Woman's Views of The Brutal Gunmen's Work, October 23, 1916



Mrs. [Lenora] Austin Hamlin, of the Women's Welfare League of Saint Paul, spent several days on the range during the heart of the miners' strike, and did considerable personal investigating, which she embodied in her report to the league.

Mrs. Hamlin has favored The Ore with a copy of her findings, which is submitted herewith:

Members of the Woman's Welfare League will recall that on Tuesday, August 15, we were addressed by Mary Heaton Vorse and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn on the [subject] of strike conditions on the range and that great interest was aroused by their descriptions of the part women were taking in the strike and the hardships they were enduring in consequence. Following the meeting an informal request was made by officers and members of the league that an investigation of strike conditions as they affect women and children be made by the state labor department with special reference to the case of Mrs. Masonovich held, with her baby, without bail, in the Saint Louis County jail. This request was endorsed by other women's organizations and later a committee of three members of the league, of which I was one, was appointed to follow up the inquiry. In response to our request an investigation was made by the labor department into the Masonovich case, and into certain charges of child labor at the mines, and a report filed with the governor.

My visit to the range was of course quite unofficial, but as I enjoyed rather exceptional opportunities of meeting and talking with the strikers and their families, a brief summary of my impressions and conclusions may, perhaps be of interest.

From the Keewatin picnic on Sunday, when several hundred men and women walked a distance of fourteen miles or more to protest in a half dozen different languages against the refusal by the sheriff of Itasca County of the right of free assemblage in that county, to my visit to Carlo Tresca and Mrs. Masonovich in the Duluth jail, the week was a continuous motion picture performance of the most novel and vital sort. Reel after reel unrolled of "heart throb" stories of simple foreign people; of tragedy suddenly injected into a homely domestic scene; of heart-breaking struggle of the workers against wealth and power and hunger and stupid, sometimes brutal officialdom; of defiance and the swift, sure descent of the law; of slow imprisonment and the marshalling of the legal forces for the final battle -- all against a background of bare, riven, red earth and beautiful, swept and garnished cities. Verily a cross section of American life.

There was a wild ride through the rain followed by a careful, painstaking examination of the house near Biwabik in which the shooting of Deputy Myron occurred, a tragedy as stupid, as unnecessary as could well be imagined. Four armed deputies enter a home and demand the immediate surrender of a man on the charge of "unlawful assemblage." The people in the house are immigrants from the south of Europe, speaking little or no English. "Wait till O'Hara come," says the woman. O'Hara is the Biwabik police officer whom all the foreign people of the district respect and obey. But no, these newly-created officers of the law clothed in a little brief authority, will not wait. They pull their guns, and begin to shoot. The woman struggles with one of the deputies and tries to take his gun away from him. The husband and the four boarders and the woman struggle with the deputies and beat them off. A deputy is shot dead. A man delivering a case of pop at the gate is shot dead. Two presumably useful lives are snuffed out, two women made widows, and their children fatherless, and all because they wouldn't "wait till O'Hara come." Now a slender, dark-eyed [Montenegrin] woman with a pale-faced baby at her breast waits in a close, sunless, inside jail room, along with a dozen "drunk and disorderly" women of the streets, charged with murder because she joined in defending her home and her family against an attack of armed and apparently lawless men. The pity of it, and the shame of it -- in America.

There was a visit to two women in a Duluth hospital, one a young Finnish woman whose back had been severely injured by being dragged over railroad ties and then tumbled into a ditch while on picket duty. The other an Austrian woman, was arrested in her kitchen, also on a charge of picketing. She denied the charge and resisted arrest and lost her unborn baby as a result of the encounter. She was very ill, indeed, when I saw her. Afterward I met and talked with the sheriff of Crow Wing County, where both affairs occurred. He appeared to be a kind, honest, well-meaning man. He admitted that there had been unnecessary display of force on the part of his fifty men when first put on duty, but said he had got them together as soon as he could and told them to "cut it out." He said he never carried a gun himself, that the people of his country respected him and he didn't need a gun. I think he spoke the truth.

My feeling is that most of this "gun toting" on the part of officers of the law is a totally unnecessary piece of business; that it provokes violence instead of abating it and that it brutalizes the men who carry the guns.

As for the women on the picket lines, they are not playing "the baby act." They're good soldiers. They picket because they are likely to be less roughly handled than the men, because they can't be blacklisted and because they want to help their men. They're thoroughly "game," those women, and we should be immensely proud of them.

Then there is Alice Arcola, who bit the patrolman, and is out on bail. She was picketing and a big policeman grabbed her and left the black and blue mark of his five fingers on her breast. Alice bent her head and bit his hand and he let go. What woman wouldn’t? Mrs. Vorse told us that story and said she saw the marks. I met plump, sparkling Alice Arcola in her home one night and she confirmed the [story. She said she was going on the picket line the next morning at five.]

The Finnish [cooperative] movement is one of the surprises of the range. In most of the towns there is a Finnish hall owned [cooperatively], and in many of them a Finnish [cooperative] store. The halls have been open to the strikers for their meetings, free of charge, and except for them it would have been exceedingly difficult for the strikers to find a place in which to meet. These Finnish people on the range are a remarkably, interesting racial group which will richly repay study and further acquaintance. For one thing they stand for equality between men and women. They bring that idea with them from Finland where men and women enjoy equal political rights. They are all equal suffragists.

The mine operators may break this strike, they probably will, but they might as well make up their minds that organization is coming. Capital is organized and labor must organize in self-protection, and the public will support labor in its efforts to organize. No amount of welfare work or philanthropy will take the place of self-respecting, self-directing organization of the workers by themselves for themselves.

Life in the mining “locations” could be made much less colorless and lonely if the school buildings in the “locations” were opened for social center purposes at night. People who work hard need recreation near their homes, and the public school is the only building in the “location” large enough for recreation purposes. Besides it belongs to the people and they have a right to use it.

A social settlement on the range, directed by thoroughly trained and socialized men and women would do much to bring the people of all classes together and help them to understand each other. The point of view of the rich is often more limited than that of the poor.

But one thing above all we must stand for shoulder to shoulder over all this great country of ours and that is the right of FREE ASSEMBLAGE and FREE SPEECH. We must strike swift and hard at every attempt to deprive us of that fundamental democratic privilege without which free institutions cannot endure. In defense of the right of free assemblage and free speech we must be prepared to take cracked heads and bloody noses, if necessary, women as well as men, for without it we are a nation of slaves.

Postscript: There is an excellent motor road from the Twin Cities to Lake Itasca and from there through Bemidji, Cass Lake, Bena, and Grand Rapids to the range. Once on the range the roads are like your parlor floor. They are wonderful. The range towns are the best paved, best lighted, cleanest town in America. I never saw such immaculate towns anywhere outside of Germany. A combination of money and mayor -- largely Mayor Power -- is responsible for their magnificence. September and October are ideal months for a motor trip to the [Mesabi] range. If you consult the highway commission, they will tell you how to get back from Duluth to the Twin Cities without getting stuck in the mud. They say there's a way. See Minnesota First.