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What Exactly Is Labor Day?

Labor Day

What Exactly Is Labor Day?

Well, another Labor Day is upon us and here are the takeaways: Most of us got a three-day weekend; those that have to work will deal with a manageable level of traffic; and we are once again unsure if we are allowed to wear anything white now for the rest of the year. That leaves one question: What is Labor Day really?

Below, we will attempt to give a brief history of how the holiday came to be and what it means today. (Suffice to say, you can safely wear all the white you want.)

How It Started:

In September 1882, the unions of New York City decided to have a parade to celebrate their members, and to show support for all other unions. At least 20,000 people were at the parade and anybody that came gave up a day’s work.

By 1887 Oregon, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Colorado made Labor Day a state holiday based on the success of their own parades held for the same reasons.

Who Exactly Started It?

Matthew Maguire, a machinist, and Peter McGuire, a carpenter, have been linked to the 1882 parade. The men were from rival unions and because of their similar sounding names the actual credit has been lost in time. In 2011, Linda Stinson, a former U.S. Department Labor Historian was tasked with deeming the creator and she arrived at the same conclusion. Hence, we give credit to both men.

President Grover Cleveland and lawmakers in Washington wanted there to be a federal holiday to celebrate labor. So, in 1894, Sen. James Henderson Kyle of South Dakota introduced S. 730 to make Labor Day a federal legal holiday that would be observed on the first Monday of September. It was approved on June 28, 1894. Shortly thereafter, Cleveland signed the act establishing the federal holiday “Labor Day”.

What’s Up With the Whole Wearing White Thing?

This old tradition goes back to the late Victorian era. Because the date of Labor Day was officially September 1st, it became the mark of the end of summer. Wearing white was considered a fashion faux pas after the summer holiday. It was considered the color most associated with vacation attire and to be worn at your summer cottage. We have long surpassed this fashion snafu and are more than free to wear whatever we like.

So, there you have it. Not unlike other days and celebrations we celebrate as a nation, there is great meaning and historical significance to Labor Day. People have suffered long and hard for the right to take a day off, so do recognize the people that built our country and tip them your hat, even if it is white.

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