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After Century Slumber, Rip Van Winkle Would Find Similar Political Issues

Women's Rights, Labor, Unions, Etc., Still Plague Nation as in Titanic Year

April 15, 2012       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Rip Van Winkle waking up after a hundred-year sleep might be shocked to find that the broad scope of political issues in the news had changed very little.

Women's rights, labor and wages, unions, conservatives versus progressives -- all in the news today were also headlines a century ago.

The year 1912 was when Bay City, Michigan, hit the national headlines for a political fight four days before the sinking of the monster ship Titanic.

A brawl in Republican politics April 12, 1912, at the newly-constructed Bay City Armory made the nation, and the world, aware of this town known mainly for its lumbering, busy ship traffic and Center Avenue mansions as well as the seamier side -- prostitutes and dangers of Hell's Half Mile.

Teddy Roosevelt was campaigning in Pennsylvania when his supporters stormed the Michigan Republican Convention here in a futile attempt to take over the voting rights of the state delegation. Pennsylvania coal miners were striking and were called "the poorest paid class of workers in America today."

The Bay City GOP uprising led to a similar demonstration at the national convention in Chicago in July, and to the Bull Moose Party of the Republican Progressives.

A stirring speech against child labor delivered at the Wenonah Hotel by former Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge was proclaimed by The Bay City Tribune as "greatest in the history of the Republican organization."

"It was not the employers' greed that kept Massachusetts wages down; it was the child labor of the Carolinas," asserted Beveridge.

Toastmaster W.F. Jennison was forced to stall for half an hour until the train bearing Beveridge arrived and the honored guest was delivered in a taxi from the Michigan Central Station on First Street.

Then the women of the First Presbyterian Church, serving as waitresses, were allowed to move through the crowd of banqueters to serve the meal.

The women could not vote, but they could wait on tables comprised of men who ruled the political world in which they lived.

Postmaster Homer Buck escorted the prominent Indianan to the banquet hosted by the McKinley Club. The 10th District Republicans had convened 102 area delegates in the court house that afternoon, Wednesday,April 11, 1912.

The district GOP was all for William Howard Taft, the conservative who had succeeded TR to the Presidency in 1908. The state central committee was split, 17 for Taft, eight for Roosevelt.

"MICHIGAN FOR TAFT" screamed the 72 point type of the Bay City Tribune. It would not be that way in November, as Michigan was one of six states won by Roosevelt in a four way race that put Woodrow Wilson in the White House.

Although the Bull Moosers got more votes than conservatives, 27 percent to 24 percent, the nation turned to Wilson, a Democrat, with 42 percent. Socialist Eugene V. Debs got 900,000 votes, 6 percent, showing the growing strength of the radical fringe.

The election results reflected America's rejection of a trend of exploitation, perhaps presaging a similar pattern for a century later. The difference today is there is no evidence of a progressive trend in Republican politics to equal that of the Bull Moose movement nor is there a radical fringe that might gain six percent of the vote like the Socialists of 1912.

The Child Labor Public Education Project of the University of Iowa explains the issue of a century ago:

"As industrialization moved workers from farms and home workshops into urban areas and factory work, children were often preferred, because factory owners viewed them as more manageable, cheaper, and less likely to strike. Growing opposition to child labor in the North caused many factories to move to the South."

These days non-union auto plants, many foreign owned, have created lower wage conditions in the South -- a situation some might compare to the effects of child labor of a century ago.

The Iowa report concluded:

"By 1900, states varied considerably in whether they had child labor standards and in their content and degree of enforcement. By then, American children worked in large numbers in mines, glass factories, textiles, agriculture, canneries, home industries, and as newsboys, messengers, bootblacks, and peddlers."

Child labor and wage inequity still plague the economy, as this statement from the Iowa project explains:

"As multinational corporations expand across borders, countries often compete with each other for jobs, investment, and industry. International competition sometimes slows child labor reforms by encouraging corporations and governments to seek low labor costs by resisting enforceable international standards and repressing trade union activism.

"Many labor unions and other organizations are concerned that this global 'race to the bottom' increases poverty while lowering labor standards. Since the 1980s, incomes of the richest 20 percent of the population in nearly every nation have grown, while incomes of the middle and lower classes have stagnated or declined."

So we can see that the U.S. is not alone in being affected by economic trends. The question is, will the voters decide to enhance, or retard, the 'race to the bottom.' Those who look back 100 years with intellectual acumen will find prescient advice. ###

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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