On February 22, 1860, thousands of striking shoe workers filled Lyceum Hall in Lynn. By choosing to begin their protest on Washington’s birthday, the strikers were invoking the memory of their revolutionary forefathers. Lynn had been a shoe making town since the early 1800s. Hard times had now caused management to cut wages and speed up production. Declaring they would “live by honest toil, but never consent to be slaves,” over 20,000 workers — more than had participated in any previous strike — joined the walkout. The size of the protest did not insure its success, however. With the owners refusing to negotiate and growing numbers of workers returning to their jobs, the strike collapsed after six weeks.
When the Lynn shoeworkers began their walkout on Washington’s birthday, they were making a connection between their grievances and those of their forefathers who had fought for independence. The strikers insisted that the rights they sought to preserve were the same rights enjoyed by free men everywhere — the right not to be controlled by an oppressive master. This time, though, the adversary was not the English king but the factory owners who refused to pay a decent wage.
In the course of the 1860 walkout, over 20,000 workers would participate in what has been called “one of the greatest workers’ protests in the history of the nation.”
Continue reading: Mass Moments: Lynn Shoeworkers Strike