“Read All Over: The Reading Labor Advocate and the Socialist Power in Reading, Pennsylvania, 1927-1936”
BY: Ian Gavigan, PhD Candidate at Rutgers University
At the zenith of the Great Depression, the Parker Brothers began marketing Monopoly, the popular board game that encourages players to “take a ride on the Reading!” The Reading Lines connected Atlantic City to metropolitan New York, Philadelphia, and the coalfields of northeastern Pennsylvania.
For a brief time, the railway was the largest company in the world. And like the board game, good fortunes waxed and waned. The City of Reading was host to labor uprisings against the boom and bust speculation of railway operators that left thousands of workers destitute following the Panic of 1873.
Socialist Party (SP) organizers gained control of the municipal government by the 1930s, held seats in rural boroughs and the county government, and helped establish a militant pretzel workers’ union.
In Pennsylvania History‘s open-access feature from the Winter 2021 issue, Rutgers University-New Brunswick PhD candidate, Ian Gavigan, explores the “never-before-studied” collection of Reading’s weekly Labor Advocate that championed local socialists and challenged the “old guard” of left-wing activists across the United States.
“A key communications tool and hub of organizing and strategizing, [the Advocate] forged a community in its pages that sustained the movement in a period widely known for socialist decline.”
Ian Gavigan is a graduate of Reading High School and Haverford College. He was a 2018 scholar-in-residence with the Pennsylvania Historical Association and Pennsylvania State Archives. The Labor Advocate collection is housed at the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg.
“Pennsylvania History Presents” is an online feature of the Pennsylvania Historical Association’s (PHA) website. Begun in 2019, we offer for free public access one article from the current issue of its quarterly award-winning journal, Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. The article is chosen by the journal’s editor, and often connects to current events in Pennsylvania and American history. The initiative helps to meet the PHA mission of understanding how the past informs the present helps us shape a better future.