Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Elizabeth Zononi

Committee Member

Brett Bebber

Committee Member

Timothy Orr


The class and ethnic tensions that manifested in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania were a microcosm of the broader, nation-wide labor wars of the late-nineteenth century. These labor wars, violent and sometimes bloody, shaped workingmen’s condition and the larger history of unionism. The Molly Maguires, in both their real and imagined form counted as key protagonists in these wars between big business and unions. More local wars also occurred between workers, those like the Mollies who wanted to use violence to encourage change, and others who instead sought to peacefully organize and bargain collectively with their employers.

This thesis intends to ascertain what effect the Molly Maguires and Molly Maguireism had on the development, success, and failures of unionism in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania during the middle and late-nineteenth century. Through an examination of the development of unions and collective action in this area as well as the Irish tradition of retributive justice, this thesis suggests a complex connection between Molly Maguireism and unionism. Molly Maguireism existed alongside unionism in the anthracite region from the beginning and the concentration of violence attributed to the Molly Maguires ebbed and flowed with union progress. When union development was at its weakest, during the Civil War era and immediately following the Long Strike of 1875, the incidence of Molly violence increased. Where unionism valued organization as a means to improve life and labor in the anthracite region, the Molly Maguires instead used violence as a means to achieve the same end.


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