|William B. Wilson
Miner, Labor Leader, Congressman,
First U.S. Secretary of Labor.
William B. Wilson was one of Americaís most
effective labor leaders in improving the living
and working conditions of millions of workers in
U.S. mines and factories.
■ He was
born April 2, 1862, in Blantyre, Scotland. When
he was eight years old, his family emigrated to
Pennsylvania. Two years later at age 10 he was
working in the coal pits, so he had little
formal education. ■
During his years in the mines (1872-98) he
spearheaded efforts to unionize miners. In spite
of apathy, blacklisting, and frustration, he
persisted in his efforts.
■ On January
25, 1890, in Columbus, Ohio, he helped to launch
the United Mine Workers of America. He served as
secretary-treasurer of the UMW from 1900 to
1908. ■ In
1906 he was elected a representative to Congress
where he served for three terms as an aggressive
champion of labor. He lobbied increasingly for
measures favorable to labor including mine
inspection, the eight-hour day, and organization
of the U.S. Bureau of Mines.
■ He served
as chairman of the House labor committee and
advocated a separate cabinet-level department of
labor. President Woodrow Wilson created such a
department in 1913 and appointed William B.
Wilson the first U.S. Secretary of Labor.
Wilsonís term, the U.S. Employment Service was
established and the Smith Hughes Vocational
Education Act was passed. Wilson also pushed
Congress to enact a literacy test for immigrants
to discourage the importation of cheap labor. It
was passed. ■
He served on the Council for National Defense
during World War I and was a member of the
Federal Board for Vocational Education. He died
May 25, 1934, near Savannah, Georgia.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
Scottish-American History Club
2800 Des Plaines Avenue
North Riverside, IL 60546