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  • John L. Lewis Collection

John L. Lewis was a labor organizer and leader, serving as president of both the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Lewis began his career working in the coal mines in Panama, Illinois in 1895. Lewis served as president of his local UMWA beginning in 1911 and quickly rose through the organization and becoming president of the union in 1920. Lewis held the presidency for the next forty years.

During his tenure, Lewis oversaw several labor strikes including a nationa coal strike in 1919. During the 1920s union membership numbers dropped, rebounding during the Great Depression. With the passage of the Wagner Act in 1935 which provided greater rights for labor organizing, Lewis and several other union leaders joined together to form the CIO. Lewis was elected as the organization's first president. Despite being a lifelong Republican, Lewis supported Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1932 and 1936 presidential elections. Lewis did not support Roosevelt in 1940 however much of the CIO membership did, leading to Lewis's resignation from the union and the UMWA leaving the organization. In the years following, Lewis worked to gain better working conditions and wages for UMWA members. Lewis retired from the United Mine Workers of America in 1960.

Photographs in this collection include portraits of Lewis and images of Lewis participating in union actions.

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