Held on the first Monday of September, Labor Day is a celebration of the American worker.
For many, Labor Day is a three-day weekend marking the end of summer and the start of the school year for many children. Stores offer Labor Day sales and fashionistas side-eye people for daring to wear white. Although that rule is arbitrary and not taken seriously.
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But how did the holiday come about?
The holiday is rooted in the late nineteenth century, when labor activists pushed for a federal holiday to recognize the many contributions workers have made to America’s strength, prosperity, and well-being.
The history of Labor Day
Before it was a federal holiday, Labor Day was recognized by labor activists and individual states, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
New York was the first state to introduce a bill, but Oregon was the first to pass a law recognizing Labor Day, on Feb. 21, 1887. During 1887, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York also passed laws creating a Labor Day holiday. By the end of the 1880s, Connecticut, Nebraska and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday.
Who founded Labor Day?
It’s not entirely clear who first proposed the holiday, but two workers can make a solid claim to be the founder of Labor Day.
According to the Department of Labor, some records show that in 1882, Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, suggested setting aside a day for a “general holiday for the laboring classes” to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”
But many believe that machinist Matthew Maguire, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, New Jersey, proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York.
The first Labor Day celebration
The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883.
When did Labor Day become a national holiday?
On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday in September a national holiday.
The current parades, picnics and parties are very similar to the festivities outlined by the first proposal for a holiday. Those suggested that Labor Day should be observed with a street parade to exhibit “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families, according to the Labor Department.
Should you wear white after Labor Day?
The idea of not wearing white after Labor Day is so widespread some consider it settled law in the world of fashion.
This fashion rule can be traced all the way back to the turn of the century, Marie Claire reports. The unspoken rule, now very much spoken, was created by the old money elite, hoping to elevate themselves above the nouveau riche, or newly wealthy.
Those with enough cash to travel during winter and fall wore white as vacation attire, meant to signal an air of leisure. But those who stayed in city centers generally remained in dark clothing for the seasons after summer, Better Homes & Gardens reports.
But this “rule” is not serious at all. Fashion is a form of self-expression and, as such, many rules are arbitrary. You can certainly don a white ‘fit’ after Labor Day if it strikes your fancy. It is not a sign of disrespect, as people sometimes fear.
Labor Day vs. Memorial Day
Labor Day and Memorial Day are both considered quintessential summer holidays, times for backyard barbecues, fireworks and parades. But they are often confused with each other.
Memorial Day is a holiday that remembers U.S. military members who gave their lives in service to the country.
It has been a federal holiday since 1971, but Memorial Day’s history stretches back to the Civil War when it was known as Decoration Day.
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