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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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St. Paul's Labor Day Picnic

The first St. Paul Labor Day picnic was held at Liep's Pavilion, a popular entertainment site on the shores of White Bear Lake, just east of St. Paul. Trains from St. Paul, Minneapolis and Stillwater brought thousands of unionists to the celebration on the first Monday in September 1885. The picnic was organized by the Knights of Labor, a national labor organization that predated the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Founded in 1869 by nine Philadelphia tailors, the Knights grew into a powerful nationwide organization of all workers, regardless of craft, race, or gender. Its goals included abolition of child labor; support of the eight-hour workday, equal pay for equal work, wage equality for women and African-Americans; and the establishment of Labor Day, as a national holiday.

The first Labor Day event was celebrated in the United States in 1882 in New York City. The following year, Minnesota established Labor Day as a state holiday, and in 1894, the Congress passed legislation creating Labor Day as a federal holiday.

In the 1890s the Knights of Labor was succeeded by the AFL. Later the Labor Day celebration and parade were organized by the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly, which promoted union-made products, as well as union-endorsed political candidates, at various Labor Day celebrations. By the early 1950s, the Labor Day celebration had fizzled, then was reborn in 1987 under the leadership of the late Steve Dress, a teacher and business representative for the assembly. As one of St. Paul's oldest community events, the Labor Day picnic and festivities continue to celebrate the goals espoused by the organizer of the city's first Labor Day event, J.P. McGaughey, who urged all working people to "swell the great army of peace and production....You are one of the spokes in this great wheel of progress and your absence will weaken the wheel by one member."

Documentation comprises a text report, and a videotape of the St. Paul's Labor Day Picnic, prepared by the Industrial Relations Center of the University of Minnesota.

Originally submitted by: Bruce F. Vento, Representative (4th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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