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McGill family



Muscatine button worker, early twentieth century labor activist, and teacher, Ora Pearl McGill, was born on June 14, 1894 on a small farm in Louisa County, Iowa. Known as Pearl, she was the second of James and Eliza Cromer Law McGill's seven children. Pearl McGill left her home near Grandview, Iowa, at the age of sixteen to work at a Muscatine button factory intending to save her wages and become a school teacher. She quickly became involved in a union organizing drive that was underway in the Muscatine button factories and served as recording secretary of the Button Workers Protective Union (BWPU) No. 12854, an affiliate of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Following the lockout of 2500 Muscatine button workers, which began in February 1911, Pearl McGill went to Chicago with the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL). She became a strike worker for the BWPU making countless speeches to local unions in industrial cities across the country, including St. Louis, New York City and Boston, to raise money to support the striking button workers in Muscatine. Later she joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and was an outspoken activist and organizer during the Lawrence textile strike of 1912.

In 1913 Pearl McGill enrolled in the normal training course in Cedar Falls, Iowa. On completion of her teaching certification she taught at a rural school in Lone Tree, Iowa. Discouraged by the low wages, she returned to Boston for the summer of 1914 but was back in Iowa by the fall to take up a teaching position in Moscow. In 1917 she married Ed Vance and, after a one-year break from teaching, resumed her career in Buffalo, Iowa, where she taught until her death in 1924. Pearl McGill obtained a divorce from her husband in August 1923. On April 30, 1924, she was murdered by Ed Vance following his release from a Mount Pleasant mental institution. Pearl McGill was inducted into the Iowa Labor Hall of Fame at the 2006 convention of the Iowa Federation of Labor.

Eliza Cromer Law McGill, the mother of Pearl McGill, was born in Iowa in 1861 to pioneers Hyram Cromer and Lydia Darr Cromer. The family settled on a farm near Moscow, Iowa. In 1876 Eliza Cromer married Irving Law and four children were born to this union. In 1881 Irving Law died in a sawmill accident. Eight years later, in 1889, Eliza Cromer Law married James McGill, a widower with two children. Eliza and James McGill lived and farmed in Louisa County, Iowa, where they raised seven children -- Ada Lee, Ora Pearl, William Hiram, Earlin Floyd, Marion Fay, Edna Blanche, and Donald Sherman. Eliza McGill died in 1922.

Ada Lee McGill, the older sister of Pearl McGill, was born in 1891, the oldest of James and Eliza McGill's seven children. She attended Leverich Normal School in Muscatine, Iowa, and taught at the North Prairie School in Moscow Township from 1908 until her marriage to Grant Smith in 1911 when the couple moved to Marked Tree, Arkansas, to take up farming near members of Grant Smith's family. The following year they were forced to return to Iowa due to extensive flooding in Arkansas. Ada and Grant Smith spent several years on rented farms including Tyce Bridge Farms where they raised four children -- Curtis (born 1911), Zella (born 1915), Charles (born 1924), and Jean (born 1930). Ada Smith died in 1974.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

McGill Family papers

Identifier: IWA0543

The collection consists mainly of correspondence and includes the papers of early twentieth century labor activist, IWW member, and Buffalo school teacher, Pearl McGill.

Dates: 1885-2005