Manuscripts Collection

Organized Labor

Working people are an important part of Minnesota history. Their labor helped to build our state, and their struggle to organize profoundly influenced its political and economic development. The Minnesota Historical Society has a long and proud tradition of working with labor organizations and individual working people to preserve the documentary record of Minnesota's labor movement.

The Society's holdings on Minnesota labor reflect the diversity of the economic history of the state. From the diaries and account books of sod-busting farmers in the first half of the 19th century to the records of the Region 12 office of the AFL-CIO at the end of the 20th century; from Duluth to Minneapolis to Austin; from domestic workers to railroad workers--all these are represented in the Society's manuscripts collection.

Included in this collection are diaries, correspondence, minutes, reports, newsletters, speeches, scrapbooks, bargaining files and administrative files of local, state and national unions, political parties, union and party leaders, "activists," individual working people, and businesses.

Records of Organized Labor

Listed below are some of the collections at the Society that contain the records (correspondence, minutes, agreements, financial records) of labor organizations.

Papers of Organized Labor Leaders, Lawyers and Researchers

This is a selection of the collections at the Society that contain the personal papers of some prominent individuals connected with labor unions - as elected leaders, as lawyers, or as historians.

  • Beeman, St. Clair.
    Leader in International Union of Electrical Workers, CIO. 1943-78.
  • Brust, Bill.
    Papers include a complete set of 1948 St. Paul Meatpackers Strike bulletin, correspondence relating to his meetings with socialist activists in Europe, and notes and articles regarding varied labor disputes in Minnesota. 1948-90.
  • Cramer, Robley Dungleson.
    Leader of Upholsterers International Union, Local No. 61. 1906-59.
  • Davis, Samuel K.
    Editor of the newspaper, Midwest Labor, and active in the Minnesota Communist Party. 1919-80.
  • Dizard, George.
    Business agent for the Diamond Tool Union Local No. 18650 (Diamond Tool and Horseshoe Company, Duluth). 1938-88.
  • Frank, Walter M.
    Active member of the Building Labors Union in Minneapolis and Wood, Wire and MetalLathers International Union, Local No. 190. 1922-60.
  • Genis, Sander.
    Organizer of Minneapolis and St. Paul locals, and international vice-president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America; also president of the Minnesota CIO. 1933-65.
  • Gilbert, Max V.
    Business agent for St. Cloud branch of Granite Cutters International Association of America. 1931-50.
  • Hall, Doug.
    Hundreds of case files of a leading labor lawyer. 1930s-50s.
  • Lapakko, Tobey.
    Labor and consumer rights activist. 1963-82.
  • Lerman, Louis E.
    Member of Jewish Labor Committee, and executive director (from 1955) of the Minnesota Labor Committee for Human Rights. 1917-78.
  • Le Sueur, Arthur.
    Leader of the Non-Partisan League and lawyer for farmers, laborers and the unemployed. 1910-54.
  • Le Sueur, Meridel.
    Renowned author, essayist and reporter of the working class. 1900-96.
  • Munkeby, Elling.
    President of Minnesota Council of City and County Employees. 1930-65.
  • O'Donnell, Gerald J.
    Business agent of St. Paul Local No. 455 of the Steam Pipe Fitters Union, chairman of the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly, president of the Minnesota State Pipe Trades Association, member of the Industrial Relations Council for the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Trades, and vice president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. 1930-85.
  • Paull, Irene Levine.
    Collector of papers relating to Minnesota politics and the labor movement. 1934-69.
  • Pereault, Henry.
    Member and officer of Cigar Makers Local No. 294, Duluth, and president of the Duluth Federated Trades and Labor Assembly. 1889-1945.
  • Rodriguez, Frank J.
    DFL state representative and author of laws regulating contracts and wages for migrant workers. 1977-84.
  • Spielman, Jean E.
    IWW and AFL organizer in Minnesota. 1905-36.
  • Rachleff, Peter J.
    Papers relating to Hormel strike support groups. 1975-90.
  • Romer, Sam.
    Labor journalist. Research files for his book, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 1962.
  • Sollie, Allen N. and Violet Johnson.
    Farmer-Labor and DFL activists, members of Office and Professional Employees International Union and AFSCME. 1925-89.
  • Tilsen, Kenneth.
    Lawyer, whose papers include files on the legal aftermath of the 1985-1986 Hormel meatpackers strike (Hansen v. Guyette and the Austin Labor Center case); United States. Work Projects Administration (Minn.); workers education; records of the state supervisor of workers education; research papers and didactic plays dealing with collective bargaining, the history of American unions, mining industry in Minnesota; and many other topics. 1933-40.
  • Valesh, Eva McDonald.
    Labor organizer in Minneapolis. 1891-1957.
  • Walker, Charles Rumford.
    Research and interview notes, chapter drafts, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and other printed materials compiled or created by Walker for his book American City: a Rank-and-File History (1937), about the 1934 Teamsters Strike.

Working People

The Society holds the papers (diaries, letters, photos, reminiscences) of dozens of working people across the state from the past 150 years-the collections listed here are a very small sample.

  • Alverson, Leonard.
    Timetables (1951-64), time books (1956-58, 1961), mechanical examinations for locomotive engineers (1941, 1961), trainmen's wage information (1957, 1964), and miscellaneous papers of a locomotive engineer for the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway (M&SL) and the Chicago and North Western Railway (CNW).
  • Cordes, James P.
    Material collected by Cordes, a St. Paul employee of Unisys Corporation, much of it (including examples of workers' protest art) relating to morale problems at the company and to employee unhappiness with chairman and CEO W. Michael Blumenthal. 1961-90.
  • Cummings, William M.
    Diaries describing his work with the Work Projects Administration (1938-41), at arms plants during World War II, as a soft drink route salesman (1944-57), as a laboratory animal caretaker (1961-67), and as a school custodian (1967-1980).
  • Dawley, Allen Webster.
    Diaries of farmer who lived in Highland Township, Wabasha County (1865-98), and Waterford Township, Dakota County. 1898-1925.
  • Emery, Rhoda J.
    and family. Diaries and letters documenting the school teaching careers (ca. 1890s-1930s) of James, Clara and Rhoda Emery in Owatonna and Oronoco, and the newspaper reporting career of Robert Emery in Bismarck and Duluth.
  • Forstner, Celia Tauer and family.
    Correspondence of Celia Tauer, second cook at the St. Paul mansion of Great Northern Railway president James J. Hill. 1908-11.
  • Heritage, William.
    Includes correspondence and subject files, land examination field books, work diaries and photograph albums, some relating to his early work as a timber cruiser for the E. A. Engler Lumber Company (Baudette, Minn.) and as a forest ranger with the United States Forest Service at Ely, Minn. 1879-1962.
  • Johnson, Frank A.
    Diary and related papers kept by a Northern Pacific Railroad telegrapher. 1871-72, 1882.
  • Paulson, Lydia.
    Diaries of a woman, born in Dassel, who worked as a housekeeper, nanny and clerk/seamstress in Minneapolis. 1922-63.
  • Thayer, William Ensign.
    Diary describing his work as a sawyer in Morristown, including the amount of wood sawed, time involved, and for whom the work was done; saw maintenance and repair; the weather; and wages. 1878-1900.

The Labor Movement From the Business Perspective

The Society holds the records of hundreds of businesses and businesspeople many of which contain some information about a particular company's employees. The small sample below highlights those business records with particular relevance to the history of labor unions, employee relations, or the lives and identities of workers.