expect. They cannot imagine a successful industry without a boss, or a successful nation for that matter.”
    “I agree with you,” said the old man in great seriousness. “If this town were governed by a collective of workers, it would quickly dissolve into factions. I see how the workers of Dolgeville function when given a voice on the school board or in decisions regarding new parks and other improvements. Perhaps in the far future, after generations of careful education, workers will be able to govern themselves, but for now they need a strong hand.”
    “What Marx called the dictatorship of the proletariat?”
    “No, the dictatorship of one very skillful man who is fully committed to the betterment of his people.”
   "But sir, even if I concede that your son is uniquely equipped to design and operate this small society, what future could it have in the long run? Who in the future could fulfill the role of dictator as he has done, taking just enough of the common wealth to maintain his position without falling victim to the greed of a Carnegie or Morgan?”
    “Perhaps the crown prince? Der Kronprinz?” the old man mused, puffing at his pipe.
   “His son Rudolf?” Karl shook his head. “Have we socialists truly come to a point where we must return to monarchy in order to attain our goals? There, sir, I find we must disagree.”
This conversation was much in Karl's mind as he and his elderly companion awaited the arrival of what could only be called the royal pair. He had been dismayed to learn that Alfred had hired a special train to bring Rudolf, his bride Anna and all their friends up from New York City. The costs, he calculated, must be astronomical and could in no way be justified by a need to maintain the necessary “dictatorship” of Dolge. It was, he had to admit, exactly the kind of wasteful gesture typical of the worst of the plutocrat class.
    Karl guided his companion to the open air pavilion where the rest of the welcoming committee and honored guests had assembled. The usually very sober Alfred Dolge could not conceal the intensity of his joy and kept turning to whisper into the ear of his wife, the stately Anna. By her side stood Dolge's great friend, one of the chief financiers of the newly completed Little Falls & Dolgeville railroad, Judge George Hardin. He was exchanging a comment with another of Dolge's business associates, Schuyler Ingham. In keeping with what Dolge's enemies called his “atheism,” the wedding ceremony was to be a civil one, and performed by Judge Hardin.
    As the train came into view, Karl observed that it was draped in colorful bunting and banners, one of which proclaimed in huge red letters: “This is the Dolge Wedding Party.” Glancing about, Karl did not see that anyone but he disapproved of such showiness. Even the money men, Hardin and Ingham, seemed completely overjoyed at the sight of the gaudy train and whooped with laughter to see the young people hanging off the sides of it, shouting their greetings.
   The wedding ceremony itself was brief as could be, taking place before a packed crowd in the Turnhalle, the great opera house that Dolge had built for his workers. The day had been proclaimed a sort of national holiday and the many hundreds of workers and their families who could not fit into the theater stood outside and cheered so loudly that the exchange of vows could not be heard more than a few feet away. As soon as the binding words were said, Rudolf and Anna stepped outside and waved to the throng, provoking more displays of enthusiasm. Then they returned to the bower of flowers erected on the stage and sat down to listen to speeches by the groom's father, his grandfather, Judge Hardin and too many other people for Karl to count. The young German was sure that the jewels that glittered on her dress were truly diamonds and pearls. And there was no doubt in his mind that the six fabulously gowned bridesmaids were each the daughter of some American millionaire. 
    A great quantity of food and drink was served, and not only to invited guests. The whole village lined up in the tents where tables were piled high with roast beef and steins of beer. What passed in America for a genuine German band began to play and soon the working people and the silk-hatted millionaires were dancing together with the greatest glee Perhaps, the young German thought to himself, such displays truly are necessary in order to cement the relationship between the people and their socialist leaders. 
    “Who can predict,” he said to a workman named Krebs, “what direction the revolutionary spirit will take in the new century?”
    “Who, indeed?” answered Krebs, reaching for another stein of fine German lager.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

New glimpses of the Little Falls strike leader, Matilda Rabinowitz, aka Matilda Robbins

I recently discovered a number of photos of Matilda Rabinowitz (aka Matilda Robbins) at the Walter Reuther Labor Library at Wayne State University, posted last year by an “eclemens.” Matilda was a labor organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World who played a key leadership role, along with Helen Schloss, in the Little Falls Textile Strike of 1912. Those unfamiliar with that struggle of the largely women workers of a century ago can see The Red Sweater Girls of 1912 or my novel based on the strike, The Red Nurse. The novel includes a chapter from Matilda's unpublished memoir shared with me by her granddaughter, Robbin Legere Henderson. 

One of the photos at the Reuther library shows Matilda at work during the Little Falls strike, probably in the old Sokol Hall on Flint Avenue which served as the strike headquarters.

Another photo shows Matilda with her younger brother Herman, possibly in their hometown of Bridgeport Connecticut.

Here is Matilda after being arrested for strike activities in Detroit, perhaps at the Studebaker or Ford plants. 

These photos show Matilda with strikers from the Fort Pitt Steel Casings Co. in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

A group portrait of participants in the 1913 IWW convention in Chicago show a beaming Matilda (in the hat) and identifies the man to her left – with his arm around her – as “Bill Fletcher.” This may actually be Bill Legere, whom she met during the Little Falls strike and with whom she had a long and often difficult relationship. In her unpublished memoir, Matilda had this to say about leaving Bill in the Herkimer County jail:

Ben's trial was soon to begin, so when I left Little Falls in February the IWW headquarters approved a tour for me for the purpose of raising funds for the Légère/Bocchini defense. Ben and I parted abruptly, following the last of many tempestuous and agonizing visits in the Herkimer jail. I never saw Bocchini again. Although he was in a highly emotional state, our parting was comradely and he was grateful for the little I had done for him. Ben played the martyr role, and I left him in a flood of bitter discontent and suspicion. While he played the role, as well of great labor leader, my fellow workers, even on short acquaintance in Little Falls, seemed to have little respect for his ability or integrity. I went through much torment and disappointment, but my vision of him was not so clear then as it would later become, and I still condoned much. I was determined to make the separation complete, however, and though I would do everything possible for the defense, but I would sever all intimate contact. I was determined that our romance was finished. Was I still in love with him? It was a question I could not then answer.

The Reuther site has this note on Matilda in a 2015 article, also by "eclemens," entitled “On The Women of the Industrial Workers of the World.”

The poet, feminist, and activist Matilda (Rabinowitz) Robbins was an early organizer and a lifelong advocate and writer for the One Big Union. She first became involved with the I.W.W. during the Lawrence Strike as a volunteer, and later proved her mettle during the Little Falls Textile Strike where she became the central strike organizer after the other organizers were jailed. For 14 weeks she ran the strike office, organized the daily picket lines and strike kitchen, arranged for legal aid for the jailed workers, and recruited support, with the help of fellow I.W.W. member Helen Schloss. For three years following she traveled the country, organizing textile workers in the East and autoworkers in Detroit, where she was jailed for her activities. 

The Matilda Robbins Papers, contain personal writings, photographs, and clippings and are a tremendous resource toward understanding the philosophies of an early women’s rights activist.

The IWW – which still exists today – has this description of Matilda in a piece on IWW women  by Autumn Gonzalez, Nicholas DeFilippis and Donal Fallon:

As a young woman, Matilda Rabinowitz traveled the country with the IWW supporting organizing drives and striking workers. She may be best known for her participation in the Little Falls textile strike of 1912, where she was able to gain the trust and confidence of a diverse group of mainly immigrant workers, rebuild the organizing committee, and reform a completely female strike and picket line. While the long battle with the mill in upstate New York dragged along, Rabinowitz organized for the children of strikers to be housed by IWW-sympathetic families in neighboring communities, which prompted further community support for the mostly-female strikers. She also lead a legal defense fund for arrested strikers, going on a months long speaking tour for those who were arrested in the battle at the mill, raising money and awareness for the effort. Her leadership was key in the strike’s successful conclusion.

Rabinowitz wound her way  from upstate New York to Michigan, where her soapbox speeches began drawing lunchtime crowds of 3,000 at a Ford plant, causing Ford officials to abolish lunch privileges. Ford also had Rabinowitz and four other IWW organizers arrested for their activities, but the damage was done, and autoworkers in the area took the IWW messages to heart. Workers at a nearby Studebaker plant began organizing and calling for the eight-hour day and weekly paychecks—rather than the bi-monthly paychecks that they were receiving—held a combined skilled and unskilled walkout on June 17, 1913. This action, considered to be the first major strike at a U.S. auto plant,  not have occurred without Rabinowitz’s work. The fire spread to a nearby Packard plant, where workers were attacked by police, but in the end concessions were won on the paycheck issue, although the eight-hour day would wait. The IWW would not gain a foothold in the auto industry, but it proved to the union movement that both skilled and unskilled workers in one industry could work together in one union to fight the boss.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"Her Name was Margarita" now available in Spanish

Thanks to translation assistance from "Guaco" Fernandez, we are now able to offer Her Name was Margarita in a Spanish edition, available in the U.S. at only 99 cents and at a comparable price in Mexico. Most of the story occurs in Mexico, in the village of Potrero in the province of Vera Cruz, and we look forward to hearing from Spanish-speaking readers who may be familiar with some of the figures and settings found in the story.

Below is a description of Su nombre era Margarita in Spanish, followed by a link to a description of the English version published last year.

     Esta historia está inspirada en una serie de eventos que involucran a los estudiantes universitarios en el legendario verano de 1967, en particular, una niña que fue capturado por una experiencia, tal vez una visión, que la llevó a dar siempre las alegrías de la juventud y el amor que tantos en su generación estaban celebrando. A finales de 1960 la Universidad de Fordham puso en marcha un programa de servicio social en México, que se convirtió en el presente de la universidad Programa de Alcance Mundial. El Proyecto México comenzó con la llegada de unos pocos estudiantes idealistas en la localidad de Potrero no muy lejos de la Vera Cruz. Con el tiempo, su misión se hizo más claramente definida, pero en los primeros años eran a menudo por su propia cuenta.
    Los estudiantes del Proyecto México eran claramente católica y aunque a menudo eran tan opuestos a la guerra de Viet Nam, como el resto de su generación, era las enseñanzas de su iglesia que los inspiró. Pueden haber tutelado en el gueto Bronx o trabajado con las personas sin hogar en el Bowery, pero no los radicales reales no habían aparecido en el campus y nadie había ocupado la oficina del presidente. Fordham en 1967 no era de Columbia o la Sorbona.

    El narrador de esta historia se reúne Margarita en una de las enormes marchas contra la guerra en Manhattan, pero la mayoría de sus compañeros de estudios de espalda en el campus conservadora todavía se dedicaron a los valores tradicionales de su iglesia y la familia, y el sueño solamente de carreras sólidas, burgueses. Ella y sus amigos se encuentran entre los primeros estudiantes de sexo femenino en Fordham, compartiendo clases con los niños sino que forma parte de un programa distinto entonces conocido como Thomas More College. Ella ha transferido recientemente de Marymount, pero está inquieto en el ambiente conservador de su nueva escuela. El narrador del cuento se enamora de ella a primera vista, y juntos se unen al proyecto México.


 En Potrero descubren que su anfitrión, el Padre Guillermo, cree que los chicos que los estudiantes de ingeniería y los pone a trabajar la reconstrucción de su iglesia. Sólo cuando una de sus paredes ha sido demolido, con la ayuda de los hombres locales entusiastas, ¿será claro que nadie sabe lo que están haciendo. Las niñas, que se esperaba para actuar como enfermeras en la clínica de la ciudad, tienen tan poca idea de qué hacer.
    Margarita, cuya madre es cubana, habla con fluidez el español y se encarga de organizar las clases de inglés, ser enseñado por las chicas. Los chicos, mientras tanto, asumen proyectos que requieren menos habilidad, la construcción de bases de nuevas viviendas y la reparación de puentes peatonales sobre el río que divide la ciudad.

    Y entonces las cosas empiezan a cambiar. El narrador descubre lo que él cree que las ruinas de una antigua ciudad. En el curso de la exploración de un túnel en lo que pudo haber sido una antigua pirámide, Margarita se encuentra con algo que no puede explicar. Una mujer de la localidad le dice que ella es una "bruja", una bruja o, para ser más precisos, una especie de chamán y atributos misteriosos poderes curativos a ella. Margarita se dibuja de nuevo a las ruinas, incapaz de decir por qué, en busca de algo que no puede nombrar.
    En el transcurso de una fuerte tormenta y la inundación que casi se ahoga la ciudad, ella desaparece, sólo para ser encontrado. Entonces ella desaparece una vez más.

Link to English version of Her Name Was Margarita

All titles available  on Kindle from Wilderness Hill Books

Monday, January 18, 2016

Sketches of the Work House on Blackwell Island, 1866 by W.H. Davenport

Blackwell's Island 1874 / Now Roosevelt Island

The New York Public Library recently made 180,000 items from its public domain digital collection available at no charge to the public, and those interested in New York history should definitely take a look at the NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection.    

Blackwell's (Roosevelt) Island is one of many sections of New York City that has changed so greatly over the years that its past can only be imagined with the help of old documents and images. In 1832 the Blackwell family sold the island, until then farmland, to the city, which soon set to work transforming it into a place of isolation for all the misifts of 19th century society: the contagious, the insane, alcoholics, vagrants, prostitutes and more serious criminals of all kinds.

Near the south end are the ruins of the Small Pox Hospital, built in 1856, and one of several structures remaining from the earlier era. Near the north end the restored Octagon Building- formerly the Lunatic Asylum - serves as centerpiece of a luxury rental development. Last year a major film, "10 Days in a Madhouse" was released, based on  the 1885 reporting of the intrepid Nellie Bly who had herself committed to the asylum in order to expose the mistreatment of the unfortunate patients. Her book is available for 99 cents on kindle, and free elsewhere on the net.

On Main Street is the Good Shepherd Chapel, still in active use, and surrounded by the apartment complex built in the 1970s. It was along this central spine of the island that the insitutions were built to imprison both criminals and the merely indigent. The penitentiary, opened in 1832, was moved to Rikers Island a century later after a wave of scandals. Here also was the Work  House, of which no physical trace remains. It was a place where people charged with the most minor crimes were incarcerated for relatively short periods of time, on the the theory that unpaid physical labor would cure them of idleness or other vices unacceptable to Victorian society.

The NYPL digital archive contains a number of illustrations of a visit to the Work House in 1866 by an artist/journalist named W.H. Davenport. His report on the visit was published in Harpers Weekly, as was his later story on the city orphanage on on Randalls Island. His work allows us to glimpse a few of the individuals who were consigned to the island a hundred and fifty yerars ago. 
Prisoners embarking for Blackwell Island from 26th Street pier
The work house, as seen from the East River
Breaking stones
Skulkers from work

A quarrel in the dining hall
The women's cells
Solitary confinement

The sewing room
The exercise yard

Self-Portrait by W.H. Davenport in his Harpers article on Randalls Island

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Witch Girl & The Wobbly: A Tale of the Pondshiners

TheWitch-Girl & The Wobbly” is inspired by the legends of a people known as Pondshiners or Bushwhackers who lived in isolation for many generations in the wooded hills surrounding what is now called Lake Taghanic. They kept to themselves, growing a few crops in the rocky mountain hollows, working from time to time for nearby farmers, and producing for sale a beautiful and unique kind of basket which is now highly prized by collectors.

The Pondshiner community was located
 in what is now Lake Taghanic State Park

The Taghanic basketmakers were similar in some ways to other isolate cultures such as the Eagles Nesters near Kingston, the Sloughters of Schoharie and the better-known Melungeons of the southern Appalachins, all of whose origins are shrouded in myth. When the Taghanic people came to public attention through a series of sensationalized articles by Frederic Van de Water in the 1920s, no one knew how long they had lived apart from the surrounding culture. Perhaps they had fled oppressive landlords during the anti-rent wars of the 1840s. Perhaps, as Van de Water thought, they had been up on “the Hill” for centuries. Some traced their skill at basketry to Mohican influences.

IWW leaders Carlo Tresca and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,
 2nd and 3rd from left

What is clear is that their small society was devastated by the influenza epidemic of 1919, when this tale is set. The narrator, Tom Ryan, was a boy during the Little Falls Textile Strike of 1913 and dreams of an activist life as a “wobbly,” as members of the International Workers of the World were called. Arriving in New York City just as the war is ending, he pays little heed to the flu epidemic and is more directly affected by the Red Scare which targeted the radicals, like Carlo Tresca and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, whom he idolizes. Accepting a job with a new union, he arrives in Stottville, determined to organize the Julliard mills. Things go badly and in his flight from arrest, Tom stumbles into the forest world of the Pondshiners.

Old Yet and Mattie Hotaling, 
from Carl Carmer's "Great River of the Mountains"

Those who prefer their history straight may take exception to my depiction of what might be called wiccan beliefs among the Pondshiners. However, I believe there is ample evidence for a persistent belief in magic and witches in this isolate culture. Carl Carmer in his 1939 book, The Hudson, devotes a chapter entitled "Witches Make Star Tracks" to the supernatural beliefs of the Pondshiners and similar Hudsom Valley groups. According to him, a belief in witches, and fear of their powers, was universal among the Pondshiners. Crosswell Bowen in his 1941 photographic study, Great River of the Mountains, said that “Most of them cannot read but they tell strange stories which echo of the middle ages” and “their world is peopled with goblins and spooks and omens.”

Considering the frenzy of witch-hunting on the other side of the Berkshire Hills in the 1600s, it is conceivable that a few believers in the old ways might have fled to safety beyond the reach of the Puritan inquisitors. And perhaps a young radical might fall in love in 1919 with a girl who shared those ancient beliefs, and who possessed powers which his materialist philosophy could not explain.

An except from “The Witch-Girl and the Wobbly”

“It's when the Goddess fill your heart and show you the right path to take.”
“The Goddess?”
“Mama tol' me all about Her.” She looked anxious for a moment. “She said I was never to tell anyone from outside the Hill but I guess it's all right telling you 'cause we're...”
“Because we're in love.” I touched her face and she nodded.
“Mama said that the bad Bible folk called anybody with the light from the Goddess was witches.” She kept looking into the forest as she spoke. “That's why they hanged the mama of the first Brother and Sister and they had to run away and live up here on the Hill with the Red People. And Mama said that the gals in our family could always get a light from the Goddess when things are real dark.”
“Like now?”
“Yea, like now.” She looked troubled. “Only I don't have no light now.”
“I think it will come to you, Lizbeth, and you'll know the right path to take.”
“Do you think so?”
“Yes, I do. But that path might have to take you away from this Hill.”

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Red Nurse: Helen Schloss at the Ludlow Massacre

In my 2012 novel, I imagine a very old Helen Schloss telling her story in Moscow in the late 1960s. She meets a young American from Little Falls, New York and describes the great strike she helped to lead in his home town a half century earlier. ( The Red Nurse is available at Amazon Kindle for $2.99 and the paperback is $9.99 at Amazon.)

Additional posts on that strike can be found on this site at:

M. Helen Schloss

After Little Falls, Helen Schloss continued to join the labor battles and in 1918 went to Russia as part of an organized effort to provide medical relief to the millions suffering from war, famine and disease. Her trail ends there, and I have never been able to find any record of Helen Schloss after that time.

Strike supporters at Paterson 

After the Little Falls strike was settled by state mediators in January 1913, Helen evidently went directly to the silk workers strike in Paterson New Jersey, which began in March of that year. Her IWW comrades Big Bill Haywood and Carlo Tresca, who had been at Little Falls, were major organizers at Paterson, as was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, with whom Helen had been arrested in 1904 in New York. At Paterson, Flynn was arrested for a speech in which she called for uniting workers across racial boundaries, and it is probable that Helen was among the 1800 workers and organizers arrested by the police.

Warren Beatty as John  Reed in "Reds"

A huge mass meeting of supporters was held at Madison Square Garden in nearby New York, featuring a pageant organized by John Reed and Mabel Dodge. The strike, and Reed's role in it, were dramatized in Warren Beatty's 1981 film, Reds. The strike, however, was a failure, and ended in July.

In 1914 Helen Schloss was at the strikers camp in Ludlow, Colorado when the Colorado National Guard attacked the tent colony, massacring two dozen men, women and children. The workers fired back over the next ten days, leading to more deaths on both sides.

The Guardsmen and hired thugs fought on behalf of the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company and two smaller mining firms. Although the miners lost the battle, subsequent federal laws on child labor and the eight hour day were probably due, in part, to the 1915 report on the strike by the House Committee on Mines and Mining.

Mother Jones with strikers' children at Ludlow

We know that Helen was a witness to these tragic events because a letter from her was read at a meeting in New York, hosted by the legendary Mother Jones. 

Excerpt from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 14, 1914:

Helen Schloss Writes Colorado Strike Story

Miss Helen Schloss is a trained nurse who has been active as a suffrage organizer in this borough in behalf of the Woman Suffrage Party. She was sent to Colorado by the Brooklyn Committee for the Relief of Wives and Children of Colorado Strikers to organize a relief station at Trinidad. Mrs. Frank H. Cothren, Mrs. Herbert Warbasse and James P. Warbasse are especially active on this committee. This is the story of conditions as Miss Schloss heard it from the strikers:

by Helen Schloss
    There has been a strike in the State of Colorado, since last September, and if memory serves rightly, there have been strikes ever since the mines began operating.
    Mines are unsafe, and hundreds of men are being killed in them every year. Water is scare in this part of the country, and coal dust is very plentiful. When a sufficient amount of coal dust has gathered in the air there is an explosion and many lives are snuffed out. When the operators are asked why they do not sprinkle the mines, they answered that the country lacks sufficient water.
    The present strike has been in progress, in a peaceful manner, since September. There was no trouble of any moment till April 20. The militiamen were in the field to protect the mines, and incidentally to break the backbone of the strike.
    The militia men had nothing to do, but to have a good time. So for just a little pastime, they started with Ludlow. Ludlow had 1200 inhabitants, with over 100 tents. The Ludlow people were about twelve nationalities in that small colony. They had parties and feasts, the women had plenty of time to go visiting, and to gossip. The men hung around, laughed and sang. There was nothing to do but wait until the strike was settled. The militiamen had work to do, and that was to break the strike.
    Long before April 20, the tents of the strikers were searched. Trunks were ransacked, floors torn up, and there seemed to have been brooding a general feeling of hatred for the militia. While the militia searched the tents, they usually had a machine gun on top of the hill. Be it known that Ludlow is sitting in a valley. The militia were stationed on the hills. This gave them a good chance to watch the doings of the strikers.

Militia Fires on Camp of Women and Children.

    Monday morning, April 20, at 10 a. m. the Ludlow people heard an explosion, and rushing out to the tent doors, they saw the machine guns in full blast, firing down upon them. Under almost every tent was a large cave. The women and children scrambled into them, while the men grabbed their rifles and ammunition, and went up on the hill to fight.
    The women and children who were in the caves tell horrible stories. The firing from the hills kept up all day, until 3 o'clock the next morning. No one knew whether his companions were alive or not. No one knew whether they would ever see his friends again. The rumbling kept up on the hill. 
    One young woman [Pearl Jolly] who had some training as a nurse, put Red Cross on her breast, and carrying a white flag, went from cave to cave with food, and drink for the women and children. She was fired at from all directions, and it is a great wonder that she lives to tell the tale. The heel was shot off one of her shoes. One time when she ran into one of the tents, to get some food, so many shots followed her through the canvass that she had to lie still on the floor for hours. A dresser in the tent was shot to pieces.
    It is said that the explosive bullets that were used set the tents on fire. The tents began to burn towards evening, and the fires kept up all night. The women and children fled from the caves, to the nearest ranch, and as they were running , shots followed them. The firing became so insistent that the people had to flee from the ranch. The militia looted the house, and left a note on a blank check, saying "this will teach you a lesson not to harbor strikers next time," signed with the initials of the Baldwin gunmen.
   On going through the ruined tent colony, one was struck with the terrible amount f bullets lying everywhere. Everything had been riddled. The stoves that might have been used after going through the fire were full of holes, where the bullets struck. Barns, sheds and everything in sight was destroyed. It was a ghastly sight to walk through the ruined colony, with the frames of the bedsteads standing out like ghosts amid the ruins.
    We stopped near the cave, where eleven children and two women were smothered alive. Big, strong men stood at this cave, in silence, with bowed head. We slid down the gruesome hole, and I gave it a sort of rough measurements and found it 5 feet high, 7 feet wide and 9 feet long. A little high chair and a baby's gocart were still there.
     The Red Cross party that went to Ludlow to recover the dead were arrested and detained for a little while. At first they received permission to pass, but later on General Chase told them he had received word they could not pass. Later this same general became abusive and called the minister choice names. The Red Cross party recovered the eleven children and two women, but it is said that there are a great many bodies still missing, which are not accounted for.

Grocery Store Looted by the Militiamen

     About one mile away there is a grocery store, which is run in opposition to the company store. A visit to this store convinces one that destructive demons had been there. Flour and cereals were spilt all over the floor. The cash register was broken open, canned stuff opened and spilled, fixtures destroyed and windows broken. hundreds of dollars worth of damage was done.
    Upstairs there was a rooming house, and the woman who ran this has lost everything. Never in my life have I witnessed such a state of affairs. The floor was strewn with papers, drawers were ransacked, bureaus, tables and chairs broken, mattresses destroyed, glasses broken. All the good things had been taken away. The poor people did not even have a chair to sit on. Unmentionable outrages were committed in this house. The poor woman sits on the floor on the torn mattress, with her hands up to her head in a state of terror. The reason this house was destroyed was because one leader, who was the strikers' best fighter, used to room there at one time.
    Louis the Greek was killed. He fought at the front all day. When the moaning of the women and children became too terrible, this big strong man went on the hill through the storm of bullets to beg them to stop firing. He was hit with a gun over the head, and knocked senseless, and then shot through the head with an explosive bullet. He was found at the foot of the hill with an old pair of shoes on. Before he was shot he had new shoes. His gold watch and chain were gone. One of the militia boasted that he traded shoes with dead Louie.
    After the terrible Ludlow massacre, the fighting began. Women and children were brought to Trinidad by the wagon load, the children fairly naked. For five nights and days the work kept up. The men went to the firing line, and the women stayed up all night cooking and sending shifts of men into battle. What a bloody war it was for five days! Those Greek men fought wonderfully. They fought against hundreds of machine guns. The strikers had a small force. They had little ammunition, but they fought bravely. A great many are soldiers from the old countries. The mixture of nationalities proved a great help in time of war, for it seemed that each nationality had something to offer and suggest against the "Tin Wollies," as they called them.
    A few days later there was another battle. The strikers fought at Walsenburg. Fire was set to some houses, men were killed, and there was a bloody war; but the women and children were protected.
   Peace has been restored in the community, the strikers are looking forward to a settlement. All strikers have been disarmed, and all mines guards are supposed to be disarmed.
    The only solution of this problem is to close the mines, and as long as there will be strikebreakers in the mines there will be hatred, and hence more bloodshed.
     Conditions among the miners are very pitiful, indeed, especially the Ludlow survivors. They are being fitted out as fast as possible, but there is still a great need. The strike benefits are $3 a week. One dollar extra is allowed for the wife, and 50 cents for the children. Babies are coming very fast, too. Since I started the work we have had two newcomers, and a dozen more are expected.
     The strikers ask for their own check man. They wanted someone representing the workers to act a a check man to weigh the coal and offered to pay him. This was denied. If they became too persistent they were kicked out and blacklisted.
     Miners say that the scales of the owners differ from the standard scales of the United States.
    When the strike was declared, the company wagons came, went into homes and hauled out all furniture, leaving the people in the streets. They then sought shelter in tents with what results I have described above.
The Ludlow massacre shows the intention of the mine owners. It shows that Colorado does not belong to the free United States, and it show that because there are thousands and thousands of miles of empty space, that because life is crude and uncivilized in the great canyons, the greedy are taking advantage of this, and using every method to gain their end.

Strikers' children at Ludlow - possibly with Helen Schloss

Colorado National Guard en route to massacre

Armed Strikers

I can find no record of Helen's activities over the next three years. Perhaps, she was radicalized even further by what she saw at Ludlow. Or perhaps she was sickened by the violence, and turned toward pacifism. What is known is that the Socialist Party and the IWW, with whom she had fought at Little Falls and elsewhere, was targeted for destruction by the Wilson administration. The US declaration of war against Germany served as a cover for a nationwide crackdown on labor organizers. The 1917 Espionage Act (which has been employed so heavily by the Obama administration against whistle blowers) was the legal justification for the arrest of socialist leader Eugene V. Debs, Bill Haywood and many others.

Whatever her political views after Ludlow, Helen joined with the Quakers in a mission to Russia while war still raged in Europe. The last record I can find of her is in the Friends Intelligencer of June, 1918:

"Robert R. Tatlock, leader of the Friends Mission in Russia, will sail July 5 for Yokohoma on his way back to Russia. He is taking back with him two nurses who are native born Russians naturalized in this country. Their names are Helen Schloss and Ruth Hoffman, both of New York City. Their speaking knowledge of Russian and their training and experience will make them a very valuable addition to our staff of workers."

I am hopeful that readers may be able to provide more information on Helen Schloss after she left the United States. Perhaps she lost her life to disease or violence in Russia. Perhaps she returned to the U.S. and gave up her early radicalism. Or perhaps, as I imagine in The Red Nurse, she fell in love with Leon Trotsky and managed to survive the purges of Stalin, and the Nazi holocaust. I can be contacted at

Although Joe Hill is said to have written this song for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, it could as easily apply to the brave Helen Schloss. Here's a link to Hazel Dickens' version of the The Rebel Girl

Thanks to the researcher who posts as JayeRaye, who called my attention to the account of Helen Schloss in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. His ongoing series on labor history, Hellraisers Journal, can be found at Daily Kos.