A Short History of May Day and International Workers’ Day

A guest post by Kathleen Clifford, South Boston Programs & Community Outreach Librarian

May 1 commemorates several holidays, including May Day and International Workers’ Day. New England held its first May Day in 1627 at a settlement called Merry Mount, located in what is now Quincy. The founder, Thomas Morton, was horrified by the puritans treatment of Native Americans and invited the neighboring Massachusett to his May Day party. They erected a may pole and decorated it with garlands and antlers. This angered the puritans and Governor Bradford spoke against the ‘beastly practices of ye mad Bacchanalians.’ Ultimately, the settlement was burned, their maypole cut down, and their leader deported. Despite this, the holiday prevailed in modern times.

International Workers’ Day came about in the late 19th Century to commemorate the struggle for the eight hour work day. It was created after an incident in 1886, called the Haymarket Affair. In this incident, anarchists in the labor movement of Chicago were wrongly executed in the aftermath of a bombing. President Cleveland made Labor Day official as a September holiday to separate the day from the radical implications of International Workers’ Day. International Workers’ Day is celebrated in most of the rest of the world. Ironically, most of the world knows the story of the Haymarket Incident, while the majority of Americans have forgotten it.

Here are some other ways we can keep the spirit of May Day from home:

Learn more with these titles:

Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of May Day

The Chicago Haymarket Affair