Resource

Life Story: Ella May Wiggins (1900–1929)

A Martyr to Striking Textile Workers

The story of a working mother, songwriter, and labor activist who was murdered for her involvement in the Gastonia Textile Strike.

Carl Reeve & textile strikers from Gastonia testify before the Senate

Carl Reeve textile strike leader (center) & textile strikers from Gastonia testify before the Senate in 1929, Gastonia, N.C., 1929. Millican Pictorial History Museum.

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She died carrying The Torch of Social Justice

Ella May Wiggins, “She died carrying The Torch of Social Justice”, Martyr of The 1929 Loray Mills Strike, Gastonia, N.C., [no date]. Millican Pictorial History Museum.

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Strikers rally during the 1929 Loray Mills Strike, Gastonia, N.C.

Strikers rally during the 1929 Loray Mills Strike, Gastonia, N.C., 1929. Millican Pictorial History Museum.

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Suggested Activities

  • Combine this life story with the image of a pregnant textile mill worker to help students understand the horrible working conditions women like Ella May faced each day.  
  • Compare Ella May Wiggins’s life story to those of Clara Lemlich and Emma Tenayuca and consider why and how women were active participants in labor movements. 
  • Explore the (frequently violent) challenges of labor activism in the 1920s and 1930s by combining Ella May Wiggins’s life story with Emma Tenayuca’s life story and the images of ILGWU strikers
  • Some of Ella May’s contemporaries described her death as a lynching. Explore the definition and history of lynching and its connections to racial and economic prejudice using Ida B. Wells’s life story. 

Themes

POWER AND POLITICS; AMERICAN CULTURE

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