Teaching Guide: Exploring the Homestead Strike

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, The Homestead Strike, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Examine the photograph of Henry Frick’s office. How does this compare to the working spaces for steelworkers depicted in other sources? What does this tell us about the role class played in the Homestead Strike?
  2. Use the photograph of men approaching a pay car, the photograph of men feeding furnaces, and the postcard illustrating the Carnegie blast furnaces to describe working conditions at Carnegie Steel Works during the Homestead Strike era. What dangers and challenges did steelworkers face? How did these shape their desire to organize as a labor union?
  3. Based on the excerpt from William Weihe’s testimony, describe the specific labor dispute between Frick, as a representative of the Carnegie Steel Company, and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers?
  4. Using evidence in the excerpt describing Frick’s engagement of the Pinkertons, the excerpt from Henry Frick’s testimony, the badge, and the excerpt describing violent interaction between strikers and detectives, describe how the Pinkertons presented themselves as an official law enforcement group. What were the problems with this from legal, social, and labor-organizing standpoints?
  5. Consider the photograph of strikers on a hill, the excerpt describing violent interaction between strikers and detectives, the illustration showing the burning of the barges, and the illustration showing a Homestead mob. How was the violence of the Homestead Strike narrated by media of this era? What is the perspective of these writers and artists on the conflict at Homestead?
  6. How do the political cartoon and the photograph of a Safeway lockout help us to understand the legacy of the Homestead Strike for labor organizing?

Classroom activities

Ask students to work in investigative reporting pairs to conduct a July 7 interview between a reporter and a witness at Homestead. Witnesses may be either strikers, Homestead townspeople, or Pinkerton detectives. The pair should decide on a particular witness for the project together. The student playing the role of the reporter should then craft a list of questions designed to determine the interviewee’s understanding of what happened at Homestead, what they saw, how they were involved, and what conclusions they drew about the incident. The student playing the role of the witness should craft a personality present at Homestead and respond to questions. Students can first script the interview in an outline format and then create an audio recording of the interview. Sources in this set can be used as evidence of events and the excerpts from testimony can offer inspiration for the structure and focus of the interviews themselves.

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