Powderly, Terence V. Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Although he was the son of immigrants, Powderly believed that immigrant workers had a detrimental effect on the national economy and spent much of his adult life working to combat immigrant labor. As a union leader he supported legislation barring Chinese workers from entering the United States, and he later campaigned for broad bans on immigration. Later, however, he worked on behalf of immigrant welfare.

Born to Irish immigrants, Terence Powderly began his career by following in his father’s footsteps as a railroad mechanic. After losing a job, he found new work through a machinists’ union and later became a union organizer. In 1879, he was elected to lead the Knights of LaborKnights of Labor, a national workers’ union. Realizing that employers were recruiting immigrants to work for low wages, he supported the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In 1885, with the Knights of Labor’s 700,000 members behind him, Powderly backed further federal legislation to bar American employers from recruiting workers overseas.Powderly, Terence V.Powderly, Terence V.[cat]LABOR;Powderly, Terence V.[04250][cat]ANTI-IMMIGRANT MOVEMENTS AND POLICIES;Powderly, Terence V.[04250][cat]BIOGRAPHIES;Powderly, Terence V.[04250]

While he was a member of Knights of Labor, Powderly was three times elected mayor of Scranton, Pennsylvania. After leaving the union in 1893, he established a successful legal practice. In 1907, he became chief of the new Division of Information in the Bureau of Immigration. In 1911, he was named honorary president of a National Conference of Immigration, Land, and Labor Officials. Both agencies helped immigrants find work and promoted cultural assimilation. Powderly served as Commissioner of Conciliation in the Department of Labor from 1921 until his death three years later.Powderly, Terence V.

Further Reading
  • Phelan, Craig. Grand Master Workman: Terence Powderly and the Knights of Labor. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000.
  • Powderly, Terence Vincent. “A Menacing Irruption.” The North American Review 147, no. 381 (1888): 165-174.
  • Watson, Martha S., and Thomas R. Burkholder, eds. The Rhetoric of Nineteenth-Century Reform. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2008.

Anti-Chinese movement

Bureau of Immigration, U.S.

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Chinese immigrants

History of immigration, 1783-1891

Immigration law

Labor unions

Categories: History Content