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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses





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arrow Introduction
  Birth and Early Life
  Marriage and Family
  Intellectual Development
  John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
  Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)
  Darwin and Evolution
  Socialism and Karl Marx
  Henry George (1839-1897) and the Single Tax Movement
  Knights of Labor
  Judson Grenell (1847-1930)
  Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (1854-1939)
  The Haymarket Affair

Later Relations to Labor Organizations

  Leon Czolgosz (1873-1901)

The Water Board Incident

  Bubbling Waters
  The Labadie Print Shop
  Later Years
  Agnes Inglis (1870-1952)
  Further Reading

Special Collections Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor


When Jo (Charles Joseph Antoine) Labadie was born, in 1850, much of Michigan was wilderness and the U.S. was largely pre-industrial. By the time he died, in 1933, the state of Michigan was one of the most highly industrialized in the country, due to the automobile industry. In between, Jo Labadie had played an important role in determining how workers and owners were to relate to each other in the modern industrial world.

As a believer in the power (and the right) of individuals to determine their own fate, Jo Labadie was responsible for organizing the first significant labor union in Michigan, the Knights of Labor. As a champion of freedom and the common man, he had his own printing press at his disposal and used it effectively to share his views. As an active author and organizer, he met and corresponded with many other people who were also actively working for human rights and workers' rights.

Through his activist interests, his labor organizing, his printing and writing, and his far-flung correspondence, Jo Labadie accumulated a sizable collection of books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, manuscripts, and memorabilia. He credited his wife, Sophie, for preserving much of this material. By the time he was 60, Jo was interested in finding an institution (documents 134, 135) that would accept his collection and make it available for future generations. Even though friends at the University of Wisconsin ( 150, 151) tried to convince him that his collection should go there, Jo wanted it to stay in Michigan and was very pleased when the University of Michigan Board of Regents accepted the Labadie Collection for the University Library in 1911.

In the nearly 90 years that the Labadie Collection has been at the University of Michigan, it has grown to many times its original size through both gifts and purchases. It now contains some 40,000 books, 800 current periodicals, and 20,000 pamphlets, and many collections of manuscripts from both people and organizations, as well as photographs, posters, and memorabilia. Topics covered have expanded backward to earlier 19th century radical movements and forward to the present, as well as sideways to incorporate the right side of the political spectrum. Our aim is always to gather materials that capture the ideas of radical social and political movements directly from the participants, just as Jo Labadie's collection captures his ideas and those of his comrades.

If Jo Labadie could see the collection that bears his name today, and could see the many students, faculty, and scholars who use its materials, would he be pleased? I think so. During the regular school term, over half the users of the Special Collections Library are undergraduate students here at the University of Michigan. Jo would surely be pleased by that. Each year, several new books, articles, and television documentaries appear that have used materials from the Labadie Collection. He would probably be astonished, but pleased, by that. Thanks to the strength of current Labadie holdings, we are able to continue to build by adding collections of archives and personal papers each year. I think Jo would wish he could be here to delve into those new collections himself.

After 90 years, the University of Michigan remains grateful to Jo Labadie for the donation of his collection, and proud of the fact that we have built his original gift into one of the leading libraries documenting radicalism in the world. Please join us in celebrating the 150th anniversary of Jo Labadie's birth by enjoying this exhibit celebrating his life and work.

--Peggy Daub, Head, Special Collections Library




"[The Labadie Collection is]...probably the most complete record of the social unrest of our times that has ever been assembled."

Lawrence Conrad, "Jo Labadie--Poet," Michigan History Magazine (1932)