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Death and Dying in the Working Class, 1865-1920

Death and Dying in the Working Class, 1865-1920

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Death and Dying in the Working Class, 1865-1920
    Book Description:

    Michael K. Rosenow investigates working people's beliefs, rituals of dying, and the politics of death by honing in on three overarching questions: How did workers, their families, and their communities experience death? Did various identities of class, race, gender, and religion coalesce to form distinct cultures of death for working people? And how did people's attitudes toward death reflect notions of who mattered in U.S. society? Drawing from an eclectic array of sources ranging from Andrew Carnegie to grave markers in Chicago's potter's field, Rosenow portrays the complex political, social, and cultural relationships that fueled the United States' industrial ascent. The result is an undertaking that adds emotional depth to existing history while challenging our understanding of modes of cultural transmission.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09711-9
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: In Search of John Henry’s Body
    (pp. 1-6)

    John Henry was a steel-driving man. Forged from the shackles of slavery, Henry’s hammer built railroads that propelled the United States’ economy. He was also one of the most famous men murdered by industrialization. In an act of principled bravado, Henry took a stand and agreed to race a machine that threatened to mechanize railroad construction. Whichever won, man or machine, could claim the glory. Henry prevailed, but he paid a price—his life. The John Henry legend, which continues to be told and retold, has longevity for good reason. It depicts a nation coming to grips with industrialization, celebrates...

  6. 1 The Marks of Capital: The Accident Crisis and Cultures of Industrialization, 1865–1919
    (pp. 7-41)

    At the turn of the twentieth century, Big Bill Haywood, hard-rock miner turned union leader and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) spokesman, used to say, “I’ve never read Marx’sCapital, but I have the marks of Capital all over me.” He began to acquire his scars early in his life. At the age of nine, his stepfather took him to work in a western mine. Later, his mother bound him to a farmer for a term of six months, where Haywood learned labor discipline by way of a whip. Upon leaving home at the age of fifteen, he once...

  7. 2 The Power of the Dead’s Place: Chicago’s Cemeteries, Social Conflict, and Cultural Construction, 1873–1913
    (pp. 42-67)

    The nature of the industrial accident crisis produced particular politics of death in which a number of groups—workers, middle-class reformers, politicians, lawyers, judges, and employers—competed to define the meaning of workers’ deaths. The evolution of workers’ responses to the violent, often sudden, death of the industrial era took many forms. Seeking a dignified burial was one.

    The historical development of Chicago cemeteries serves as a case study to examine how broader tensions in industrial society were reflected in the processes of death and burial. Cultures of industrialization that had emerged to make sense of the sweeping economic changes...

  8. 3 Every New Grave Brought a Thousand Members: The Politics of Death in Illinois Coal Communities, 1883–1910
    (pp. 68-97)

    In the late nineteenth century, a poem and folk song, “Only a Miner,” circulated through U.S. mining communities. It began, “Only a miner killed; / Oh! Is that all?” These opening lines betrayed a powerful irony. Although miners performed labor vital to fueling the country’s economy, the poem suggested that Americans did not appreciate the risks involved. The last stanza reinforced the point. “Only a miner killed!” it read, “Bury him quick, / Just write his name on / A piece of stick.”¹ This and subsequent versions of “Only a Miner” criticized public apathy. More significantly, it placed ideas about...

  9. 4 As Close to Hell as They Hoped to Get: Steel, Death, and Community in Western Pennsylvania, 1892–1919
    (pp. 98-140)

    Like coal, steel manufacturing served as a barometer of industrialization in the United States. In contrast to Illinois coal miners who built a strong union and exercised a vast degree of autonomy on the job, steelworkers labored in a starkly different atmosphere in western Pennsylvania. The defeat of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AAISW) at Homestead in 1892 ushered in the nonunion era in the steel mills. Expanding strata of managers and foremen sought to control an ethnically diverse semi- and unskilled workforce. Steel corporations extended their control into communities. They used their economic might to cement...

  10. Conclusion: (Un)Freedom of the Grave
    (pp. 141-156)

    When Samuel Gompers, a leader of growing importance in the young American Federation of Labor, addressed the International Labor Congress in 1893, he chose the theme “What Does Labor Want?” In laying out his program, Gompers excoriated the wage system as one that put workers “in a position involving a degradation of mind and body.” Amid traditional calls for shorter hours and increased wages, Gompers paid special attention to asserting workers’ human worth. In an era when political economists treated workers’ labor power as nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold, Gompers reminded his audience that workers...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 157-184)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-218)
  13. Index
    (pp. 219-224)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 225-234)