The tombstone of George McGuire sits in Manchester, New Hampshire’s Piscataquog Cemetery on Bowman Street with the engraving “Father of Labor Day.” Several newspapers throughout the United States, dated in November of 1913, announced with headlines: FATHER OF LABOR DAY IS DEAD, referring to this George McGuire. This same George McGuire (aka Maguire) was active in the cigar labor union, and was more than once appointed chairman of the Labor Day parade in Boston, Massachusetts. And yet two other McGuires are given the honor of being called the “official” founder of Labor Day.
First, what is up with all the McGuire confusion? Not one, but three men with the surname McGuire [aka Maguire] were all active in labor unions during the same time frame, belonging to entire different labor groups (i.e. machinist, carpenter and cigar workers]. Different groups and organizations claim their McGuire was the first man to suggest, or nominate, or elect to celebrate the day with a parade. Yet, Manchester’s George McGuire has the ‘evidence’ etched on his tombstone , and proclaimed in nation-wide newspapers. But wait! so does Peter J. McGuire.
On June 28, 1894 President Grover Cleveland signed an act of congress establishing Labor Day as the national holiday. According to a 1971 El Paso Herald Post story, “the souvenir pen used to sign the proclamation ended up in the hands of AFL President Samuel Gompers–and the argument about who really should have received the pen has been raging every since.” I mean, the gifting of the official “Labor Day” pen should have settled the matter. But wait, no, it didn’t.
According to the New Jersey Historical Society, The Paterson (N.J.) Morning Call soon published a July 2, 1894 editorial, “Honor to Whom Honor is Due”, stated “the souvenir pen should go to Alderman Matthew Maguire of this city, who is the undisputed author of Labor Day as a holiday”. This editorial also referred to Maguire as the “Father of the Labor Day holiday“.
—The Three Labor Day McGuires / Maguires—
1. Matthew Maguire: the U.S. Department of Labor and the New Jersey Historical Society give credit to this man. He was the son of Christopher & Mary (Strafford) Maguire, b. Sept 1848 in New York City [actually born on the Atlantic Ocean, reportedly on the immigration ship before it docked in NYC harbor], died 2 January 1917 in Paterson New Jersey, aged 67 years. He grew up in Paterson NJ, and became an alderman there in 1894. He m. 1870 Martha McCormick, and lived for several years in New York City. They had seven children. He was a socialist labor leader and machinist with Columbia Iron Co. in 1872 (Brooklyn NY). He is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, Passaic Co. NJ. The census records of his parents show the surname spelled also as McGuire. He was Central Labor Union Secretary in 1882. Reputedly Matthew Maguire sent out the invitations to the first labor parade [held on September 5, 1882] and “according to his grandson Matthew Feeney, Matthew Maguire and his wife rode in the first carriage at the head of the parade.” [see later genealogy]
2. Peter J. Maguire: The AFL-CIO claims Peter J. Maguire to be the Father of Labor Day.
He was also the founder of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Co-founder and leading official in the American Federation of Labor. He was the son of Peter Maguire, born 6 July 1851 in New York City. He was early active in the labor movement in the United States and should be considered one of the greatest of those working on behalf of the rights of working men and women. Peter J. Maguire attended the September 5, 1882 New York City parade, being one of those who made a rousing speech.
3. George McGuire/Maguire: He had no children to advocate for him. The Cigarmakers’ Union was absorbed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, headquartered in New York City, and so it is no longer around to fight for him. The long-time president of his cigar-makers union (Cigar Makers’ International Union of America), Samuel Gompers, [yes, the man who got to receive the official Labor Day pen from President Cleveland] championed another man, Peter J. Maguire, as being more influential when it came to the creation of Labor Day. Reportedly George McGuire worked for the famed Roger G. Sullivan Cigar Co. of Manchester, NH. Upon this death, the following was inscribed upon his tombstone: Father of Labor Day / First Observance Held / Mon Sept 6, 1886. Newspapers from Pittsburgh PA to Tucson AZ proclaimed: “FATHER OF LABOR DAY IS DEAD. Manchester, N.H. Nov 22.–George Maguire, known as the father of Labor Day, died here today. He was a cigar-maker. He first suggested that Labor Day be made a national holiday at a labor convention at Chicago in 1884.” Newspaper notices show that George Maguire was very active in his labor union, and was marshall of more than one labor parade held in Boston, Massachusetts (first held there in 1886). [See more photographs of the grave site at Nutfield Genealogy].
As you can see, the history of Labor Day’s origin is convoluted. All three of these Maguire/McGuire men–Matthew, Peter J., and George, appear to have had something, more or less, to do with early labor unions, parades and organizations. I think that after all this research, who deserves the credit as Father of Labor Day is best expressed in an article entitled, Who is the Father of Labor Day?, by Jonathan Grossman, printed in the Monthly Labor Review, Vol 95, No. 9 in September of 1972, pages 3-6. “Perhaps some new evidence may one day help single out a real “father” of Labor Day. From present available sources it is almost impossible to measure the role of the holiday’s many substantial contributors….”
I would have to agree that it is impossible to gauge whether one contribution to the labor movement was more valuable than another, or whether the actions of one man, or rather many men, became the impetus behind the designation of Labor Day. Because if this, I gave equal time to all three of these interesting men. It is important to add that many more people besides these Maguires were active, involved, and energetically promoting the rights of those who labor, at a time when it was often dangerous to do so.
—Timeline of Maguire/McGuire deaths—
— 18 February 1906: Peter J. McGuire dies in Camden NJ. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery in Pennsauken, NJ. The tombstone was placed on his grave on 3 September 1906 through the efforts of local labor unions. The engraving includes: “also Father of Labor Day.” In 1952 a second larger memorial was dedicated at a separate location in the same cemetery. [see genealogy below]
— 21 Nov 1913: George McGuire (tombstone) also known as George Maguire (census and official death certificate) dies in Manchester, NH, aged 56, cigar maker. On 24 Nov 1913: George McGuire/Maguire interred in Piscataquog Cemetery. Shortly after his death a tombstone is placed there by his wife, to include the wording: “Father of Labor Day / First Observance Held / Mon Sept 6, 1886.”
— 2 January 1917: Matthew Maguire dies in Patterson, New Jersey.
Matthew Maguire, son of Christopher & Mary (Strafford) Maguire, b. Sep 1848 in New York City [officially born at sea on the Atlantic before the ship docked in New York harbor], died 2 January 1917, aged 67 years. He grew up in Paterson NJ, and became an alderman in 1894. Resided 568 Main Street, Paterson NJ. He m. abt 1870 to Martha McCormick. She was born August 1850 in Scotland, and immigrated in 1857. They had seven children. He was a socialist labor leader and machinist with Columbia Iron Co. in 1872 (Brooklyn NY). He is buried in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Totowa, Passaic Co. NJ.
1860 US Census > NJ > Paterson Ward 5
Christopher McGuire 35 Ireland Laborer
Mary McGuire 30 Ireland
Matthew McGuire 10 Atlantic Ocean
Joseph MCGuire 8 New Jersey
Mary McGuire 2 New Jersey
Peter McGuire 1/12 New Jersey
1880 US Census > NY > Kings > Brooklyn
Mathew McGuire M 30 At sea machinist
Martha McGuire wife F 28 Scotland
Mary McGuire daughter F 9 NY
Christopher McGuire son M 5 NY
Martha McGuire dau F 3 NY
Joseph McGuire son M 0 NY (3/12 April)
1900 US Census > NJ > Paterson Ward 4
Matthew Mcguire 51 W M Sep 1848 married 32 yrs NY Ire Ire editor
Martha Mcguire 49 wife Aug 1850 10 ch 7 living Scotland imm 1857
Christian Mcguire 23 son May 1877 single NY NY Scotland electrician
Martha Mcguire 21 daughter Oct 1878 NY
Joseph Mcguire 20 son April 1880 NY driver
Jane Mcguire 10 daughter June 1889 NJ at school
Peter Mcguire 9 son Jan 1891 NJ at school
Rose Mcguire 7 daughter May 1893 NJ
Children of Matthew & Martha (McCormick) Maguire:
1. Mary Maguire, b. 3 Sep 1871 in Brooklyn, Kings, NY, d. 20 Dec 1943 in Queens, New York City, NY. She m. John H. Feeney
2. Christian/Christopher Maguire, b. May 1877 NYC
3. Martha Maguire, b. Oct 1878 NYC
4. Joseph Maguire, b. April 1880 NYC
5. Jane Maguire, b June 1889 Paterson NJ
6. Peter M. Maguire, b Jan 1891 in Paterson NJ; m. 8 July 1914 in Summit, Ohio to Phillpine Schmitz, dau of Ludwig & Kathrin (Stremple) Schmitz. She was b. abt 1896 in Ernstweiler, Germany.
7. Rose Maguire, b. May 1893 Paterson NJ
Peter J. McGuire, son of Peter McGuire, b. 6 July 1851 in New York, New York [many credit his birth year as 1852, however he applied for a passport in 1881 stating it himself as 1851.] He died 18 February 1906 in Camden, Camden Co. NJ. He married abt 1884 to Christina/Christiana –. She was b. Aug 1865 in New York, died 1919 probably in Camden NJ. He was an early labor leader, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Credited, along with Matthew Maguire, as being involved with the earliest efforts resulting in the Labor Day designation. His parents were Irish immigrants. In 1881 he describes himself for his passport at 5-ft 8-1/2 inches tall, high forehead, gray eyes, medium nose and mouth, small chin, blonde hair, oblong face and florid complexion. They lived in Philadelphia PA for a few years (births of 3 children). In 1900 Peter and his family were living in Camden NJ. They are buried in Arlington Cemetery, Pennsauken, Camden Co. NJ. Several years after his death a large monument was erected on his grave.
1900 US Census > NJ > Camden > Camden
Peter J. McGuire 48 Head July 1851 married 16 yrs NY Ire Ire Sec’y Labor Org.
Christiana McGuire 34 wife Aug 1865 married 16y 4 ch 4 living NY Germany Germany
Lillian Mcguire 14 daughter March 1886 single Ohio
Kate McGuire 13 daughter April 1887 single PA
Peter J. McGuire 10 son Sept 1889 PA
Myrtle McGuire [says son but is female] Sept 1890 PA
1905 US Census > NJ > Camden > Camden
Peter J. Mcguire M 52
Christiana R. Mcguire F 39
Eliz L. McGuire F 19
Katherine C. McGuire F 18
Peter J. McGuire M 15
Florence M. McGuire F 14
1910 US Census > NJ > Camden > Camden
Christina I. McGuire Head F 44 New York
Lillian E. McGuire daughter F 24 Ohio
Cathryn McGuire daughter F 22 Pennsylvania
Peter J. McGuire son M 21 Pennsylvania
Myrtle F. McGuire daughter F 19 Pennsylvania
The Evening Star, Washington DC of 2 September 1906 featured an articlea bout Labor Day’s Celebration in Philadelphia. September 3–The dedication of a monument to the late P.J. McGuire, organizer of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, was the feature of the observance of Labor day in this vicinity. After a prade in this city the participants, who numbered several thousand men, proceeded to Camden, N.J. across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, and unveiled the monument erected at McGuire’s grave in Arlington cemetery. The inscription on the monument gives the late national secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters’ Union the credit of being the “founder of Labor day.”
The National Labor Tribune, of Pittsburgh, PA, dated 6 Sep 1906 relates: “The dedication of a monument to the late P.J. McGuire, organizer of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, was the feature of the observance of Labor Day in Philadelphia. The monument was erected at McGuire’s grave in Arlington cemetery, Camden, N.J.
The Trenton Evening Times of Trenton New Jersey dated 10 August 1952 speaks of the dedication of a McGuire memorial in Arlington Cemetery with Secretary of Labor Maurice J. Tobin and William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor praising the work of Peter J. McGuire, the father of labor day. The dedication was arranged by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners on the 100th anniversary of McGuire’s birth.
Children of Peter J. & Christina/Christiana (?) McGuire
1. Lillian Elizabeth McGuire, b 3 March 1886 Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio
2. Christina “Kate” “Katherine” McGuire, b. 29 April 1887 Philadelphia PA
3. Peter J. McGuire, Jr. , b. Sept 1889 PA, d. 1938
4. Myrtle Florence McGuire b 27 Sept 1890 Philadelphia PA
George McGuire [Maguire], son of James & Jane (Erving) Maguire, b. 20 Aug 1857 in Portland Maine, died 21 Nov 1913 in Manchester, NH, aged 56. He was a cigar maker. Both of his parents were born in Ireland. He had been a Manchester resident for 12 years, living at 274 Manchester Street, formerly from Portland, Maine. He married 26 Oct 1901 in Manchester NH to Minnie L. Cumming(s), dau of James Marshall & Sylvia M. (Hardy) Cumming(s). She was b. 10 March 1867 Manchester NH and d. 28 Apr 1950 in Manchester NH. She has married 1st) 8 Feb 1883 in Manchester NH to William O’Connell, son of James & Mary O’Connell, and divorced by 1900. They are both buried in the Piscataquog Cemetery, Manchester NH.
1850 US Census > Maine > Portland
James Maguire M 50 Ire
Jane Maguire F 49 Ire
John Maguire M 22 MA
James Maguire M 20 Maine
Thomas Maguire M 18 Maine
Charles Maguire M 14 Maine
George Maguire M 12 Maine
Frank Maguire M 10 Maine
1889 Manchester City Directory
McGuire, George, removed to Boston MA
1890 Manchester City Directory
McGuire, George, cigar maker, 66 W Central, boards 752 Elm
1909 Manchester City Directory
McGuire, Agnes needlemaker boards 31 Nashua
McGuire, Charles cigar maker 949 Elm boards 31 Nashua
McGuire, George cigarmaker house 274 Manchester Street
McGuire, Hugh F. cigarpacker boards 31 Nashua
McGuire Letitia Mrs. house 31 Nashua
McGuire Margaret stripper boards 31 Nashua
McGuire Mary E needlemaker boards 31 Nashua
1910 US Census > NH > Hillsborough > Manchester > 274 Manchester Street
McGuire George M W 52 m1x 8 yrs cigar maker
McGuire Minnie F W 43 m2x 8 yrs 1 ch 0 living NH VT MA
Cummings, Sylvia mother-in-law F W 69 widow 2 ch 1 living MA NH NH
Sept 4, 1888 Springfield Republican reporting on various Labor Day events, page 4
“The Demonstration at Boston. The principal streets of Boston were filled at an early house by sight-seers yesterday and business was generally suspended. All the labor organizations in the city were represented in the parade which was reviewed by Gov. Ames and Mayor O’Brien. The line was divided into four sections and the steady stream required an hour to pass one point. The chief marshal was George McGuire of the cigar-makers union. The different organizations after leaving the parade spent the day at the adjacent sea-shore resorts.”
F.O.E., C.M.I U. of A.
Cigar Makers’ International Union of America
George McGuire 1857-1913
Minnie Cummings his wife
Father of Labor Day
First Observance Held
Mon Sept 6, 1886
They had no children
Bloomfield Editorial: Did Labor Day Have New Jersey Tie?
The New York Labor History Association: Labor Day and Peter McGuire
Editor’s Note: my deepest thanks to Pat Van Den Berghe who was willing to visit the cemetery and take the tombstone photographs used here.