The Legacy of the Knights of Labor
In this lesson plan, students will read and analyze an informational text - Thirty Years of Labor - to learn about the Knights of Labor's desires for improving workers' conditions. Students then will compare these ideals to today's conditions.
Students will be able to:
- Read, analyze, and interpret primary-source materials
- Evaluate strategies and philosophies of social movements
- Assess continuity and change in society
- Articulate the context of a historical event or action
HSP Primary Sources
Suggested Instructional Procedures
1. Ask students to share the political cartoons they created as homework with the class.
2. Discuss the major concepts in each illustration based on the following questions.
• What did students identify as the most important principles put forth in the preamble of the Knights of Labor?
• Are the principles identified ones from which we benefit today?
3. Distribute copies of the preface and three sections from Thirty Years of Labor:
• Creation of a Department of Labor (pages 302–8, 313–14, 319–24)
• Use of immigrant workers (pages 411–21, 679–82)
• Establishment of the eight-hour workday (pages 471–80, including illustration)
4.Break students into three groups and assign each group one of the three sections. Ask students to read and highlight the preface and their assigned pages. Then have students discuss their responses to the following questions:
• How are the principles outlined in 30 Years of Labor reflected in modern society?
• If Powderly were alive today, would he be satisfied with modern labor conditions? Why or why not?
Abrogation: The abolition or repeal of a law.
Arbitration: A way to resolve a disagreement by bringing in a third person who was not involved in the dispute.
Bureau of Labor Statistics: A part of the department of labor, this bureau is the fact-finding agency for workers rights.
Collective Bargaining: Negotiating wages and conditions of employment by a group of employees.
Eminent Domain: The right of a government to take over private property for public use, with payment of compensation.
Labor Unions: An organized association of workers. The union helps to protect and further the workers’ rights.
Related Resources for Students
The website of the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives
contains personal papers of Terence V. Powderly and various documents of the Knights of Labor. “The Question of the Knights of Labor” is an interesting essay about the Catholic Church’s concern over radicalism within the Knights of Labor.
The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia contains several essays on various people, events, and organizations that played a role in the history of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the United States. Most notable for this lesson is Patrick Grubbs’s overview of the Knights of Labor.
The website of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has several essays on various people, events, and organizations that played a role in the history of unions in the United States.
This unit plan was written by Karalyn McGrorty Derstine. She teaches US history at Gwynedd Mercy Academy in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania and was the 2014 Beneficial National History Day Fellow at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.