John L. Lewis Papers, 1879-1969


1880, February 12 John Llewellyn Lewis born at Lucas, Iowa, the eldest son of Thomas H. and Ann Louise (Watkins) Lewis, both Welsh immigrants. His father was a coal miner, although blacklisted for fifteen years for Knights of Labor activities.
1896 Lewis quit high school near the end of his senior year.
1896-1906 Worked in coal and metal mines in the West, Mexico, and Canada.
1906 Returned to Iowa where he was elected a local union delegate to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International Convention.
1907, June 5 Married Myrta Edith Bell, a schoolteacher and graduate of Drake University, Iowa.
1910-1917 Served as American Federation of Labor (AFL) representative for Samuel Gompers.
1910 Daughter Mary Margaret was born.
1911, April 14 Daughter Kathryn was born. She later became Lewis' confidential secretary.
1917 Daughter Mary Margaret died.
1917 Lewis appointed International Statistician of UMWA.
1917 Appointed Business Manager of the United Mine Workers Journal, the newspaper of UMWA.
1917, October Appointed Vice President of UMWA.
1918, November 25 Son John L., Jr., was born.
1919, July 15 Lewis appointed Acting President of UMWA.
1920, February 7 Elected President of UMWA.
1920-1929 In this decade, Lewis, UMWA, and the mining industry faced the problems of economic depression earlier than other sections of the U.S. economy, of local autonomy and factionalism in the UMWA, and of mine operators' attempts to break the UMWA. Lewis' solutions were to advocate the mechanization of the industry in order to stabilize it, to purge dissident elements in UMWA, and to present a united front to the mine operators. Statistics: Number of operating mines in 1923 - 9333; in 1930 - 5891. UMWA dues paying members in 1923 - 600,000; in 1930 - 200,000. Number of unemployed miners in 1929 - 200,000.
1921 Lewis defeated by Samuel Gompers for Presidency of AFL by vote of 25,022 to 12,324.
1922, January 17 Lewis declared union coal miners would take “no backward step” in wage arrangements.
1924 Lewis suggested by some as possible vice presidential running mate for Calvin Coolidge.
1925 Lewis published book The Miners Fight for American Standards, claiming that operators and miners could settle problems of the industry without government intervention.
1930-1939 Secure in his own, now disciplined union, and encouraged by Section 7A of the National Industrial Recovery Act (1933), Lewis began his program to organize the unorganized in the mass production industries such as auto, steel, and meat packing.
1933 National Industrial Recovery Act was passed; its Section 7A guaranteed labor the right to organize and bargain collectively.
1933 Mine operators and the UMWA signed the Appalachian Wage Agreement, the first nation-wide agreement in the coal industry. The operators recognized the UMWA as the collective bargaining agent for coal miners.
1935 Lewis and other union leaders inside the AFL formed the Committee of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to organize industrial unions in the mass production industries.
1936 The AFL suspended and later expelled the CIO.
1936 Lewis and other AFL and CIO leaders formed Labor's Non-Partisan League to work for the re-election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
1936-1940 Lewis became increasingly disenchanted with Roosevelt as a friend of labor.
1940, September Lewis came out for Wendell Willkie for U.S. President, promising to resign as President of the CIO if Roosevelt were re-elected.
1940, November Following Roosevelt's re-election, Lewis resigned as President of the CIO. He was succeeded by Philip Murray, Vice President of the UMWA.
1940-1949 Lewis fought to unite the AFL and CIO, to protect labor's rights from arbitrary wartime demands, and to obtain a Welfare and Retirement Fund for the UMWA.
1941 Lewis successfully defied the War Labor Board's attempt to freeze wages and to prohibit strikes.
1942, May 28 Philip Murray removed as Vice President of the UMWA over question of accepting the government's attempt to achieve labor-management stability during the war. Lewis maintained that labor must have the right to strike.
1942, September 9 Myrta Lewis died of a brain tumor.
1942, October 7 The UMWA voted to leave the CIO.
1943 Lewis again successfully used strikes to defy the War Labor Board and win higher wages for the miners.
1946, May The UMWA joined the AFL again.
1946 Lewis won first UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund in contract with the operators. Fund would be maintained by 5 cent royalty on each ton of coal mined. It would provide modern medical, hospital, and rehabilitation facilities for coal miners and their families, as well as life and health insurance programs.
1947 Taft-Hartley Act passed over President Truman's veto. Lewis categorized this law as “the first ugly, savage thrust of fascism in America.” It sought to restore equal bargaining power to labor and management by granting management rights comparable to those granted labor by the Wagner Act of 1935 and by placing specific limitations on union rights. Lewis failed in his attempt to get all labor leaders to boycott and so ultimately render useless the provisions of this law.
1947, November The UMWA disaffiliated from the AFL over question of honoring Taft-Hartley Act.
1948 Lewis won fight with mine operators over implementation of Welfare and Retirement Fund. First pension checks given out.
1952 Federal Mine Safety Act passed, empowering federal mine safety inspectors to close down dangerous mines.
1956, June 2 Lewis attended dedication of ten hospitals financed by Welfare and Retirement Fund.
1957, June 3 Lewis received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from West Virginia University.
1958 National Coal Policy Conference, Inc., formed to promote the use of coal and preserve the industry and, with it, the coal miners' jobs.
1960, January Lewis retired as President of the UMWA, accepting title of President Emeritus.
1960, June Lewis received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Georgetown University.
1962, January 7 Daughter Kathryn died. She had been his confidential secretary since 1933-1934.
1964 Lewis received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
1969, June 11 John L. Lewis died at age 89 in Washington, D.C.