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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Owners and Workers

Catholina Lamber, Owner
Most people regarded Catholina Lambert as one of the leaders of the manufacturers in the 1913 strike. The son of paper mill workers in Yorkshire, England, Lambert began work in a cotton mill at the age of 10. As a young boy, he reportedly read somewhere that "one out of 10 succeeds in England, nine out of 10 in America."¹ In 1851, at the age of 17, Lambert left England and found work as a bookkeeper in a Boston textile firm. Four years later he became a partner in the firm; within another three years he was head of the company and relocated many of its interests to Paterson. During the 1860s and 1870s, Dexter, Lambert & Co. prospered, growing into one of Paterson's most important silk manufacturers. In 1880 Lambert was one of the first to move some of his operations to an "annex" in Pennsylvania. Lambert also developed connections with suppliers of raw silk in Italy, increasing his control of the entire process of silk manufacture.

In 1892, Lambert built a new house high on the side of Paterson's Garret Mountain. The house was called Belle Vista, "Belle" in honor of his wife Isabelle and "Vista" for the spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline from its terrace. He gradually filled the mansion with more than 400 paintings, including works by Renoir, Monet, and Rembrandt. As his business grew and prospered, Lambert added a greenhouse and opulent gardens and built an observatory tower on the top of the mountain. In 1896 he added a new gallery to display his art collection.

Lambert was adamantly opposed to dealing with the strikers. When Henry Doherty, in whose mill the strike had started, was prepared to agree to a settlement with the workers, the 79-year-old Lambert confronted him angrily at a manufacturers' meeting and reportedly had to be restrained from physically attacking him.²

Despite his large income, Lambert had spent so lavishly that he could not recover from the strike. He suffered a further blow when the outbreak of World War I disrupted the businesses he owned in Italy. Lambert was forced to mortgage his property, auction off his art collection, and eventually sell one of his mills. He refused to retire, although he cut back his usual working day from 16 hours to 12. Proudly reporting that he had paid all of his debts, he lived at Belle Vista until his death in 1923. By that time, Dexter, Lambert, and Company was out of business.

Pietro Botto and Other Mill Workers
Pietro Botto's role in the strike was very different. Botto and his wife Maria, northern Italian immigrants, arrived in Union City, New Jersey, in 1892 where Pietro, a weaver, quickly found work in the silk mills. Maria Botto worked at home as a "picker," a skilled worker who examined finished fabric for flaws. By 1907 the family had saved and borrowed enough money to buy land and build a house in Haledon, a new suburb north of Paterson where many of their fellow Italians had settled. The family lived in the six first-floor rooms of the house and rented out two three-room apartments upstairs. During the week, Maria Botto cooked for boarders whose families were still in Italy. When Haledon became a popular resort area, the Botto house served as an informal inn. The backyard contained a bocci (and Italian game similar to lawn bowling) court and card tables for paying guests, and Maria and her four daughters cooked for as many as 100 visitors on a typical Sunday.

From April to June, 1913, the house played an important part in the silk strike. The socialist mayor of Haledon invited the strikers to the suburb. Although Pietro Botto was not a member of the IWW, he offered his home as a meeting place for the strikers and the Wobblies' leadership. IWW leaders Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Big Bill Haywood, and Carlo Tresca addressed the strikers from the home's second-story balcony. Perched on a hillside and surrounded by open land, the Botto House was a perfect location for the Sunday rallies that were so important in maintaining morale through the long months of the strike. Looking back many years later, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn remembered the Haledon meetings vividly:

There was a balcony on the second floor, facing the street, opposite a large green field. It was a natural platform and amphitheater. Sunday after Sunday, as the days became pleasanter, we spoke to enormous crowds of thousands of people--the strikers and their families, workers from other Paterson industries, people from New Jersey cities, delegations from New York, trade unionists, students and others. Visitors came from all over America and from foreign countries. People who saw those Haledon meetings never forgot them.³

Pietro Botto never again worked in the silk industry. One of his daughters even had to change her name to get a job.

We know about Pietro Botto's life because of his role in the 1913 silk strike. It is more difficult to reconstruct the lives of anonymous unskilled workers in the silk mills and dye houses. We know that unskilled workers in Paterson earned about half what weavers earned. Few families owned their own homes. Renters' quarters were generally smaller than the Bottos' and often housed boarders and roomers in addition to family members. Finally, most of Paterson's silk workers still lived in old, crowded, increasingly dilapidated residential areas like Dublin. The support of these ordinary workers was critical to the effectiveness of the strike and their willingness to endure five months without pay testified to their commitment.

Questions for Reading 3

1. In what ways is Catholina Lambert's life a "rags to riches" story?

2. Why do you think Lambert built a house like Belle Vista?

3. What role did Lambert play in the strike of 1913? Why do you think he was so opposed to Henry Doherty's reaching a settlement with the workers? Lambert had gone to work in the mills as a 10-year-old boy. How might that have affected his position?

4. How did the Bottos support themselves?

5. Why do you think Pietro Botto offered his house to the strike leaders, even though he was not a member of the IWW?

Reading 3 was adapted from D. Stanton Hammond, "Belle Vista" (Passaic County, New Jersey) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1973-74; Flavia Alaya, Silk and Sandstone: The Story of Catholina Lambert and His Castle (Paterson, NJ: Passaic County Historical Society, 1984); James Sheire, "Pietro Botto House" (Passaic County, New Jersey) National Historic Landmark Documentation, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1982; John A. Herbst and Catherine Keene, Life and Times in Silk City (Haledon, NJ: The American Labor Museum, 1984); and U.S. Senate, Report on Condition of Woman and Child Wage-Earners in the United States, Vol. IV: The Silk Industry (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1911).

¹ Flavia Alaya, Silk and Sandstone: The Story of Catholina Lambert and His Castle (Paterson, NJ: Passaic County Historical Society, 1984), 3.
² Alaya,
Silk and Sandstone, 21.
³ Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,
The Rebel Girl, My First Life: 1906-1926 (New York: International Publishers, 1973), 165; cited in James Sheire, "Pietro Botto House" (Passaic County, New Jersey) National Historic Landmark Documentation, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1982, Section 8, p. 15.

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