Mildred Arnold & the Women’s Trade Union League

 Inspiring the Racine’s 4th of July Parade

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Mildred Arnold creating an American flag with staple gun in hand and long pins in her mouth, all ready to pin down any loose petal paper. Found with the help of Racine Public Library’s History Research Librarian Rachael.

Sing Out about these UNsung Women from the past

Submitted by Jeanne Arnold

Racine’s July 4th Means Goodwill

W.C. “Tex” Reynolds, a civic leader and daily columnist for the Racine Journal-Times, granted me an interview in 1953 for a UW-Wisconsin Madison journalism term paper. (I got an A+ but who cares.) Reynold’s credits union leaders, local manufacturers, businessmen and city government officials for bringing Racine’s turbulent factions together to start Racine’s 4th of July Goodwill Celebration and heal Racine’s labor-management strife causing a series of crushing strikes. 

Found while reaching microfilm files with the help Sue of Racine Public Library’s research staff.

But Tex missed something historically important and I didn’t realize it until I found a faded Journal Timesclipping in my files from May 6, 1990. It referred to May 6, 1940, when a banquet sponsored by the Women’s Trade Union League met at the Hotel Racine with a “Bury the Hatchet” theme. I then remembered curling up on a Hotel Racine balcony to watch my mother and all the ladies and gentlemen dressed up and making speeches, striving to bury the hatchet of strife between industry and labor. Mildred Arnold in her prime and her Women’s Trade Union League friends inspired those influentialpeople to come together and expand the newly formed Racine’s 4th of July Goodwill Celebration. 

All at the banquet signed a real hatchet with goodwill towards all. 

Starting in the 1930s, Racine was spilt by crushing labor-management problems leading to strikes. In Washington, D.C., President Roosevelt initiated his New Deal labor laws and gave labor power to negotiate and fight for their interests. This discord left Racine divided with two strong enemies, labor and management. The conflict reached its height in 1934 when union members went on strike simultaneously at six of Racine’s largest industrial plants. “Racine,” said Reynolds, “being percentage-wise, one of the largest industrialized cities in the US, was a focal point for labor and a spearhead for national union organization.” A national commentator called Racine “Little Moscow.”

Reynolds credits Mayor Spencer with his “New Deal for Racine.” Locally born, Spencer started at the Journalas a printer’s devil, the bottom rung in printing, and maintained a printers union card even after he became Western Printing and Lithography’s wealthy president and Racine’s mayor.

Spencer invited 40 civic-minded persons who could put aside their specific biases for Racine’s benefit. The first meeting “felt like sitting inside of an ice berg, “ recalls Reynolds. “But soon things began to thaw out. They began talking of goodwill and the 4th of July, and the spirit of unity began.”

My mother was one of two women chosen to be on that Goodwill Committee. Perhaps she was chosen because of leading the “Bury the Hatchel” banquet and because she decorated the best parade floats for Labor Day parades. Edna Christensen, manager of Memorial Hall and Horlick Field, was the other woman.

These photos are from many of my personal historic photos taken decades ago on a box Kodak camera. Top photo is on State Street and below was taken on Hill Street behind my father’s shop on State Street. Donald Duck was painted by Art Knudsen.

When the committee’s plans became reality, thousands of kids at Racine’s 15 playgrounds lined up for neighborhood doll buggy parades each July 3rd. The City gave out crepe paper, but my little floats with its genuine floral paper were always the best. My Donald Duck tricycle with Donald’s webbed feet twirled around because they were attached to my trike’s two rear wheels. When I had girlie doll buggy, I was also forced go to Zahn’s to suffer through a permanent for Shirley Temple curls.

“The 4th of July Goodwill Parades drew over 50,000 spectators, not counting all the local people actually participating in it,” said Reynolds. “Parade floats from manufacturers to homemade numbered at least 50 and Racine’s three national champion hometown drum corps: The American Legion Post 76, the YMCA Kilties, the Boy Scouts. At least ten nationally known drum corps marched in each parade and competed for major honors at Horlick Field the night before the parade.

After the parade, we gathered at Washington Park on 12th Street. All the elementary school kids got one of 16,000 tickets with their report cards and we turned them in at the park for a free Crackerjack and Dixie Cup ice cream donated by Allan Gifford, owner of Racine’s Progressive Dairy. (Gifford insisted that Mildred Arnold create the most beautiful float in the parade each year, and she did—as long as she could.) Our grand 4th of July celebration motivated families to stay in Racine for the holiday, celebrate with a happy crowd, gather at the park with games for all, watch the rockets blast and the colors flair until the last waterfall sparks burned out. 

Racine was free from large-scale labor-management conflict for decades. Could it be because the Women’s Trade Union League invited both sides to that Bury the Hatchet banquet that may have initiated genuine feelings cooperation, motivation and goodwill.

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Mother built an apartment in our attic for us while my father, in the photo on the wall, served in the Navy Seabees. When the carpenter didn’t follow her wishes, she fired him and completed the job so we could rent the downstairs. This was our Christmas card.

Mildred and her team decorated floats until 1945, the end of WWII. She struggled with mental illness on and off beginning in 1940 through 1952 when she was treated and cared for permanently in mental instructions until she died in 1976.

In 1976, my dad was named “Mr. Goodwill” in the 4th of July’s 150th U.S. Bicentennial parade. We made him a small float of Uncle Sam’s top hat which he rode proudly, leading Racine’s most memorable parade with 35 float units, including several of ours. From our family home on North Main Street, my mother, the Goodwill pioneer, and I watched Barney Arnold riding on his float with his Chihuahua dog Chico. 

We were proud when the parade committee honored Dad with a large banner for the Charles B. Arnold Award leading a prized float. Therefore, my dad, an Eagle Scout as a youth who was always trustworthy, helpful, friendly and kind, and still was all his life, is honored every year with his banner in the parade with more prestigious Racine founders and historic leaders like Mayor Roy Spencer and Progressive Dairy’s Alan Gifford.

I wish my mother could have shared that honor, rather than being UNsung for all these years.

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                                 Graphics by Mary Nelson

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