I cannot believe it has already been six years since I wrote my capstone project at university. I still remember all the work that went into it. I traveled back and forth from my university and Detroit. I spent hours in the Detroit Public Library archives combing over newspaper articles from the 1930s. I visited museums in Hamtramck and found the inspiration for my story. I was reading over it again recently and I realized I had not published this work anywhere. I posted a brief summary as one of my first blog posts on this page, but there is so much more detail in my final product. I want to continue to share the story of these incredible Polish-American women and their fight for survival during the Depression. It is local history that takes place mostly in Hamtramck and Detroit, MI. It started as a small, community driven strike, but became so much larger and started a national conversation about the corruption of certain industries and workers rights. I have included the link for my entire capstone paper at the end of this blog post.
A short summary:
My capstone project: War Against the High Cost of Living: How a Community of Polish-American Women Fought to Better Their Lives. This paper is focused on a housewife, Mary Zuk, who organized and lead many of the women-lead protests in Hamtramck against the high cost of meat during the Great Depression (1930s). It highlights how it was the housewife who truly held the family together. They were often the key to the financial management of the household. Their careful budgeting helped the family survive during long periods of their spouse’s unemployment. It was the women who took the daring step from the private sphere to the public sphere to fight for their families and make active change. The women were united, stubborn, and strong. They would not take no for an answer. They risked arrest and sometimes had to take forceful measures to get their point across. They had to fight through adversity as the media described them as “unfeminine and Amazons” in an attempt to undermine their cause. They were not taken seriously due to their sex.
The women did successfully lower some of the meat prices at local shops in Hamtramck. They increased their knowledge of labor politics and started reaching higher with their demands. These local women made it all the way to D.C. to confront President Roosevelt with their written petition. They demanded an investigation of the meat packer companies for profiteering and 20% reduction on all meat prices. It was the meat packers who were price gouging and hurting local butchers, livestock farmers, and the working class family. They did their research and started a new conversation nationwide about the corruptness of the meat packing industry. Though the women were not entirely successful in achieving their demands, they were an inspiration to others. In 1937, Polish women led cigar strikes for better working conditions and wages in the cigar factories. They also influenced other men and in women in other industries and ethnic groups to take a stand against unfair working conditions (auto strikes, Woolworth strikes, etc.). There was national attention on the Polish-American women strikes in the Detroit area as the New York Times would regularly report on it. They proved that the housewife was a key interest group and Mary Zuk went on to have a brief political career herself (1936 First Women elected to the Hamtramck City council). Their story has been hidden for years now, but this project brings their achievements to the forefront.
If you are interested, please take a look as I have attached the PDF file here:
2020 marks 100 years since prohibition became law in the United States on Jan 17, 1920. The 18th amendment prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol. In the 1820s-30s, a temperance movement gained traction and quickly began to grow. This movement started with religious organizations, but over time other groups of citizens were drawn to it.
Women and those of the suffrage movement were a big part of the temperance movement. To women of the era, alcohol was one of the main reasons their families became disrupted and they believed it tied into the high poverty rates. They believed it corrupted one morally and split families apart. Some men, who were the breadwinners at the time, would drink away their regular paycheck which left the household wanting. Women also felt abuse at the hands of husbands who came home worse for drink and felt it was time to take their stand against this behavior.
The Temperance movement was also a way for women to enter the political sphere and have their voice be heard. Temperance became the largest political movement by women in the 19th century. It wasn’t just women and religious groups though; factory workers also saw the advantage of prohibition as it would lessen work-related accidents and create a safer environment. Yet, prohibition ending up creating more problems than it solved. Continue reading “100 Years: Detroit and Prohibition”→
2020! We have entered into a new decade and it feels like a clean slate. What will happen in the next ten years? How will we change in the next ten years and what will we accomplish? I find it interesting to ponder these questions.
In 2019, I am most proud of the amount of traveling I did. I traveled overseas to Europe for the first time and was able to experience much of the history I read about first hand. I traveled to the west coast of the United States for the first time as well. I already have booked a trip to Scotland with a friend for 2020 and hope to explore even more! The cover photo is a picture of me taken in Zurich, Switzerland.
Returning to the present, I am proud of the work I did on the historynavigator blog in 2019. My goal was to become more consistent and create a post every month. Though I missed two months (one of those months was consumed with my travels to Europe and the other was just laziness), I was still more consistent than 2018. This year I hope to do better and make all 12 months. It is definitely difficult to find the time to do the research and even just figure out topics with work, life, and changes happening. This year, I want to make time to think of these things in advance and start my reading in advance. Is there any topics that you would be interested in me researching ?
In this post I want to bring attention to the Christmas Eve Italian Hall Disaster. This event is a forgotten piece of history to those outside of the local area. This story takes place in the early 1900s during a time where big corporations were booming and there were essentially no restrictions on how an employer could choose to treat their work force. It begins with local workers who became fed up with the way they were being treated and realized that they should be worth more to their employers. With great sacrifice to many union families, a strike begins. Unfortunately, it will end in a Christmas tragedy, but there will be a legacy that these families left behind. It should not be forgotten.
Woodward Avenue is one of America’s most iconic roads. The road 27 miles that connects Detroit River to Pontiac, Michigan and was once the main way to connect the suburbs to the main city. What makes it so special?
It is the home for many firsts in America: the first paved road, the first four way stoplight, possibly the first ice cream soda mixed by Sanders, and the first road where a ticket for street racing was written (March 1895). In 1963, thousands marched and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr gave a precursor to his “I have a Dream” speech. It is the home to the famous “Dream Cruise” where thousands of classic cars owners come to cruise, socialize, and show off their vehicles. It is also just an important part of Detroit culture; it is a landmark. The road was also important to the auto industry. The auto industry grew up and expanded on this road. It truly is the spine of Detroit.
“Midnight” was the code word for one of the final stops of the Underground Railroad. By the time the former slaves arrived at “Midnight” they must have been filled with a sense of relief after surviving miles and miles of dangerous travel. Dawn was right around the corner. At this time, the country was teeming slave catchers. After the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act, a new popular profession was created. This law gave the slaveholders the ability to seek out and have their runaways returned. The law of 1850 expanded this and allowed the capture of fugitives slaves anywhere in United States held territory. It did not matter if the fugitive was north of the Ohio River border (1787 Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery north of the Ohio River), they could still be caught and returned. If they made it to Midnight (though not danger free) they were just a few miles and a ferry ride from freedom. Have you guessed where this was?
I am sure many people have never heard of the fierce Polish-American woman Mary Zuk, but her story and those who followed her needs to be shared. Mary Zuk led an entirely female run meat strike in Hamtramck, Michigan during the Great Depression. The Polish-American women of this Detroit community fought to keep their families fed and would not take no for an answer. This meat strike was so significant that the women took it to the meat packer companies in Chicago and to the federal government in Washington D.C.
The city of Detroit had one of the largest Polish-American populations in the country at this time.