Workers Hall originated in the refusal of the Temperance Hall Finns to allow, as they had for several years, the Waukegan local of the Finnish Federation of the Socialist Party to use its facilities. Several months later, therefore, on November 15, 1908, the Finn socialists decided to build their own space, as their brethren throughout the USA and in Finland were doing. In 1910, they dedicated Workers Hall, the center of Finnish left-wing culture and politics in Waukegan for years to come.
We are fortunate to have a first-hand description in English of the building’s interior as well as what went on there. The stairs led to the main floor, which had numerous rooms that served various functions. On Thursday, the traditional day off for the Finnish women who worked as maids, dances were held. On Saturdays and Sundays, plays and other cultural programs went on. There was a gymnasium for athletic practices and contests and another large room for meeting and conferences. The performing arts, especially theater, anchored Worker Hall culture. Most was in Finnish, but Eva H. Erickson remembered that the young people put on several plays in English.
Many Finnish socialists in Waukegan switched their allegiance to communism after the Russian Revolution. The Waukegan membership in the Finnish Federation of the Workers Party in 1923 rivaled that of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church. Throughout the 1920s, communists controlled Workers Hall. Erickson herself was a member of the Young Pioneers. She remembered that they “wore red handkerchief scarves and red beanies.”
Finnish-American communism apparently lost much legitimacy in Waukegan in 1929 and 1930 when its leadership, obeying the directives of Moscow, tried to extract money from co-operatives that were largely under Finnish control. When co-op officials refused to accept these orders and publicized the demands, the Finnish-American communists tried to replace them. When that failed, the Finnish-American communists tried to destroy the co-operatives. The details of how all this transpired in Waukegan is only accessible to readers of Finnish, but Finnish-American communism lost all its power in the Co-operative Trading Company and considerable power in the Finnish community. There was a deep enough reservoir of support for the Bolshevik experiment that more than 40 men, women, and children responded to “Karelian fever” by emigrating to the USSR to help build a socialist republic. Most are “missing.” Stalin’s police undoubtedly killed them or they starved to death.
Finnish socialists and communists fought over the control of Workers Hall for the rest of its existence. The Communists, by one report, wound up with control. In the early 1950s, the Antioch Baptist Church bought Workers Hall. It still holds services there.
517 Helmholz Ave
Advertisement in Finnish for events at Workers Hall in 1923. From: Eva Erickson, The Rosa Lemberg Story (Superior, WI., 1993).
Current View, 2005
Waukegan members of the Finnish Federation of the Socialist Party in front of Workers Hall. From: Waukegan’in S.S. Osaston. 10-Vuotisjulkaisu, 1905-1915 (Waukegan, 1915)
Advertisement in Finnish for events at Workers Hall in 1946. From: Eva Erickson, The Rosa Lemberg Story (Superior, WI., 1993).
The Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies (CCWCS) is proud to present the Interactive Labor Trail, made possible by a generous grant from the Illinois Humanities Council. This on-line history resource builds on “The Labor Trail: Chicago's History of Working-Class Life and Struggle,” a map of 140 significant locations in the history of labor, migration, and working-class culture in Chicago and Illinois. The Labor Trail is the product of a joint effort to showcase the many generations of dramatic struggles and working-class life in the Chicago area's rich and turbulent past. The Trail's neighborhood tours invite you to get acquainted with the events, places, and people -- often unsung -- who have made the city what it is today. In addition, the statewide map is just a starting point for further exploration of Illinois' labor heritage. This Interactive Labor Trail expands the number of locations and provides a greater depth of information, while giving map users the chance to add their knowledge of locations and events in the Chicago area’s working-class history.
We invite all individuals, groups, and institutions interested in the labor and working-class history of Chicago, Cook County, the Calumet Region, and Illinois to contribute to the map. Users can add new sites, edit or build upon existing entries with additional text, photographs, primary sources, audio and video files, as well as links to related websites.
Easy-to-use instructions for adding to the on-line version of the map are available at www.labortrail.org.
More information on the Chicago Center for Working-Class Studies is available at: www.workingclassstudies.org
The Labor Trail: Chicago's History of Working-Class Life and Struggle
Leon Fink, University of Illinois at Chicago
Tobias Higbie, Newberry Library
Lisa Oppenheim, Chicago Metro History Education Center
Liesl Miller Orenic, Dominican University
Jeffrey Helgeson, University of Illinois at Chicago
Aaron Max Berkowitz, University of Illinois at Chicago; John H. Flores, University of Illinois at Chicago; Erik Gellman, Northwestern University; Dan Harper, University of Illinois at Chicago; Emily LaBarbera-Twarog, University of Illinois at Chicago
William Atwood and Melissa Palmer