Labor Day is one of those times of the year when the feeling of demarcation is palpable -- the sensation that something is ending and something new is beginning.
For many years, Labor Day has been recognized as the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, even though the actual start of the fall season is several weeks later.
The holiday became known as the unofficial end of summer partly because of a number of social "rules" that came to be associated with it over the course of the last century. For many years in many places, public schools began their fall terms on the day after Labor Day. Football was not played in earnest until well after Labor Day. Outdoor public swimming pools opened on Memorial Day and closed on Labor Day.
A hundred years ago, many people still were following rules of summer dress that had been laid down in the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. Men were permitted to wear straw hats in the summer -- until Labor Day. People were permitted to wear white in the summer, as well -- until Labor Day.
Today, many of these social rules have been bent if not broken. Outdoor pools still generally close at Labor Day, but many schools -- public and private -- now open in mid- to late August. The first game of the Ohio State University football season of 2017 was played Aug. 31. It is now socially permissible to wear white whenever one pleases -- and straw hats, too, for those so inclined.
Labor Day has been a national holiday since 1894. It came after more than two generations of struggle by organizations of working people to gain recognition for their members.
Columbus was in the center of much of this activity. The arrival of the Ohio Canal and the National Road in the 1830s made Columbus a city of more than 5,000 people by 1834. During that time, typographers working at local printing companies organized the first labor union in the city.
For some time, it was the only labor union in the city. Columbus was a town based on commerce and trade; people employed in those businesses generally were not highly skilled professionals. But a typographer was hard to replace.
In the years before the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, other crafts, trades and occupations saw efforts to organize as well. Most efforts were not so successful. However, in the wake of the Civil War, America began to industrialize and workers began to organize.
The railroads were the first great enterprise to mobilize immense amounts of money and manpower and to repeatedly cross state lines in doing so. The railroad strike of 1877 led to violent confrontations in cities and towns across America. Columbus was among them. The strike was ended only when President Rutherford B. Hayes called out the Army to ensure that trains were kept running.
Columbus continued to be a center of action. In 1886, members of several trade and labor assemblies gathered in Columbus and formed the American Federation of Labor. In 1890, organizations representing workers in America's mines arrived here, forming the United Mine Workers of America. Historic markers in downtown Columbus note the precise places where these groups were formed.
All this organization did not take place because Columbus was a hotbed of union sentiment. On the contrary, the city was then and still is fairly conservative. But it is also a transportation center. In the late 1800s, more than a dozen railroads passed through Columbus. The capital city became a great place for conventions and conclaves.
It also was a great place for a parade. Beginning in the late 1880s, a Labor Day parade became an annual event in Columbus. Our picture today shows the Labor Day parade of 1891 passing the intersection of State and High streets. In the background stands the 1830s-era American House hotel. Many of the marchers are wearing white, moving in both directions in parade formation. After the parade, marchers and their families gathered in local parks for picnics and speeches.
Over the course of the 20th century, organized labor grew in membership and influence as America became the mightiest industrial and commercial society in history.
In recent years, working people have had to face new economic, social and cultural challenges, including automation and foreign competition.
But through it all, we continue to celebrate Labor Day and the contribution of working people to America's success with parades, picnics and a last remembrance of summer.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.