Workers, Take A Holiday! The Beginning of Labor Day

Workers, Take A Holiday! The Beginning of Labor Day
Frances Cleveland: Religion, Social Issues and Reform

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


Even though he was not a fan of organized labor, on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a bill making Labor Day a National holiday.  From the last two decades of the 19th century through at least the first three decades of the 20th century, the American Labor Movement carried on a continuous and determined effort to get fair wages and decent working conditions for the nation’s industrial workers.  Labor Day was thought of as a day to honor that effort.  Do we still think of it that way?


Students who participate in this lesson will have an opportunity to learn about the beginnings of the Labor Movement—and Labor Day—in the United States, and to reflect on changes that have occurred in the way we think about the holiday.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Access to print materials Paper, pencils, art supplies


1.  Introduce the lesson by asking students to think about how their families celebrate Labor Day.  When is Labor Day?  Why do we have Labor Day?
2.  Then, using the websites listed below, as well as any print materials that are available, and other websites that students find, have the students research the history of Labor Day.  The research may be done in small groups, but, in the end, each student should take notes, because each student will be writing a piece to contribute to a Labor Day Scrapbook.
3.  As students pursue their research, ask them to be looking for the answers to the following questions:

  • When was the first Labor Day celebrated?
  • Who first had the idea of celebrating workers by having a holiday?
  • What was the original purpose of Labor Day?
  • When was Labor Day made a National holiday?
  • How was Labor Day usually celebrated?
  • What changes have occurred lately in the celebration of Labor Day?

4.  When students have completed their research, ask each student to write a contribution to a Labor Day Scrapbook.  This can be a letter to a pen pal in another country, who doesn’t celebrate Labor Day, or an essay on some aspect of the origins of the holiday, or an essay about Peter J. McGuire, or a piece about whether Peter J. or Matthew McGuire first had the idea for Labor Day, or something about why Grover Cleveland was an anti-labor president.  Encourage students to be creative.  Poems and drawings are also encouraged.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by encouraging students to learn more about the American Labor Movement in general.

Sources & Resources:

The History of Labor Day 

The Origins of Labor Day 

How Labor Won Its Day 

The “Father” of Labor Day

Peter J. McGuire Biography           
This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.