Principles of the Knights of Labor
In this lesson plan, students will be introduced to Terence V. Powderly and the Knights of Labor. Through reading an informational text - the preamble to the Constitution of the Knights of Labor - students will look for key ideas and details as they search for central ideas.
Students will be able to:
- Read, analyze, and interpret primary-source materials
- Evaluate strategies and philosophies of social movements
- Articulate the context of a historical event or action
HSP Primary Sources
Suggested Instructional Procedures
1. As an introduction to the exercise, lead students in an in-class brainstorming session and discussion of the conditions faced by American workers during the latter part of the 19th century. Have students share their thoughts and write them on the board. For homework, ask students to research and write a brief essay on Terence V. Powderly.
2.Using the evening homework assignment, ask students to discuss Powderly and his work, creating a brief biography as a class.
3, Distribute copies of the preamble of the Constitution of the Knights of Labor. Ask students to read the preamble silently and highlight or take notes. After they complete reading, break students into pairs to discuss the preamble. Students may wish to answer the following questions in their copybooks:
• For what purpose was the Order of the Knights of Labor organized?
• From the perspective of the author of this document, what must workers be able to do in order to fully enjoy the wealth they create?
• What issues discussed in class were the Knights of Labor attempting to address (refer to notes from the previous day)?
• What do you think are the most important principles put forth in this document?
• In your opinion, what are three demands of the Knights of Labor that have been met and from which we benefit today?
4. Ask students to create a political cartoon based on the most important principles of the preamble of the Knights of Labor for homework.
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.
Preamble: An introductory statement in a document which explains the document’s purpose and underlying philosophy.
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.