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-- Mother Jones and the March of the Mill Children
On this day in history – July 7, 1903 – labor organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones led the March of the Mill Children, starting in Philadelphia and walking more than 100 miles. Destination: President Teddy Roosevelt’s Long Island summer home in Oyster Bay. The reason, to draw attention to the injuries happening to child laborers, who worked long hours under deplorable conditions. It was a three-week journey, and most of it was through New Jersey. At the time, more than 15% of children under 16 were employed – that’s an official census count; likely an undercount. It was poor families who had to send their children to work in coal mines and mills to help keep the family fed. But there were few regulations, and workers – particularly children – were treated as though expendable. They worked long hours in deplorable conditions with factory equipment that risked their lives and health; stunted growth, maiming injuries.They were fed and housed along the way by union people, by local farmers and socialists who knew their route. They came through Trenton, Princeton, and New Brunswick, then to manufacturing centers where they rallied sometimes with thousands of people in Elizabeth, Newark, Paterson, Passaic and Jersey City.
When they reached New York City, sixty remaining marchers walked up Second Avenue by torchlight. Jones, a tactician who knew how to attract a crowd, put the children in animal cages to dramatize the bosses’ attitudes toward their little workers. J
The October 1929 stock market crash signaled the beginning of the Great Depression which would continue until World War II. At its depth, the jobless in New Jersey ranged between a quarter to a third of its workforce, with African American unemployed estimated at over half of workers. New Jersey per capita income fell from $839 in 1929 to $433 in 1933 and some 140 banks closed between 1928 and 1933. New Jersey's state government issued begging licenses to the poor because the New Jersey government funds were being exhausted. Under the Works Progress Administration, part of the Second New Deal by FDR, many new jobs were provided in order to support the poor and unemployed. These projects included the expansion of Fort Dix, Roosevelt Park in Edison, and Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway.
The primary New Jersey contact for dispensing New Deal projects and funds was Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague. Although he had supported New York City Mayor Al Smith against Roosevelt for the presidential nomination at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, Hague had quckly repaired his relationship with FDR, hosting him in New Jersey at a swing through the state which was capped by a rally in Spring Lake In Jersey City political boss Frank Hague secured the construction the Medical Center, the Armory, and Roosevelt Stadium. Strikes also grew common during the Great Depression; in 1937 a group of gravediggers from New Jersey went on strike.