University Libraries' labor unions digitized collections project completed

June 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Following three years of digitization and preparation, Penn State University Libraries has made available a vast collection of archival materials documenting the 20th-century American working-class experience, including the largest and most significant record series within the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) archives.

Beneath the Surface and Cast in Steel: Forging the American Industrial Union Movement” is the end result of a two-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards program. The project’s purpose is twofold: to increase the visibility of these rich historical materials to national and international scholars, and to inform collaborative efforts to further document this intersection of labor and social history.

The $239,000 grant was administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources, an independent nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions and communities of higher learning. The Digitizing Hidden Special Collections and Archives program supports the creation of digital representations of unique content of high scholarly significance that will be usable as elements of a cohesive national collection.

“It’s important to make records such as these readily accessible in digital format for students, especially graduate students who struggle to get research grant funding,” said James Quigel, curator for the University Libraries’ historical collections and labor archives. “This is a large-scale digitization effort that highlights one of our primary collection areas.”

The collection includes materials that document the historical connections among three important American labor organizations: the UMWA, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, and the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers. The crucial nexus of these three groups was instrumental in forging the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) industrial union movement in the 1930s — a precursor to today’s AFL-CIO — and securing labor’s organizing and workplace rights. 

A core component of this extensive labor and management relations repository is the inclusion of collections, photograph, and historical scrapbooks that provide context to the labor movement in Pennsylvania. One of these is the UMWA’s poverty survey of miners in Appalachia during the 1940s, used to make the case for better housing and living conditions. Also included is the UMWA President’s Office Correspondence with Districts, 1894–1983 series, one of the most important record series and the largest in the UMWA archives.

“Beneath the Surface and Cast in Steel” joins more than 135 University Libraries digital collections on topics ranging from agriculture to world history. An estimated 377,000 pages of manuscripts and mixed-material printed items, photographs, scrapbooks, survey materials, panoramic images, and correspondence are currently accessible online at the Beneath the Surface and Cast in Steel site and through the Libraries’ website.

For more information, contact Quigel at jpq1@psu.edu, or Sue Kellerman, Judith O. Sieg Chair for Preservation, at lsk3@psu.edu.

  • Herbert Washington UMWA Archives

    This photo of Herbert Washington and his children at their Kentucky home was taken in 1944 as part of a United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) survey of miners in Appalachia during the 1940s, used to make the case for better housing and living conditions. The UMWA survey is part of a vast collection of historical records at the University Libraries that provide context to the American labor... Read more ›

    IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries
  • The Mine Post June 1951

    The June 1951 edition of “The Mine Post,” a monthly newspaper for local union members of the United Mine Workers of America in Cambria County, Pa., is available at the Eberly Family Special Collections Library at the Penn State University Libraries.

    IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries
  • UMWA Survey Page

    A page from a survey of miners in Appalachia about their families and living conditions, conducted by the United Mine Workers of America in the 1940s. The survey is part of a vast collection of historical records at the University Libraries that provide context to the American labor movement. These records form a core component of “Beneath the Surface and Cast in Steel: Forging the American... Read more ›

    IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries
  • Steel Labor November 1941

    The November 1941 edition of “Steel Labor,” a newspaper for the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), features Phillip Murray, the CIO’s longest-serving president. The complete newspaper is available at the Eberly Family Special Collections Library at Penn State University Libraries.

    IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries
  • UMWA Convention

    This panoramic photo of the opening session for the 1938 United Mine Workers of America convention in Washington, D.C., is available in the United Mine Workers of America Photographic, Graphic and Artifacts collection at the Eberly Special Collections Library, Penn State University Libraries.

    IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries
  • His Foot in The Door

    This political cartoon, titled “His Foot in the Door,” depicts UMWA/CIO President John Lewis in the guise of an aggressive salesman, spearheading the CIO’s drive to organize the automobile industry on an industrial union basis. The wary spinster is Alfred Sloan, president and CEO of the General Motors Corporation. The cartoon was featured in the February 20, 1937, edition of the “Steel Labor”... Read more ›

    IMAGE: Penn State University Libraries
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Last Updated July 27, 2020