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America's Forgotten Holiday

May Day and Nationalism, 1867-1960

Donna Haverty-Stacke

Publication Year: 2009

Though now a largely forgotten holiday in the United States, May Day was founded here in 1886 by an energized labor movement as a part of its struggle for the eight-hour day. In ensuing years, May Day took on new meaning, and by the early 1900s had become an annual rallying point for anarchists, socialists, and communists around the world. Yet American workers and radicals also used May Day to advance alternative definitions of what it meant to be an American and what America should be as a nation.

Mining contemporary newspapers, party and union records, oral histories, photographs, and rare film footage, America’s Forgotten Holiday explains how May Days celebrants, through their colorful parades and mass meetings, both contributed to the construction of their own radical American identities and publicized alternative social and political models for the nation.

This fascinating story of May Day in America reveals how many contours of American nationalism developed in dialogue with political radicals and workers, and uncovers the cultural history of those who considered themselves both patriotic and dissenting Americans.

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. vii-x

Although only my name dons the cover of this work, I could not have completed it without the love and support of a great many people. I am most grateful to Michael Kammen, whose advice and support have been indispensable and much appreciated both during my time at Cornell and since I have begun my career as a young historian. As most people in this profession would agree, Michael’s scholarly productivity is a ...

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pp. 1-14

On May 1, 2006, for the first time in decades, May Day became a rallying point for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Immigrant workers and their supporters coordinated a nationwide protest of America’s immigration policy. Their plan was to stage an economic boycott “under the banner ‘Day Without an Immigrant’” to draw attention to the tremendous ...

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1. Out of America’s Urban, Industrial Cauldron: The Origins of May Day as Event and Icon, 1867–1890

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pp. 15-43

On May 1, 1867, workers paraded in Chicago in celebration of a new state law that had established the eight-hour workday.1 Several dozen trade associations marched to demonstrate their approval of the legislation, which went into effect that day. That morning, “thousands of local workers set out to the accompaniment of bands” carrying banners that ...

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2. Revolutionary Dreams and Practical Action: May Day and Labor Day, 1890–1903In

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pp. 44-72

In November 1903, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) held its thirty-third annual convention in Boston. During the morning session on the fifth day, Maurice Mikol, a delegate from New York City’s radical-dominated United Cloth Hat, Cap and Millinery Workers Union, stood up and proposed a fiery resolution. He called on the federation to ...

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3. Working-Class Resistance and Accommodation: May Day and Labor Day, 1903–1916

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pp. 73-104

On the morning of May 1, 1916, a total of approximately 100,000 men, women, and children marched in three May Day parades organized by the Socialist Party (SP) held on Manhattan’s East Side and Yorkville and in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Dozens of unions joined various party locals and neighborhood working-class benevolent associations in a ...

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4. Defining Americanism in the Shadow of Reaction: May Day and the Cultural Politics of Urban Celebrations, 1917–1935

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pp. 105-141

In 1925, the Workers (Communist) Party (W(C)P) and its allied labor unions in New York held their May Day meeting at the city’s Metropolitan Opera House. As the New York Times reported, that day “Reds who cheered for Soviet Russia and a dictatorship of the proletariat replaced those who ordinarily occupy the boxes in the ‘diamond horseshoe.’” 1 The choice of venue may have been intended to evoke this sense of ...

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5. May Day’s Heyday: The Promises and Perils of the Depression Era and the Popular Front, 1929–1939

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pp. 142-173

During the 1930s, after nearly a decade of small indoor demonstrations, lively May Day celebrations filled city streets again. By early in the decade, the continued activity of the Communist Party (CP) in urban working-class neighborhoods and the Socialist Party (SP) within trade unions resulted in increased support for both parties. Given the extent ...

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6. World War II and Public Redefinitions of Americanism, 1941–1945

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pp. 174-192

Although May Day had reached a climax in terms of its numerical strength and cultural resonance during the Popular Front years, it did not maintain that position for very long. From World War II through the early years of the Cold War, those radicals and progressives who continued to support May Day would face their most difficult challenges. The ...

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7. May Day Becomes America’s Forgotten Holiday, 1946–1960

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pp. 193-222

Beginning in 1947 and continuing through the early years of the Cold War, those who championed the revival of May Day would face some of their most difficult challenges. Although Communist Party (CP) members and their supporters had high hopes for the holiday’s rebirth after World War II, they would soon witness May Day’s rapid decline. An ...

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pp. 223-232

By the early 1960s, May Day had essentially disappeared from urban America. Radicals no longer marched through the streets of New York City and Chicago on May 1 as they had done since the 1880s. What public gatherings they managed to host during the 1960s and 1970s generally consisted of only a few hundred participants, a pale comparison to ...


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pp. 233-288


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pp. 289-302

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814790717
E-ISBN-10: 0814790712
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814737057
Print-ISBN-10: 0814737056

Page Count: 342
Publication Year: 2009