Portland State University. Department of History
Patricia A. Schechter
Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (v, 145 pages)
Paper mills -- Washington (State) -- Camas -- History, Paper industry -- Washington (State) -- Camas -- History, Paper mills -- Washington (State) -- Camas -- Social conditions -- 20th century, Strikes and lockouts -- Paper industry -- Washington (State) -- Camas -- 20th century
Southwest Washington labor history has received little examination by scholars. Focusing mainly on Seattle, Everett, Centralia, and Spokane, historians view Southwest Washington, a traditionally conservative community, to be of little importance in the state's overall historical narrative. This thesis corrects that assumption and the omission of Southwest Washington. The failure of the unionization effort in Camas impacted organization in Pacific Northwest paper mills for nearly a decade. Although workers failed to sustain their union, the events in Camas between 1913 and 1918 present an excellent new laboratory and case study to explore the intersection of gender, labor, and politics. Despite rough edges and sometimes missing voices within the extant record of the time, this thesis suggests the potential for historians to dig deep into the archives, produce original scholarship, and tell a forgotten story.
This work is also ambitious, striving to examine the role gender, labor, and leftists' politics played in the paper mill city of Camas and Washington State. Chapter one examines the first-ever strike of forty women in the Camas bag factory. Chapter two explores the organization of the mills' first union. Chapter three accounts for the rise and fall of the town's only Socialist mayor. Each of these chapters alone could be the topic of a single study and each involves a particular segment of historical scholarship. The chapters are layered and refer to each other, with layers of context added in each one.
The themes of this thesis also orbit around a fight over meaning and historical memory. My research shows that during the tumultuous social, economic, and political events from 1913 to 1918 there was an active erasure and forgetting of people and events. These silencings amid a major uproar in a "labor village" partly accounts for the thinness of the archives and the haunted, subjugated quality of the memory of working peoples' activism in Camas. I suggest that labor, management, and the political establishment were all invested in a particular mythos of Camas as a "labor village." Camas was, and is, a company town and "labor village." Camas had a face-to-face quality to its social relations and members of the community felt pressure to maintain this quality, sometimes in opposition to "outside" voices. This scenario put special demands on the people involved with organizing and activism, as they functioned without the big city anonymity of Seattle or Portland. The Camas story is shorter, more concentrated, and more intimate than the stories of these large urban centers. The brief moment of change around the war strained the fraternal bonds of the town. The pain and injury of this strain in Camas were rhetorically covered and hidden. Most of the residents either never spoke of what happened or willed themselves to forget. The memory and knowledge of the events remain to this day imprisoned within their minds and town. This work intends to, after nearly a hundred years, bring back the memories and question the story told about Camas and about ourselves.
Richardson, Bradley Dale, "The Forgotten Front: Gender, Labor, and Politics in Camas, Washington, and the Northwest Paper Industry, 1913-1918" (2015). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 2534.