The mission of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association is to collect, preserve and celebrate the history, culture and traditions of working people and their unions in the city of New Haven and its surrounding communities.
GNHLHA brings the history of New Haven's working people to the community by 1) preserving and maintaining an archival repository of individuals' papers and local union records, documents and artifacts;2) working with students, teachers and community volunteers to conduct oral history interviews with current and retired workers;3) organizing film festivals, events and lectures;4) creating traveling exhibits and installing them in appropriate venues;5) partnering with union officers and members to identify, inventory and research their records of long-term historical significance;6) providing reference and research assistance to students, teachers, workers, genealogical researchers and others;7) maintaining a web site with information about working class history in the greater New Haven area;8) holding an annual meeting with panel discussions about topics of interest to the community and 9) organizing labor history bus and walking tours
Our highly successful traveling exhibit, "New Haven's Garment Workers: An Elm City Story" opened in 2007 at the Ethnic Heritage Center and has since shown at 23 different locations including universities, public libraries, the atrium at City Hall and other local and regional venues since then..
In 2008, GNHLHA facilitated the creation of a mural for the newly renovated Augusta Lewis Troup School on Elm Street by artist Susan Bowen. Many of the photographs used in that mural came from GNHLHA collections. In addition, the organization researched and published a booklet about the life of the school's namesake-- whose legacy had been previously unknown to its students. "Augusta Lewis Troup: Worker, Activist, Advocate" was distributed to the hundreds attending the school opening, and later disseminated to students through the efforts of a teacher at the school. It won Honorable Mention in the 2009 Connecticut League of History Organizations Awards of Merit.
The Family Work History Project is a collaboration between the Greater New Haven Labor History Association, teachers of History, English and Social Studies in New Haven's public schools, and a local professional music educator.
Over a three month span including nine project sessions, students at four schools will learn to conduct oral history interviews with a mentor in the work force, write and publish journalistic essays based on these interviews, compose an original song based on what they have learned, develop a spoken word piece based on their interviews, and present their work in a public performance.
Students engaged in the project will apply skills learned in the classroom to real world situations. Classroom skills such as historical background research on an interview subject, grammatical and structural writing skills and presentation skills will be utilized outside the classroom as students research, prepare and conduct interviews with mentors in the work force. 90% of students who participate will feel increased confidence and pride while engaging with community members. Student participants will have a practical understanding of the real life components that go into career decision-making and will be better prepared to make their own career decisions. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the local labor history in the Greater New Haven its impact on the region. Students will learn to produce a historical document and will gain an understanding of the role of oral history as a primary historical resource. Students will learn to analyze and question their sources.
The GNHLHA will draw from experience gained through the project to develop a labor history resource archive for use by history teachers statewide. The resource archive would provide teachers with lesson plans and resource materials that address CT state-mandated educational standards. GNHLHA would draw from knowledge gained during the project, as well as from an extensive base of primary and secondary sources housed in GNHLHA archives, to address the following CT State Dept of Education Content Knowledge Standards for grades 6-12: Trace the evolution of citizens’ rights; Explain the changing nature of the US economy; Analyze how events and people in CT contributed to developments in US history; Describe how US history affects CT citizens; Give examples of how individuals or groups have worked to expand or limit citizens’ rights; Debate instances where rights and responsibilities of citizens are in conflict; Analyze factors that encourage a business to relocate to another country.
Success is measured by grade performance and completion of assignments and by attendance at the culminating program. In the two pilot schools, School A exhibited 100% classroom attendance with 80% of students turning in all assignments and receiving a score of 90 or above. School B scored lower with 100% classroom attendance but only 20% of students turning in all assignments and receiving a score of 70 or above. 50% of students from School A and 25% of students from School B participated in the extracurricular culminating performance.
The gap in success between schools A and B was due in large part to a disparity in affluence and parental support. Future implementation of the program at schools similar to School B will involve bringing interviewees to the students in the classroom rather than having the students seek out these individuals on their own, creating a more accessible experience.
Program success was measured by teacher and principal feedback surveys, which were all positive.
Many students reported within their essays that they felt inspired by their mentors. One student said: “I hope that when my time comes to begin working that I will work as hard as [my dad].” Many, such as this student, testified to a gained understanding of the components of career decisions and how these impact personal decision-making: “I really admire my mother, who managed to juggle it all, both family and jobs, in a country not her own.”
Teachers felt that the program enhanced their curriculum by adding a sense of excitement and creativity to the learning process. One teacher reported that the production of a historical document “helped provide authentic writing experiences for students which are crucial to their growth as writers.” Another teacher felt that the historical learning objectives in the project dovetailed with her work on the industrial revolution and the progressive era, ultimately “introducing them to a new way of thinking and exploring the world around them.”
The exhibit has been welcomed at 13 venues in the state of Connecticut and beyond over the course of its continuing tour, including: the Azoth Gallery at the New Haven Public Library, the atrium at New Haven’s City Hall, New Haven’s Cortland Wilson Branch Library, the North Branford, Branford and East Haven Public Libraries, the Wesleyan University Library, the Fairfield University Library, New Haven’s Fusco Building at the Long Wharf Maritime Center, the University of Connecticut (Storrs) library, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst W.E.B. DuBois Library. Literally thousands of people have viewed it since its opening. There are many other venues open to receive it in the coming years.
The exhibit is part of the Labor History Association’s long term goal to increase local awareness of New Haven’s working history and of the people who built our city and our region. As it travels to hundreds more local and regional venues and as a digital version is made available on line, its already well-demonstrated impact will increase exponentially.
The best examples are excerpts from the Comments Book which has been placed at all venues where the Garment Workers exhibit has shown.
From East Haven: “I am currently learning about this in school…I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I were a child in that time period.” (11 year old sixth grader).
“We’ve come a long way, and it’s worth it to never stop fighting for what you believe in. (This) gives us hope for the future!” (an elderly woman whose sister worked in the garment industry and who is featured in the exhibit)
“The exhibit is amazing! It helps to put some faces to the stories my grandmother always tells.”
From a Fairfield University student: “Wow. Thanks for Local History. My aunt made shirts. This exhibit brings home her experience.”
From two teachers at High School in the Community who brought their classes to the exhibit when it showed at the Ethnic Heritage Center in New Haven in 2006: “This was a wonderful field trip for our students. We are studying working conditions in New Haven and this helped our students understand appreciate those who went before them, so they could have better working conditions.”
From a patron at the Branford Public Library, “Excellent. People forget how much of fair employment practices grew out of union organization—especially for women.”
From a librarian at the Branford Public Library: “I never realized New Haven had its own ‘Triangle Shirtwaist’ tragedy. What a thought provoking exhibit…kudos to the Labor Association for preserving the history and putting it together for all to see, It should be exhibited in every library in the state.” (this from librarian Celeste Kohl.)
From a patron of Wachovia Bnak in New Haven, where the exhibit showed in the summer of 2010: “Wonderful tribute to the women who worked in the garment industry in New Haven, paving a better working environment for their children and future generations.”
Along the lines of the highly successful Garment Workers exhibit, GNHLHA envisions an exhibit which will travel to public libraries, schools and other venues in the greater New Haven area. It will also be shown at local art galleries, museums, banks, City Hall and at university libraries throughout the state. Taking it to these diverse venues will ensure that hundreds, from equally diverse populations, will encounter it. The presence of a version of the exhibit on-line and the traveling exhibit in public schools and public libraries will especially make it available to the many public school students whose parents, grandparents, and other relatives lived this history.
In the long-term, the exhibit will increase interest and involvement of young people in learning about local history. They will learn not only that their parents and grandparents were important historical actors, but that so too are they.
A Focus Group of Retired Winchester Workers as well GNHLHA’s advisory board of historians and unionists will evaluate each step of the exhibit’s development. Once it is made public, teachers of American History courses will be asked to evaluate their students’ reactions, and to describe how they used it in their classes. Librarians will be asked to monitor usage, and comment books will be provided at each venue so that written comments can be made by those who view it.
The web version of the exhibit will feature a comments session. The number of “hits” on that portion of the web site will be monitored. In addition, an email publicizing the exhibit will contain a link to the page and will enable tracking of the numbers who respond.
Over 200 hundred images have been digitized and 20 oral history interviews have been completed for inclusion in the exhibit. The project director has been invited to several venues to present an exhibit mock-up and to describe the long term goals of the project. There have been over 20 telephone, email and written queries from people wanting to participate in the oral histories, contribute artifacts, and/or learn of the progress of the exhibit’s development.
Comments one of the volunteer interviewers, “The enthusiasm for this project in the larger community is infectious. People are so excited to participate and to have their stories and those of their parents and grandparents passed on to future generations. Everyone who grew up in New Haven during the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s in particular has memories of Winchester, and 90% of the local African American community had a family member or members who worked at the plant.”
In a year’s time (2011, 2012), GNHLHA will have completed preserving and processing all 10 collections currently held in the archives; acquired 5 more relevant collections; and increased by 50% increase the number of researchers using the collections.
The ultimate goal is to provide an ongoing resource for future historians and other researchers seeking to understand the history of work and workers and their defining role in building our community.
Success will be defined by the numbers of finding guides in completed form and numbers of researchers who have used the collections by the end of the year 2012.
Patricia Lucan, former President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said of the GNHLHA archival program: “The service provided…and the countless hours given…to researching and organizing data from several unions is invaluable.”
In the past two years, 10 researchers have used the Garment Workers and New Haven Federation of Teachers Collections for papers, presentations or other projects.
Photographs from the Garment Workers, Teachers, Central Labor Council and other collections at GNHLHA were used in 2008 by artist Susan Bowen to help complete the mural which now graces the lobby of the renovated Troup School on Elm Street in New Haven.
The Typographical Union Local 47 Records include a number of artifacts and photographs that document the early printing trades in New Haven. These items were displayed for six months at the renovated Augusta Lewis Troup School in honor of its namesake, who was the first woman to hold office in the International Typographical Union. These artifacts are on continuous display in the lobby of the Council/ Teachers Building in New Haven.
Local organizations and individuals will achieve a clear understanding of the importance of preserving their records to document their contributions to history, and will be given the tools to do so. Current records management programs will be enhanced or new ones put in place to ensure that records of long term historical value are identified and maintained.
Documents, artifacts, and photographs from a variety of sources will be well-organized, well-preserved and accessible to future generations to create a full picture of local and regional history.
Program success will be measured by evaluations and testimonies of participants; return visits by the archivist to view organizations’ progress and make further recommendations as needed; and responsiveness of other organizations and individuals to participation in the project
Qualitatively, at least 10 additional inventories and consultations will be produced annually.
Excerpts from the following letters from representatives of the unions whose records have thus far been inventoried are representative of the testimonies of all the participants:
Chuck Appleby, President and Business Manager, Carpenters Local 24: GNHLHA is “the only local organization that combines historical information from many different unions into a broader picture of the history of a movement…They support the work of amateur historians and archivists within the membership of each union by means of information, encouragement, and direct help.”
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Greater New Haven is home to a thriving arts community that includes theatre, music, dance and the visual arts. It is invested in its museums, historic preservation and the celebration of its members’ ethnic and cultural diversity.
Greater New Haven’s vibrancy is linked to its communities’ support of its neighborhoods, public gardens and sports, as well as its commitment to the protection of its people and pets.
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