Powers Hapgood (1899-1949), the son of William Powers Hapgood, was a union organizer born in Chicago, Illinois. He spent his childhood in Indianapolis, Indiana where he attended Shortridge High School. He graduated from Harvard University in 1921 and then worked as a coal miner in the several countries, including United States, England, France, Germany, and Siberia. Beginning in the 1920s, Hapgood was an active union organizer, administrator, and member of the United Mine Workers. He was often arrested and jailed for his participation in labor strikes and demonstration. Hapgood unsuccessfully opposed John L. Lewis for leadership of the United Mine Workers of America and was one of the three founders of the Committee of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935. He served as the regional director in Indiana for the CIO from 1941 to 1948, when he became assistant to the national director of the CIO. Hapgood went to Boston in 1927 to assist in the unsuccessful campaign to save the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti from prison and executions. There he met his future wife, Mary Donovan Hapgood, who was working in the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. He was the Socialist Party’s candidate for governor of Indiana in 1932, as was his wife in 1940.
Powers and Mary Hapgood were true pioneers of the socialist movement in the 20th Century. Powers was from Indianapolis, and worked for father’s canning company “Columbia Conserve.” Powers organized the workers in the company — and led them in demands on his own father. Later, Powers joined the United Mine Workers. He did extensive organizing in Pennsylvania and Indiana. In 1931 he ran against John L. Lewis for the presidency of the UMWA.
Powers joined the Socialist Party of America while Debs was still alive. In 1927, Powers went to Boston, Massachusetts and was a leader in organizing actions against the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti — two Italian immigrants who were convicted of a 1921 murder at a factory near Boston, on very flimsy evidence.
While in Boston, he met Mary Donovan, a local Irish radical and Socialist, who was the Treasurer of the committee to free Sacco and Vanzetti.
Unfortunately, as the history books show, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. But, Powers and Mary fell in love and got married. Their only daughter, Barta, was named for Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Both were active in the Socialist Party in Indiana when they came back to Indianapolis. In 1932, Powers ran for Governor of Indiana on the Socialist Party ticket, and garnered the largest percentage of vote for a third party gubernatorial candidate in Indiana history.
In 1936, Powers left the Socialist Party in order to become a founder and vice president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations ( the “CIO”), which merged with the American Federation of Labor in 1955, and became the umbrella organization for America’s industrial unions. Mary stayed active in the Socialist Party, and ran for Governor of Indiana 5 times starting in 1936.
Powers died at the of 49, in February 1949, of a heart attack. Mary continued organizing. She was the leader of the Socialist Party local in Indianapolis during the 1950s and 1960s. The local was heavily involved in the civil rights movement, particularly on issues for African American workers. It led marches and pickets against several local factories on civil rights grounds.
The local was also very involved in the nationwide boycotts of grapes and lettuce led by the National Farm Worker Association and later named the United Farm Workers of America. The union was led by the late Cesar Chavez, and the boycotts recurred in the late 1960s and 1970s.
So important was Mary to the Socialist Party local that it was knicknamed the “Mary Donovan Hapgood Local.” If you want to know more about it, you ought to talk to Jim Trulock, retired legislative agent of the United Auto Workers. Jim was a member of the local.
The Central Indiana DSA local was named the “Powers and Mary Donovan Hapgood Local” for two reasons: 1) to pay respect to two Indiana residents who were integral to the development of democratic socialism and trade unionism in the 20th Century, and; 2) to establish a continuity with previous socialist organizing in our area.
By the way, Mary died in July 1973. Barta died about ten years ago.
Barta was at the inaugural meeting of the DSA Hapgood Local in 1995, and spoke about her parents, and their ideas and activities.