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The little-known history of Louisville’s Eclipse Woolen Mill

In the late 1880s, hundreds of Louisville women went on strike for better conditions + pay.

eclipse woolen mill

The Eclipse Woolen Mill building was owned by American Builders Supply in the 70s.

Photo via the National Register of Historic Places

Labor Day isn’t until September, but did you know it used to be celebrated in May? The original holiday commemorated the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago. In honor of the original Labor Day, we’re looking back at a piece of Louisville’s own labor history.

If you had been around to crack open the Courier Journal on the morning of Tuesday, July 26, 1887there was no LOUtoday back then — you would’ve been greeted with a small note declaring “JEANS WORKERS STRIKE: The Eclipse Woolen Mill Deserted By Its 256 Employes [sic].”

So began a months-long strike by the workers of the Eclipse Woolen Mill, located at 1044 E. Chestnut St. The mill produced denim for Kentucky Jeans. Fun fact: The pants were so popular at the time that they helped the Bluegrass state become the nation’s second largest producer of cloth jeans by 1880.

An anonymous letter to the Courier Journal, signed only “One Who Knows,” outlined the worker’s list of grievances, including forced overtime and unpaid factory shutdowns. Their wages were cut to $1.13 per day, about $37.15 in today’s money.

an old brick mill building in Louisville

The mill building actually predates the current street layouts.

Photo via WikiMedia Commons

The Eclipse Woolen Mills’ weavers and spinners — mostly young women — went on strike in July. They were joined by two other mills, and public support soon followed. In September, 6,000 people turned out to a fundraising rally with live music at Phoenix Hill Park, and 6,000 more bought tickets in solidarity — talk about a Labor Day picnic.

There was no definitive end to the Eclipse Woolen Mill strike. Eventually, strike funds ran low and workers were slowly forced back to the loom or fired. The mill remained in operation until 1906.

Since then, the old mill building has been offices for a railway signal company, a medical company, and today for CreoSalus, a pharmaceutical company.

Bonus: You can read the Courier Journal sources used in this article with your library card. If you’re a visual learner, watch local historian Tom Owens tell the tale in a 7-minute video with pictures.

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