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Probing the Past

Festschrift in Honor of Leo Schelbert

Wendy Everham and Virginia Schelbert

This Festschrift acknowledges the scholarly work of Leo Schelbert and his mentorship of graduate students in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago where for 33 years he taught American history. Professor Schelbert has specialized in the story of European migrations and especially of immigration to the United States. His courses offered not only pertinent data, but they also raised theoretical issues to which historical work is tied inescapably.
The varied essays included in this book reflect the range of themes former students, who now are scholars in their own right, have been pursuing. The topics of three essays center on North American Indians facing white intruders, another on émigré Hungarians living in Scotland, and one (contributed to this volume by a most esteemed colleague with whom Leo Schelbert shared many a student) on striking women straw workers in Tuscany. Another essay concerns matters relating to those grappling with mental health issues, while others deal with African newcomers in Chicago, Jewish immigrants to America who first worked as peddlers, contemporary Polish American politics in Chicago, and also with a nineteenth-century Swiss American theologian. Two of the last three essays honor Leo Schelbert’s work as a colleague and historian apart from the university setting, whereas the final one honors Leo Schelbert as a teacher as well as the Department of History at UIC in which its Swiss-born member worked from 1971 to 2003.
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“Pane e Lavoro”: Agrarian Strikes of Women Straw Workers in Tuscan Contado, 1896–1897



While the historians of Italian social history have written of the rural strikes that erupted in Tuscany near Siena in 1902 and 1906 as part of the larger pattern of socialization of the countryside, more analysis needs to be given to the explosive strikes several years earlier in the straw industry concentrated in the area around Florence. At the time of the strikes, which began in 1896, the industry, both in its plaiting and hat-making aspects, employed 84,558 rural workers of which 95 percent were women and young girls. Examinations of the folios of documents available in the Florentine archives and a government commission’s report on the industry and the strikes reveal more than just the dilemma of a seasonal production open to outside foreign competition or the government’s concern for the keeping of law and order. They provide perspective on some of the internal problems, both social and professional, that this centuries old women’s domestic industry was facing as a result of internal and external pressures for change.

However cohesive the women strikers were in the earlier spontaneous phases, which resembled pre-industrial strikes, fissures appeared in the women’s movement in response to the varying intercessions of institutions, governmental, communal and within the industry. Many rural women straw workers revealed a professionalism that defied the traditional hierarchy and offered opportunity to the socialist movement. ← 105 | 106 →

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