EDITOR’S NOTE: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo, along with the story behind it.
The Nashua Manufacturing Company strike of 1915 was one of a few at the city mills over the years, and perhaps the most contentious. It started with demands for a raise and a longer midday meal break. It ended with a wage increase in the spring of the following year (but not necessarily because of the strikers effectiveness in Nashua). Along the way, there was plenty of tension, thrown rocks, a shooting and a murder.
It began the first week of October 1915, when a handful of employees took their grievances to bosses at the dye house, which is now the Millyard Technology Park portion of the millyard. The mill shut down abruptly on Oct. 5, when a disagreement became apparent.
The following day, The Nashua Telegraph started reporting on a story that continued for weeks: “With the closing down of the Jackson company’s cotton mills this noon, following the shutdown of the Nashua Manufacturing Company last night, the cotton mill strike today assumes the most alarming proportions of any labor trouble which has been witnessed in Nashua for more than a quarter of a century.”
“This morning the small detail of patrolmen who had been assigned to guard the gates at the Nashua Manufacturing company was inadequate to cope with obstreperous operatives, and was roughly handled. Handfuls of mud were thrown at the officers, and they were jeered and hissed. That no arrests were made is accounted for by a desire on the part of the authorities to have no actual outbreak if one can be averted.
“Mayor James B. Crowley and Police Commissioner James H. Hunt visited the mill districts this noon. Mayor Crowley spoke briefly to an assembly of the strikers, telling them that there was nothing to be gained by collecting about the mill gates, and that no disorderly conduct would be permitted.
“… At 1 o’clock, Factory Street at its lower end was crowded with people. The police had the situation well in hand and the crowd was kept from the side of the street nearest the mill. Between 20 and 25 officers armed with business like riot sticks established a cordon which keep the strikers from molesting employees who entered the building and there was no sign of disorder. The strikers are apparently marking time and waiting for the organization of their forces before beginning real demonstrations.”
On Oct. 7:
“The strikers make demands: The strikers demand that men in the dye house receive a minimum wage of $10.50 and in the bleachery of $11.00. These are said to have been receiving $8.70. In the napping room where men have been receiving $6.45 a week, they demand a minimum salary of $8.25. A horizontal raise of 15 percent is demanded for the other departments. In the cloth room, it is reported that the operators of sewing machines were receiving $6.70. In addition, it is requested that the dye house men, who have been working from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with no time out at noon for dinner, should be given a rectified schedule to be the same as that of other mill operatives, namely, with working hours from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and one hour off between 12 and 1 o’clock.
“Demands were formulated late yesterday and submitted to agent Roscoe S. Milliken, declare the strikers. The latter declined to enter negotiations and is said to have answered that there were 25,000 cases of finished goods in the storehouse to be shipped and that the mills could afford to remain idle for some time.
“City Marshal Daniel F. Healy told the mayor he thought the police force was inadequate. The First New Hampshire National Guard, stationed in Nashua, ‘have been notified to be under arms and are ready for any emergency.’”
“Four patrolmen victim of mob” read a sidebar:
“While attempting to quell a disturbance on Myrtle Street early this morning, Patrolman John J. Kenney was struck and severely injured by a flying stone. He fell in the crowd and was trampled upon.”
Another ominous sign: “Mayor may order saloons closed for three days”
Things got uglier on Oct. 18.
“Man shot and women injured in clash between militia and strikers: While standing in a mob which the militia had been ordered to clear from the tracks at the Pine Street crossing of the railroad siding leading into the yard of the Nashua Manufacturing Company, this morning, a man known as Adam Rasavitch was shot in the abdomen by one of the soldiers. Rasavitch was rushed immediately to St. Joseph Hospital, where last rites were given by Rev. Leo Tyllo.
“Three women are at the hospital as a result of the use of night sticks in the hands of police, or bayonets in the hands of militiamen. They are Anna Kepin, 4 Atwood Court, Josephine Venicusis, 4, Doyle Block School Street, and Alexandria Belek, 25 High Street. The two are suffering from scalp rounds; the latter has a gash in her right arm, received from a bayonet.”
“This morning’s disorders started early, in fact two milk men and a fruit dealer were held up when they attempted to leave supplies at the mill gate. Cans of milk from one of the delivery carts were poured into the sewer. Gideon McKay, employed by the Roby Farm Dairy, was stoned, and so badly injured he was unable to continue to work.”
It got uglier still on Oct. 20:
“Jim Stivie beaten up after leaving mills last night dies at hospital – cases of rioters in district court: … One of the victims of the assault at the corner of Canal and Tolles Street at 5 o’clock last night, succumbed to his injuries. Stivie and Costas Dinele, two Greek-speaking employees of the Jackson Company, were walking up the street, having left their employment at the mills, when they were set upon by three men. Both were knocked down and injured. Two and possibly three revolver shot were fired but at the hospital last night it was stated that neither of the injured men had been struck by a bullet. The victims’ injuries included an ugly scalp wound … The police arrested Adam Sharpie during the night. Sharpie was arraigned in district court on a charge of murder.”
This all dragged out until April of the following year, when wages were, in fact, increased, bringing them more in line with other cotton mills in the region. Perhaps this was the reason things got ironed out. Maybe it was because things were looking mighty grim in Europe and the administration sensed a combination of disasters if a strike continued or the loss of opportunity should war break out.
Kevin A. Goddu, in his book, “Monday’s Mourning,” surmises that the strike ended in part because of lack of unity between groups of strikers. There was a division between the Polish and Lithuanian factions on one side, and the French Canadian and Greeks on the other. Additionally, the aforementioned stockpile of finished goods gave mill management the advantage of time, a luxury that the hourly workers might not have had.
None of which was any consolation for Mr. Stivie or his family.
Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or DHimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH.)