Labor’s New Men and Women of Power: What did they do in their spare time?

In his 1948 book, The New Men of Power, sociologist C. Wright Mills describe trade union leaders as “strategic actors” at the helm of “the only organizations capable of stopping the main drift toward war and slump.” That quote came to mind as I poured over the pages of the 1946 directory, Who’s Who in Labor, an echo of Solon DeLeon’s 1925 American Labor Who’s Who and Press Directory. From the Baltimore steelworker Edwin Abbott to Joseph Zych, the recording secretary of an AFL federal local in East Chicago, Indiana, the 390 pages cover a lot of human, organization, and geographic territory. There is also a separate section of labor professionals: “Men and Women Who Deal with Labor.”

Like its 1925 counterpart, the postwar labor directory is hard to work with. The text behind the scanned pages is a mess. But the entries are much more systematic than the 1925 directory, making it easier to extract targeted information. Best of all, most entries include sections on Interests, Clubs, and Sports, making it possible to get a sense of what these men and women new to power liked to do in their spare time. With the help of a detail-oriented UCLA undergraduate student, I was able to compile a relatively clean version of the directory–over 3,900 entries.

Using a simple grep command on the directory’s text, I was able to pull out much (although probably not all) of the words listed after the phrase “Interests:” and before the start of the next section (typically “Sports”). Replacing the commas in these lines with hard returns, I compiled a rough and ready list of just over 3,000 interests. The vocabulary is not entirely consistent, and there are a number of obvious OCR errors. That said, it is possible to get a rough picture of what labor leaders “Interests” were (keep in mind that sports and clubs had their own entries).

What was the top interest? Gardening and reading come in at about 200 mentions each, followed by fishing, music, photography, and hunting. Curiously, members of the AFL were more likely to list “gardening,” while members of the CIO were more likely to list “reading.”

Interests of CIO leaders, 1946
Rough assessment of “interests” of AFL leaders drawn from the 1946 “Who’s Who in Labor.”
Interests of AFL leaders, 1946
Rough assessment of “interests” of AFL leaders drawn from the 1946 “Who’s Who in Labor.”