The Evolution of an Early Texas Union:
The Screwmen's Benevolent Association
of Galveston, 1866-1891
JAMES V. REESE*
O N THE MORNING OF SEPTEMBER 7, 1891, OVER THREE HUNDRED
members of the Screwmen's Benevolent Association gathered out-
side of their meeting hall at the corner of 2oth and Mechanic streets in
Galveston, all "dressed to the best of their ability and taste" and
proudly wearing the small badge marked "SBA" which they wore each
day at work. With the "Beach Band" playing and flags waving, they
marched to take their place at the head of the fourteen unions taking
part in the parade which signaled the start of the first major celebra-
tion of Labor Day in the island city. The mayor and city council,
Farmers' Alliance, firemen, and numerous other organizations joined
the bands, floats, and union members in what, according to the Gal-
veston Daily News, was a grand parade.
An aura of good will seemed to infect worker and employer alike.
Most business houses closed for at least half a day to allow their em-
ployees to participate. The shipbrokers provided lunch and "a bounti-
ful flow of beer" for the members of the Screwmen's Association, and
in the afternoon a large portion of the city's populace joined labor
at Woollam's Lake for festivities which included a band concert,
speeches on the single-tax and the Anti-monopoly League, and enor-
mous quantities of food and drink. The success of the celebration sur-
passed all expectations."
For the Screwmen, the celebration represented more than labor's
day. It also marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of their union. Born
the year after the Civil War, the Screwmen's Benevolent Association
had not only survived a quarter century, but also, unlike most labor
groups in nineteenth-century Texas, had developed sufficient strength
to protect and improve the lot of its members. It was, by almost any
*An associate professor of history at Texas Tech University, Mr. Reese is a student
of Texas labor history.
'Galveston Screwmen's Benevolent Association, Minutes of the meetings of August 14,
August 28, September 3, September 7, 1891. (University of Texas Archives, Austin), II,
85-90. References to these records are hereafter cited as SBA.
"Galveston Daily News, September 8, 1891.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/. Accessed April 21, 2015.