Remembering Ludlow but Forgetting the Columbine: The 1927-1928 Colorado Coal Strike

Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Phoebe S.K. Young

Second Advisor

Thomas Andrews

Third Advisor

Mark Pittenger

Fourth Advisor

Lee Chambers

Fifth Advisor

Ahmed White


This dissertation examines the causes, context, and legacies of the 1927-1928 Colorado coal strike in relationship to the history of labor organizing and coalmining in both Colorado and the United States. While historians have written prolifically about the Ludlow Massacre, which took place during the 1913-1914 Colorado coal strike led by the United Mine Workers of America, there has been a curious lack of attention to the Columbine Massacre that occurred not far away within the 1927-1928 Colorado coal strike, led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). This dissertation brings to light an understudied set of significant events and the processes of memory that allowed 1920s era strikes to be forgotten in historical narratives. It thus reveals meaningful and important strands of labor activism in an era often understood to be quiescent.

A comparative biography of three key participants before, during, and after the 1927-1928 strike—A.S. Embree, the IWW strike leader; Josephine Roche, the owner of the coalmine property where the Columbine Massacre took place; and Powers Hapgood, who came to work for Roche after she signed the 1928 United Mine Workers’ contract—demonstrates the significance of these events to national debates about labor during the period as well as changes and continuities in labor history from the Progressive era to 1930s New Deal labor policies and even through the 1980s.

Reasons why the 1914 Ludlow Massacre has been remembered but the 1927 Columbine Massacre has been forgotten are complex but key to understanding the relationship of these events. Strategic and personal factors helped to shape a narrative that prioritized the well-documented labor militancy and resistance to it during the Progressive era, when Ludlow occurred, over the 1920s and early 1930s, which came to be portrayed as a quiescent era for labor, which, as the biographies show, it was not. Both individuals (such as Roche, Hapgood, and others) and institutions (such as the United Mine Workers and the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers’ Union) needed to put the tumultuous twenties behind them and reinvent themselves in the thirties. In the decades that followed, multiple contexts led both historians and even the original participants to reinforce the forgetting. The history of the Columbine thus reorients scholarly understanding of both labor organizing in the 1920s and the construction of public memory and labor history in Colorado and the United States throughout the 20th century.

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