Celebrate Working Hard by Hardly Working

Labor Day is an American tradition, officially recognized in 1894, to celebrate all of the workers who’ve made our country great. As a retiree, it is also a day to celebrate the contributions YOU have made to our nation and your community. Observed on the first Monday in September, Labor Day was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and eventually recognized by President Grover Cleveland as an official federal holiday on September 5, 1894.

When was the First Labor Day?

The modern holiday is widely traced back to a parade organized by union leaders in New York City on Tuesday, September 5, 1882. However, the U.S. Department of Labor cites that the idea for a general labor festival may have originated in Canada, which today celebrates “Labour Day” on the first Monday in September, as we do.

On that first Labor Day hundreds, if not thousands, of workers did not show up for their jobs. This was a huge deal for them and their families because those who didn’t show up for work didn’t get paid.

According to Time Magazine, “By the end of the day some 10,000 people had marched in the parade and joined festivities afterward in what the press dubbed “a day of the people.”

When did Labor Day Become a National Holiday?

The first two New York City Labor Days took place on September 5th, but in 1884, the third annual New York City Labor Day holiday was scheduled for the first Monday in September, and that date stuck.

Labor Day didn’t become a national holiday for more than a decade after its inception. Oregon became the first state to declare it a holiday in 1887, and states like New York, Massachusetts and Colorado soon followed suit. Under President Grover Cleveland, and amid growing awareness of the labor movement, the first Monday in September became recognized as a national holiday in 1894.

Who Really “Founded” Labor Day?

More than 130 years after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.”

But Peter McGuire’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

Celebrating Labor Today

While union membership has been on the decline for years, many challenges that faced workers more than a century ago are still being overcome today. The growing movement for higher wages in the fast food industry, and overworked tech and finance employees calling for better hours, are just a few examples.

So, as retirees, on this Labor Day, you can appreciate how much hard work goes into making our nation great as well as allow yourself a day off to relax and celebrate your achievements and those of your friends and neighbors.

If you are a resident of a senior living community, check your calendar or get in touch with your community life services coordinator to see if your community is holding special events or parties to celebrate Labor Day. Be sure to join in and observe the holiday accordingly!

Happy Labor Day!