For the past year I have helped co-curate the Labor History Collections exhibit, “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America.” It has been an exciting and rewarding experience that has taught me so much about the vast history of the labor movement. One of the displays that I designed and installed was “Labor, Recreation, and Rest: The Movement for the Eight-Hour Day”. While looking through the vast Labor History Collections here at University of Maryland, Special Collections and University Archives, I came upon a very odd and fragile document. At first I did not know the significance, only that it was House Resolution 8357 and was approved by President Harrison on August 1, 1892.
Upon further research it became clear just how important this fragile document is. This House Resolution was the first law that enacted the eight-hour work day for all public workers that were employed by the federal government.[i] In 1868, President Ulysses Grant delivered Proclamation 182, which established an eight-hour work day for all laborers and mechanics for the federal government and declared that wages would not be cut due to shortage of hours.[ii] This proclamation backfired though; in most cases the law was never enforced and therefore had no effect.
Starting in the early 1880s, the federal government realized that there needed to be a law stating that the daily workday limit would not affect their wages, and to expand it to more types of laborers employed by the federal government. This resulted in the House passing Resolution 8357 in 1892. The law stated that any employer that did not abide with the eight-hour work day would be jailed up to two years. Unfortunately, the Resolution was not enforced like the earlier Proclamation, so there was no real progress towards a national recognition of an eight-hour work day. During all this time, the labor movement pushed for real progress, which resulted in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938.
Though the 1892 House Resolution did not make a permanent change, it was an important step in the story of making the eight-hour work day a reality for all laborers. If you would like to learn more about the labor movements’ involvement in the eight-hour day, come check out the exhibit in the Hornbake Library gallery or online!
This post is one of a series of Curator’s Choices, so be on the lookout for posts by other members of the Labor History Archives team at Special Collections and University Archives!
[i] Stephen W. Stathis, Landmark Legislation, 1774-2002, Major US Acts and Treaties (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2003), 136-137.
[ii] Gerhard Peters and John T. Whoolley, “Ulysses S. Grant: Proclamation 182-Eight Hour Work Day for Employees of the Government of the United States,” The American Presidency Project, November 2017, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=70245.
Erin Berry is a Graduate Assistant for the Labor History Collection at University of Maryland Special Collections and University Archives. She is pursuing a Masters of Library and Information Science with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation and expects to graduate in 2018.