The Legacy of the Knights of Labor

Home Education Unit Plans Workers’ United: The Knights of Labor The Legacy of the Knights of Labor

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.

Essential Questions

How does continuity and change within the United States history influence your community today?
How has social disagreement and collaboration been beneficial to American society?


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

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.

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