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“Big Bill” Haywood and the Western Federation of Miners

Today’s entry is written by Mary Corcoran, an archives assistant at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.
Militant. Radical. These are just two of the adjectives attributed to the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) in the pages of the Daily Worker. Founded on May 15, 1893, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Federation was first comprised of a loose network of 180 miners hailing from Wisconsin and Michigan to the east, Canada to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
The Western Federation of Miners found its strongest support in the West, where it was responsible for leading strikes at Cripple Creek, Colorado, in 1894; Leadville, Colorado, in 1896; and the Coer d’Alene region in Idaho, in 1896 and 1897.2masses.jpg In Colorado, the first years of the 20th century brought with them strong anti-union sentiment, exemplified by the election of Governor James Hamilton Peabody in 1903 and the implementation of military rule under the National Guard. Tactics for disenfranchising the miners and their families included an attempt to shut down communications by closing the union newspaper and threatening workers who remained loyal to the WFM with deportation.
The Western Federation of Miners began as an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor, but separated from the larger organization for a period (citing conservative policies), before rejoining in 1911. From 1905 to 1907, the Federation was allied with the Industrial Workers of the World, also know as the Wobblies. (The Tamiment’s Industrial Workers of the World Printed Ephemera Collection PE 044 is a rich source for researchers looking for materials on the IWW’s New York City branch.)


April 1906 correspondence regarding the legal defense team, led by Clarence Darrow, for Haywood and two other WFM leaders arrested for the alleged murder of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg. From the Tamiment Library: Manuscript Files: TAM 245, Box 7, folder 59.

During the mid-1890s, the WFM gained one of its most outspoken and recognizable leaders: a miner named William “Big Bill” Haywood, who in time would rise to become secretary-treasurer of the Federation. Born in 1869, Big Bill began working in the mines at the age of nine, at a time when miners routinely worked thirteen 10-hour days before being granted a single day off.

Following his work with the Western Federation of Miners, William “Big Bill” Haywood (right) went on to become a founding member and leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), where he worked closely with Hubert Harrison (left) and Elizabeth Gurly Flynn (center). The Tamiment Library and Wagner Archives is home to print and archival collections documenting Gurly Flynn, Haywood, and the work of both the WFM and the IWW.

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