Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 9: Records of the Committee on Labor, 1883-1946

Chapter 9. Records of the Committees on Education and Labor

Table of Contents

Records of Committees Relating to Claims 1794-1946 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committees discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Labor, 1883-1946

History and Jurisdiction

9.22. The committee was created in 1883, when its jurisdiction was removed from the old Education and Labor Committee and two separate committees were created. Despite the establishment of a committee devoted entirely to labor issues, little significant labor legislation was passed before the depression of the 1930s.

9.23. The committee's jurisdiction included the wages and hours of labor; the arbitration of labor difficulties; the use of convict labor, alien labor, contract labor, and military labor in competition with "honest labor"; and the conditions of laborers employed in Government service. The committee considered methods of directing the work of Federal employees, including the use of the Taylor System of shop management and problems relating to child and woman labor; it also investigated such labor-related subjects as conditions in city slums and conditions of blacks in America and of saleswomen in the District of Columbia.

Records of the Committee on Labor, 48th-79th Congresses (1883- 1946)


Record TypeVolumeDates (Congresses)
Minute Books17 volumes1883-1913 (48th-62d), 1915-17 (64th), 1945-46 (79th)
Docket Books17 volumes1883-97 (48th-54th), 1899-1917 (56th-64th)
Petitions and Memorials12 feet1883-89 (48th-50th), 1891-1905 (52d-58th), 1907-11 (60th-61st), 1913-15 (63d), 1919-25 (66th-68th), 1927-29 (70th), 1931-46 (72d-79th)
Committee Papers3 feet1883-87 (48th-49th), 1891-1911 (52d-61st), 1913-19 (63d-65th), 1921-23 (67th), 1925-27 (69th),
1929-33 (71st-72d), 1935-46 (74th-79th)
Bill Files8 feet1903-13 (58th-62d), 1917-46 (65th-79th)
Total volume23 feet and 34 volumes 
Committee Records Summary Table

9.24. The activities of the committee during its early years (1883-1917) are documented in minute books and docket books, but these types of records are missing almost entirely after 1917.

9.25. Petitions and memorials referred to the committee reflect the variety of subjects included in its jurisdiction. There are several categories of petitions intended to protect American laborers from what they saw as unfair competition: demands for legislation limiting immigration in order to protect American labor, especially Chinese exclusion (52A-H12.1, 57A-H15.1); protection of free labor from competition from convict labor and prison-made goods (53A-H17.1, 54A- H17.3, 55A-H13.4, 63A-H16.3, 72A-H9.2); the prohibition of the importation of alien contract labor (48A-H13.2, 54A-H17.1); and protection of private enterprise from unfair competition from government competition (72A-H9.5, 75A-H9.2).

9.26. Another topic that appeared repeatedly arose from the 8-hour work law passed in 1868 affecting government laborers. Workers sought its extension to private industry (48A-F13.1, 49A- H12.4, 52A-H12.3, 55A-H13.5, 58A-H13.1, 61A-H17.2, 63A-H16.4, 66A-H12.1, 75A-H9.5). The largest group of petitions in this committee's records involve the application of the 8-hour work law to the textile industry (75A-H9.5, 2 ft.).

9.27. Throughout the period there are petitions and memorials indicating social and industrial problems that adversely affected American life and demanding that these problems be investigated and solutions proposed. There are petitions demanding the investigation of living conditions in U.S. city slums (52A-H12.6, 6 in.); the "investigation of acts of unlawful violence alleged to have been inflicted on account of crime" (53A-H17.2, 4 in.); the appointment of commissions to investigate the problems of labor and capital (54A-H17.2, 55A-H13.2) and to inquire into the condition of blacks in the United States (57A-H15.3); and an investigation of the causes of the strikes in the copper mines in Colorado and Michigan (63A-H16.10). Petitions were submitted from time to time about child labor (60A-H20.1, 63A-H16.2, 75A-H9.1, 79A-H10.5), the establishment of a children's bureau (61A-H17.1), and the working conditions of women (49A-H12.1, 79A-H10.5).

9.28. Also present are petitions demanding legislation to deal with labor/management disputes. The proposed solutions change over time; for instance, there are petitions denouncing the employment of private police in labor disputes (52A-H12.4), and petitions favoring industrial arbitration and an industrial commission to investigate labor problems (54A-H17.2), arbitration of railroad strikes (55A-H13.3), anti-injunction legislation (58A-H13.1), open shops (66A-H12.4), and the right to strike (66A-H12.5, 77A-H10.1). Other petitions and memorials documented sentiment on specific pieces of legislation, such as, the Wagner labor relations bill (74A-H9.4), the Fair Labor Standards Act (76A-H14), the Murray-Patman full-employment bill (79A-H10), and old-age and unemployment insurance (74A-H9).

9.29. The committee papers include copies of bills and resolutions that were referred to the committee, correspondence on various subjects within its jurisdiction, and printed reports and hearings generated by the committee.

9.30. The committee papers of the 53d Congress (1893-95) reflect the depression that had just overtaken the country. There are transcripts from an 1894 hearing that include the testimony of James S. Coxey on the financial and labor conditions in the country and, particularly, on a proposal to appoint a committee to devise a means to achieve the reemployment of jobless men (53A-F23.3), and correspondence and hearings transcripts on several bills introduced to create a national board to arbitrate employer/employee differences (53A-F23.4). Correspondence and reports from various State governments describe the extent to which they employ convict labor--an unfair source of competition for unemployed laboring men (53A-F23.4). Among the miscellaneous letters received during that Congress is one from the Superintendent of Charities for the District of Columbia describing a visit to his office on the morning of July 26, 1894, by two men who described themselves as members of "Kelly's Industrial Army" and asked for financial assistance to make a journey west in search of employment. The superintendent noted that under the laws of the District of Columbia he could do nothing to help them, but he had promised to forward their inquiry to the appropriate authority--the House Labor Committee (53A-F23.5).

9.31. A large number of transcripts of testimony given at hearings, some of which are unpublished, are found in both the committee papers and the bill file series. They include an 1892 hearing on the 8-hour law and convict labor in the same cover (52A-F23.2). Transcripts and related records from two subcommittee hearings on child and woman labor (59A-F22.3) include a copy of a March 1906 note from Theodore Roosevelt that expresses the President's interest in the pending bill to investigate the conditions of child and woman labor in the United States.

9.32. Other records include correspondence regarding the 8-hour law (56A-F20) and reports and messages from the President, such as a Presidential message entitled "Help For Those Who Toil" (75A-F23).

9.33. The bill files from the 58th through 71st Congresses (1903-31) are uneven and generally incomplete. While the bill files for several of the Congresses consist of very thin files on only a few bills or of copies of printed hearings and reports, the files of other Congresses contain valuable correspondence and hearing files. The files from the 58th Congress (1903-5), for instance, contain records from five hearings, including a hearing transcript on convict labor that was probably not printed (58A-D15). The bill files from the 62d Congress (1911-13) contain records of 11 pieces of legislation, including H. Res. 90, a resolution to investigate the Taylor System of shop management; H.R. 4694, a bill to establish a children's bureau in the Department of Commerce and Labor; H.R. 21094, a bill to create a commission on industrial relations; and H.R. 9061, a bill to limit the hours of laborers and mechanics on public works for the United States or the District of Columbia.

9.34. After the 72d Congress (1931-33), more records are present, but in most cases a large part of the files is made up of copies of printed hearings and reports. The bill files from the 75th Congress (1937-38) provide examples of the subjects found in bill files for other Congresses: S. 2475, a fair labor standards bill (5 in.); H.R. 6180, a bill proposing a civilian conservation corps; and H.R. 238, a bill to rehabilitate and stabilize labor conditions in the textile industry, prevent unemployment, provide minimum wages and maximum hours, and promote the general welfare. The public response to H.R. 238 is documented in over 2 feet of petitions received (75A-H9.4) and testimony contained in a nine-part printed hearing (75A-D21). The bill file on H.R. 4908, a bill to provide for the mediation of labor disputes, contains the original veto message from President Harry S. Truman (75A-D21).

Related Records 9.35. There are related records from the Select Committee to Investigate the National Labor Relations Board (76A-F45.1, 84 ft.). The NLRB was created in 1935, and by 1939 it was the center of a nationwide storm of criticism largely due to "the overzealousness of the Board in its conduct and its interpretation of the law."5 Hearings on proposed amendments to the National Labor Relations Act were held before the Senate Education and Labor Committee and the House Labor Committee in 1939, and, as a result of findings in these hearings, the select committee was formed in July of that year (see chapter 22).

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5. U.S. Congress, House, Intermediate Report of the Select Committee to Investigate the National Labor Relations Board, H. Rept. 1902, 76th Cong., 3d sess., 1940, p. 2. [Back to text]

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.