Labor Day Heralds the End of Summer
by Paty Jager
September 6, 2022
In the late nineteenth century, labor activists insisted the working class or laborers should be recognized with a federal holiday. After all, it was their workforce that contributed to the strength of America and its prosperity.
Several states agreed and passed municipal ordinances in 1885 and 1886. But even though it was New York state who introduced the bill, it was Oregon that first passed the law recognizing Labor Day on Feb. 21, 1887. That year four more states passed laws creating a holiday for Labor Day. Eventually, more states followed and on June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.
While this sounds like it was a unanimously sanctioned legal holiday there were many who felt giving the working class a holiday would make them lazy.
There is some discussion as to whether it was Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, and co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, who suggest a day be set aside for a “general holiday for the laboring classes.” Or it was a machinist, Matthew Maguire, secretary of the Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in New Jersey, who pushed for the holiday.
Whoever started the movement, it is by far one of the most looked forward to of the holidays. It is a long weekend, at the end of summer when families do one last hurrah of camping, picnicking, barbecuing, or just plain lazing around. It’s a holiday that doesn’t cost them their hard-earned wages and they get to revel in relaxation.
Unless, of course, you were our family. We always went camping up the Lostine River on Labor Day weekend. Our place was on the Lostine River Road, but we would travel another ten to fifteen miles up the road to either pack into Francis Lake or set up a camp at one of the campgrounds along the Lostine River. If we weren’t packing into a high lake, we would take tents and later on a camper up the road early in the week to get a camping spot. Then Friday night we’d all hop in the pickup, my brothers and I and my mom’s best friend’s boys riding in the back with the camping gear.
We’d reach the campsite and finish setting up, adding the items that we didn’t want to leave during the week, in case they were stolen. The weekend was spent with the kids hiking, swimming, fishing, playing games, and sitting around the campfire. The grownups fished, made meals, and sat around playing cards and talking. It was a relaxed weekend until Monday afternoon when everyone helped pack up and we headed home to shower. The kids had to get ready for a new school year and the adults had to get ready for work the next day.
In the beginning, many towns had parades and picnics on Labor Day. These festivities were suggested as good observances in the first proposal for the holiday. Speeches were given by men and women talking about economic and civic importance to allow laborers a day off.
Eventually, the three-day weekend became less political and more about the average laborer having a three-day weekend at the end of summer. Many feel the Labor Day weekend heralds the end of summer.
I look at it as the end of summer and the beginning of the year I enjoy the most—Fall and the holidays.
Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story. Learn more about her at her website.