Today in labor history: The murder of Fannie Sellins

On August 26, 1919, Fannie Sellins and Joseph Starzeleski were murdered by coal company guards on a picket line in Brackenridge, Pa. Sellins was a United Mine Workers of America organizer and Starzeleski was a miner. Sellins was 47 years old. No one was ever punished for the crime.

Miners that summer were striking against the Allegheny Coal and Coke Company and there was a showdown on August 26 between company guards and the strikers outside the company’s mine in Brackenridge.

The Illinois Labor History Society includes a detailed report, here.

An account in the September 20, 1919, New Majority describes the scene:
The mine official snatched a club and felled the woman to the ground.
This was not on company ground, but just outside the fence of a friend of Mrs. Sellins.
She rose and tried to drag herself toward the gate
[The official] shouted: “Kill that –!
Three shots were fired, each taking effect.
She fell to the ground, and [the official] cried: “Give her another!”

William Z. Foster, leader of the great steel strike of 1919, called Sellins one of the best of a whole corps of organizers, with an exceptional belief in the workers. “She took the initiative and in the midst of terror went out to her work.”

Sellins was a contemporary of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, and like Jones, her work as a female labor organizer was radical, especially for that period of time, according to Anthony Slomkoski, former president of United Steelworkers Local No. 1196, in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania.

Photo: Fannie Sellins. Wikipedia Fair use