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AFL Office of the President, Samuel Gompers and Woodrow Wilson correspondence

 Collection 0029-LBR-RG1-013

This collection consists of letters exchanged between AFL president Samuel Gompers and U.S. president Woodrow Wilson during the latter part of Wilson's presidency, covering a wide variety of topics pertaining to labor and World War I between 1914 and 1919.


  • 1914-1919

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public and must be used in the Special Collections reading room. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies or digital surrogates may be provided in accordance with Special Collections and University Archives duplication policy.

Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs unless otherwise specified. It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission to publish materials from the appropriate copyright holder.

Archival materials may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal and/or state right to privacy laws or other regulations. While we make a good faith effort to identify and remove such materials, some may be missed during our processing. If a researcher finds sensitive personal information in a collection, please bring it to the attention of the reading room staff.


0.5 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of the Collection

This collection consists of letters exchanged between Samuel Gompers and Woodrow Wilson during the latter part of Wilson's presidency. Inclusive dates are July 29, 1914 to December 24, 1919. The correspondence is arranged chronologically and covers a wide variety of topics pertaining to labor and to World War I.

Four topics are the subject of several letters: 1) labor troubles with the sugar corporations in Puerto Rico and Gompers' dissatisfaction with that island's governor, Arthur Yager, because of the suspension of the workers' civil rights, (February 1916 - January 1918); 2) the American Federation of Labor Executive Council urging Wilson's administration to recognize the Mexican government of General V. Carranza (August 1915 - August 1917); 3) illegal harassment and deportation of protesting workers in Arizona and New Mexico (July 1917 - August 1917); and 4) the investigation of the Steamboat Inspection Service after the capsizing of the Eastland, an excursion steamer in Chicago, Illinois, (August 1915).

Subjects also include the move to draft Secretary of State William B. Wilson for United States Senator from Pennsylvania (February 1916); securing executive clemency for eight members of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers serving sentences in the federal prison at Fort Leavenworth (December 1916); the Tom Moony Case (June 1918); and the appointment of a Supreme Court justice who will lean toward the newer concepts of the essentials of social justice (July 1914).

Several topics in this collection are also the subject of material contained in the larger research collections at The George Meany Memorial Archives. These include the dedication of the new American Federation of Labor headquarters, the Mexico situation, Puerto Rican labor, the Tom Mooney case and Gompers' meeting with European trade delegations during World War I.

One letter is a copy of a condolence note to Wilson from Gompers on the death of Wilson's first wife. Several notes are about invitations Wilson received to speak at labor functions or suggestions for appointees to labor committees or to public office. A few letters reflect labor issues of particular concern under wartime conditions, such as Wilson agreeing with Gompers that half-holidays should be maintained whenever feasible even in light of wartime production schedules (June 1917). The patriotic message of the Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees is lauded (March 1918).

In his autobiography, Gompers said of his correspondence with Woodrow Wilson, "There are no letters in my files which I value more highly than the inimitable ones which bear his signature. There was always something so personal in the wording or in the spirit that each seemed like a very special communication." (Samuel Gompers, Seventy Years of Life and Labor, (New York, 1925), pp. 547-548.).

Biographical / Historical

Samuel Gompers was born on January 27, 1850, in London, England. He attended a Jewish free school in London and emigrated to the United States in 1863. He followed his father into work as a cigarmaker in New York City and quickly became involved in the Cigarmakers. In 1875 he won the president's office of Local 144 of the Cigarmakers' International Union (CMIU) and from that time almost continuously held official positions in the union until his death in 1924.

In 1881 Gompers helped organize the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) and served as its vice-president from 1881 to 1886. FOTLU reorganized itself in 1886 as the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Gompers served as its president from 1886-1895 and 1896-1924 (Gary M. Fink, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Labor (Westport, Connecticut, 1984), pp. 257-259.).

For additional information on the Office of the President, see the attached external document.


The correspondence is arranged chronologically.

Custodial History

The letters in this collection were transferred to the George Meany Memorial Archives from the AFL-CIO Library in 1983. The George Meany Memorial Archives transferred these records as part of a major transfer of their archive and library holdings to the University of Maryland Libraries in 2013.

Related Materials

Report of Proceedings of the [number] Annual Convention of the American Federation of Labor.

The A.F. of L. in the Time of Gompers by Philip Taft.

Processing Information

Catherine A. Christen and Sue Ann McMaster at the George Meany Memorial Archives initially processed these records in 1991. The University of Maryland Libraries received the records and the finding aid in 2013. In 2017, Bria Parker migrated the information contained in this finding aid from the George Meany Memorial Archives' Eloquent system. All migrated finding aids have been cleaned using OpenRefine software and ingested into ArchivesSpace using programmatic scripts created in Python. Upon ingest, Rebecca Thayer reviewed and minor revisions to this finding aid. Revisions include changes to biographical/historical notes, scope and content notes, and the creation of new collection numbers. Rebecca Thayer also enhanced custodial histories and re-wrote collection titles to better conform to archival standards.

Guide to the AFL Office of the President, Samuel Gompers and Woodrow Wilson correspondence
Finding aid created by Catherine A. Christen and Sue Ann McMaster at the George Meany Memorial AFL-CIO Archives.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742