The Story of the Socialists of Reading, Pennsylvania

PHMC Scholar in Residence Ian Gavigan is a second-year graduate student in the Department of History at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Before entering graduate school, he worked as communications director for Philadelphia City Council member Helen Gym. Gavigan also worked as a policy researcher and communications staffer at the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania with a special focus on school funding inequities.

Gavigan spent his summer in the Pennsylvania State Archives, delving into the story of the socialists of Reading, Pennsylvania in their Great Depression heyday. There, workers transformed their city into a hub of socialist organizing and power. They channeled widespread discontent with capitalism into genuine political power by building a movement and capturing city office. He used a variety of collections to explore the Reading movement in its statewide, national, and global contexts. Gavigan’s research considers the ways the Reading socialists’ story shows the limits of municipally-based radical politics within the context of United States political structure. Having completed his residency, Gavigan is currently processing and interpreting his research. He will present an initial draft of the project at the Pennsylvania Historical Society’s October conference and intends to publish the work in the future.