William Bauchop Wilson

For other people named William Wilson, see William Wilson (disambiguation).
William Bauchop Wilson
1st United States Secretary of Labor
In office
March 5, 1913  March 5, 1921
President Woodrow Wilson
Succeeded by James Davis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 15th district
In office
March 4, 1907  March 3, 1913
Preceded by Elias Deemer
Succeeded by Edgar Kiess
Personal details
Born (1862-04-02)April 2, 1862
Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, Scotland
Died May 25, 1934(1934-05-25) (aged 72)
Savannah, Georgia
Political party Democratic

William Bauchop Wilson (April 2, 1862 – May 25, 1934) was a (Scottish-born) American labor leader and progressive politician.[1][2] He is best remembered for his service as the first Secretary of Labor (1913–21) under President Woodrow Wilson.


Early life

William B. Wilson was born in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was the third child of Adam Black Wilson and Helen Nelson Bauchop Wilson, and the first surviving early childhood.[3] His father was a coal miner.

During a mining strike in February 1868 the family was unceremoniously evicted from their company-owned home.[3] Adam Wilson unsuccessfully traveled around Scotland attempting to find other work. He ultimately decided to emigrate to the United States to find employment there, leaving his wife and three children to set sail across the Atlantic in April 1870.[3]

Adam Wilson found his place in the bituminous coal region of Pennsylvania, setting in the little town of Arnot, located in Tioga County.[3] After finding a job, Adam Wilson sent for his wife and family, who — together with his father-in-law — departed Glasgow for America in August 1870.[3]

Immediately after arriving in the United States William was enrolled in public school in Arnot.[4] This interval proved to be short-lived, however, as William's father began to suffer serious back problems and was unable to complete his work without assistance. Therefore, at the age of 9, William was removed from school and sent to help his father in the mines.[4] He would continue to work as a miner for nearly two decades.

In 1874, young William engaged in labor organizing for the first time when he attempted to launch a union for the boys who worked as trappers, manually operating the ventilation of the mines.[4] When the fledgling union threatened a strike over a wage reduction, union representative Wilson discovered the limits of union solidarity in the face of superior force, when he was thrown over a foreman's knee and paddled. The incipient strike was broken.[4]

The event proved to be a valuable learning experience for William, who later recalled in his unpublished memoirs:

"His argument had been forceful and effective, but it was applied to the wrong part of my anatomy to be permanently convincing.... It helped impress upon my mind the fact that until working men were as strong, collectively, as their employers, they would be forced...to accept whatever conditions were imposed upon them."[5]

In 1876, when Wilson was just 14 years old, declining membership in the local Miners' and Laborers' Benevolent Association caused the remaining members of that group to select the energetic youngster as the organization's Secretary.[4] Wilson began to correspond with other labor activists around the country and the groundwork for his career as a trade union functionary was laid.[4]

United Mine Workers official

He served as international secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America from 1900 to 1908.

House of Representatives

He was elected as a Democrat to the Sixtieth, Sixty-first, and Sixty-second Congresses. He served as chairman of the United States House Committee on Labor during the Sixty-second Congress. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1912 and for election in 1914.

Secretary of Labor

He was appointed United States Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President Woodrow Wilson and served from March 5, 1913, to March 5, 1921. During the First World War, he was a member of the Council of National Defense.

He was a member of the Federal Board for Vocational Education from 1914 to 1921 and served as chairman of the board in 1920 and 1921. He was appointed on March 4, 1921, a member of the International Joint Commission, created to prevent disputes regarding the use of the boundary waters between the United States and Canada, and served until March 21, 1921, when he resigned. In December 1916, Wilson addressed a conference on social insurance in which he discussed State developments in that field such as the provision of mothers’ pensions and workmen’s compensation, and also spoke of the possibility of the United States introducing old-age pensions and universal health insurance.[6]

Later years and death

Wilson was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the United States Senate in 1926. After his public service he was engaged in mining and agricultural pursuits near Blossburg, Pennsylvania.

He died on board a train near Savannah, Georgia on May 25, 1934.[1] He was buried in Arbon Cemetery in Blossburg.[7]


In 2007, Wilson was named to the U.S. Department of Labor's Labor Hall of Fame, located inside the North Plaza of the Frances Perkins Building on 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.[8]


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Political offices
Preceded by
New office
U.S. Secretary of Labor
Served under: Woodrow Wilson

Succeeded by
James Davis
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Elias Deemer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 15th congressional district

Succeeded by
Edgar Kiess
Party political offices
Preceded by
Fred Kerr
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Sedgwick Kistler
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