BACKGROUND: This photo depicts the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 in which ten strikers were killed by Chicago city police and nearly 100 people wounded. After the passing of the 1935 Wagner Act, steelworkers sought to unionize. Although US Steel agreed to recognize independent unions, so-called “Little Steel” companies, including Republic Steel, refused. In response, Little Steel workers struck nationally for the right to organize. On the days preceding the Memorial Day Massacre, strikers at Chicago’s Republic Steel mill attempted to set up mass picket lines, noting that Chicago’s mayor had stated that picketing was legal. Instead, police attacked and arrested picketers, eventually allowing a mere handful. In protest, strikers called for a rally on Memorial Day to support their right to picket without molestation. Sympathy strikers from neighboring Indiana and other Southeast Chicago steel mills came out in support, as well as family members, neighbors, and individuals from other parts of Chicago. A crowd of 1500 eventually formed in what many described as a “jovial” holiday atmosphere with sizeable numbers of women and children in attendance.
The violence began when the crowd moved to picket in front of the mill and were confronted by police. Police shot directly into the crowd and beat panicked and fleeing protestors with nightsticks. They also threw tear gas and used non-regulation clubs provided by Republic Steel. Police later claimed, without evidence, that “communists” intended to storm and take over the steel mill. After the Massacre, no attempt was made to offer first aid to victims. Many were thrown into over-crowded paddy wagons that then delayed taking the wounded to hospitals. This event would be one of the most deadly in US labor history. Detailed accounts can be found in testimony given to the LaFollette Commission appointed by the U.S. Congress.
SPECIFIC PICTURE: At the center of this photo is Lupe Gallardo Marshall. Marshall was a Mexican-American volunteer social worker affiliated with Jane Addam’s Hull House, a settlement house that provided services to poor urban immigrants. Marshall was conducting research on Mexican workers involvement in Chicago’s organized labor movement. On Memorial Day, Gallardo went to the rally to show her support. Afterwards, she planned to get back to Hull House to lead a theater rehearsal and then relieve the babysitter who was watching her three children. As she described in her testimony to the LaFollette Commission, she instead found herself in the middle of the melee, struck and prodded by police billy clubs and grazed by a bullet. Bleeding, she was shoved into an overcrowded paddy wagon teeming with the injured and mortally wounded, including a man who died with his head on her lap. She tried to offer aid as best she could and, on arriving at a local hospital, helped the overwhelmed nurses and doctors tend to the injured, including a ten-year old boy who had been struck in the heel by a bullet. Gallardo, like a number of others arrested at the rally, was kept for four days in a prison cell, largely incommunicado, before being charged with “conspiracy to commit an illegal act.” In the aftermath of the Massacre, public imagination was captured by newsreel footage and photos of Gallardo, a slight 97 lb. woman clutching a purse in which she kept her research notes, imploring the police in the midst of what she described as a “battlefield.”