Encampment During the Pullman Strike
State Content Standards
10.3.4 – Trace the evolution of work and labor, including the demise of the slave trade and the effects of immigration, mining and manufacturing, division of labor, and the union movement.
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About the Artist
Franklin Jay Lewis was born in Vermont in 1838, the youngest of eleven children. Not much is known about his early life except that all eleven children were musical and that as a young adult he worked as both a farmer and a beekeeper. When he was thirty, he and his wife came to California , first to San Jose and then later to Sacramento . Very little also is known about his training and career as a painter. From newspaper accounts it is known that Lewis received an award for three oil paintings and a pen-and-ink drawing of a bunch of grapes in the 1873 California State Fair. He was also listed in the 1888-1889 Sacramento City Directory as an “artist in oil.” By 1893, however, Lewis listed himself as “artist and musician,” while the following year and until his death he described himself as a “musician”— Lewis later became Sacramento 's first cellist. Two of Lewis' children became professional musicians, and one of these, Mary Amanda, became a painter as well. Franklin Jay Lewis died in 1910 at the age of 72 and is buried at the East Lawn Cemetery in Sacramento.
About Encampment During the Pullman Strike, ca. 1894
Notice the small group of observers standing behind the concrete stanchions, which includes a woman (mother or nursemaid) with four children, all well dressed. They are looking at the Capitol grounds covered with soldiers, tents, and military equipment – a uniquely strange sight at that time. It is also unusual that there are no signs of legislators or businessmen walking to and from the Capitol building, which must have been quite active, dealing with the Pullman crisis. Perhaps the scene was painted on a Sunday.
Notice the accents of red that move the eye across the canvas: from the company flags of the encampment to the fire to the American flags. The painting is divided into two parts: The Capitol building and the white tents under a clear, but cloudy sky on the right, and the dark trees and camp maneuvers under the darker sky and the campfire smoke on the left. The trees are in full bloom, evidence of the July occurrence of the Pullman Strike.
About the Pullman Strike
The Pullman Strike, which began as a local protest in Chicago and became national in scope, was the most intense and bitterly fought labor dispute in the history of the United States. Issues raised by the Pullman Strike included a national rail strike, the use of federal troops and the concept of a company town.
In the 1880s George Pullman built the company town of Pullman for his Pullman Palace Company and the employees who worked for the Company. The Pullman Palace Company manufactured railroad sleeping cars and other railroad cars. Twelve thousand people lived in the company town, which ran strictly according to Pullman 's rules. As one employee declared, “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church , and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.”
As a result of the 1893 Depression, the number of Pullman employees dropped from 5,800 men and women to 1,100. Of those still employed, wages were cut by twenty-five percent. At the same time the employees' rents in the company town remained the same, while the Pullman Palace Company paid its investors the usual dividend of eight percent. The employees were unable to feed their families, tried to negotiate with Pullman , and walked off the job on May 11, 18 94. In June the strikers sought support from the newly formed American Railway Union. At a union convention meeting in Chicago on June 26, Jennie Curtis, the President of the ARU Local 269 (the “Girls” Local Union) spoke out on behalf of the Pullman employees:
We joined the American Railway Union because it gave us a glimmer of hope. Twenty thousand souls, men, women, and little ones, have their eyes turned toward this convention today; straining eagerly through dark despondency for a glimmer of the heaven-sent message, which you alone can give us on this earth.
The American Railway Union called for a national boycott of Pullman cars on all the railroads in the country. This action halted the mail service, and then President Grover Cleveland stepped in. Federal troops were called out by Presidential order on July 1. By July 10, the strike was effectively over.
About the Pullman Strike in California
In California , the three main railroad centers were Sacramento , Oakland and Los Angeles , all of which experienced strike activity and were major junction points for the transcontinental rail lines. The California public had more sympathy with the strikers than with the railroads, as the monopoly of the Central Pacific-Southern Pacific in the state had resulted in public resentment against the “octopus” (from Frank Norris' anti-railroad best-selling novel).
According to the San Francisco Examiner of July 4, Governor Markham ordered two regiments of the Second Brigade of the National Guard of California to Sacramento from San Francisco . The newspaper reported the following: Nearly 1,000 strong, looking very soldierlike indeed in their campaign clothes, they marched through the depot and cleared it of the throng that has had possession of it for nearly a week. Every rifle was loaded and every bayonet was fixed. When they arrived in Sacramento , they camped on the State Capitol grounds. Unfortunately for the railroads, many of the National Guard soldiers were friends of the strikers, and they refused to shoot. The soldiers were pulled back and arrested, resulting in the largest court-martial in National Guard history.
By July 10, President Cleveland ordered the strikers to cease by threatening arrest, and sent in Federal troops the next day. The Marines and Army Cavalry secured the rail-yards, and by July 13 the strike in California was over.
Grace Dolezel, Research paper from curatorial files, Crocker Art Museum.