Publication Date

Fall 2010

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS)


Library and Information Science


Debra Hansen


labor movement, newspapers, print culture, reading, San Francisco, working class

Subject Areas

Library Science; American History; Labor Relations


Labor historians have documented the extraordinary growth of unionism in 1880s San Francisco and its lasting impact on the city's political and industrial landscape, emphasizing the San Francisco labor movement's impressive organizational and political accomplishments. Little attention has been paid, however, to the blossoming of radical print culture that accompanied and inspired the organizational campaigns of the 1880s. Informed by developments in the fields of labor and book history that emphasize the cultural agency of workers and working-class readers, this study addresses this gap in the historical record, reconstructing the history of radical print culture in 1880s San Francisco through a close reading of two San Francisco labor newspapers, Truth and the Coast Seamen's Journal, as well as other primary sources.

This study shows that the San Francisco labor movement, like other Gilded Age reform movements, valued education as a primary instrument of social improvement. To promote working-class education, San Francisco labor organizations established alternative print institutions in the 1880s. Among these institutions were two seminal labor newspapers, Truth and the Coast Seamen's Journal, which provided working-class readers with unprecedented access to radical texts and created a public forum for the voice of the emerging labor community. More specifically, these newspapers sustained a new ideal of reading, identified by this study as “radical reading,” that welded elite, popular, and religious literary models into a powerful critique of industrial society.