May Day

Adolph Fischer

1886

VAULT Ruggles 12

Gift of Rudy L. Ruggles

This bilingual broadside, written by labor activist Adolph Fischer, calls on “workingmen” to attend a rally in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. In the demonstration’s aftermath, eight anarchists (including Fischer) were unfairly accused of slaying police officers. An openly biased judge sentenced seven of these defendants—known as the Haymarket martyrs—to death; the eighth was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In 1887, four were executed, after one committed suicide.

Two years later, the first congress of the Second International, an organization of socialist and labor parties, proposed an annual holiday to commemorate the Chicago protests and consequent executions. The holiday was dubbed International Workers’ Day, or May Day.

In 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld pardoned and freed the remaining defendants, citing trial irregularities. He was concurrently praised and censured for this controversial decision, which cost him a re-election bid.

Each year, the Newberry’s Bughouse Square Debates, an annual free-speech forum, begin with the presentation of the John Peter Altgeld Freedom of Speech Award, which is given to an individual or group that has staunchly defended civil liberties.

Fischer’s broadside and unwarranted fate are a potent reminder:Chicago occupies a central position in the movement for workers’ fair treatment. Its nineteenth-century denizens marched for and resolutely demanded their rights—and in turn, the rights of laborers all over the world.

Acquisition Date: 
1985