Patrick H. Morrissey
Patrick H. Morrissey, son of C&A section foreman John Morrissey and his wife Mary, was born September 11, 1862. For years the family lived at 803 W. Monroe Street in Bloomington. He completed a rare event for a 19th century working class child -- he graduated from Bloomington High School in 1879. Only 27 youngsters received degrees that year and only five of them were males. His classmate Lizzie Irons, later Mrs. Elizabeth Folsom, was the first female to win the O. Henry prize for fiction. Fred Haggard became a missionary to India and later secretary of the American Baptist Missionary Union. And Gordon M. Lillie was better known years later as "Pawnee Bill," traveling the nation with his wild west show.
Morrissey worked through his schooling as a "call boy," summoning railroaders from their homes when it was time for their run. After graduation he followed his dad to the railroad, working as a clerk, brakeman and conductor.
In 1883 trainmen on the Delaware & Hudson Railroad formed the Brotherhood of Railroad Brakeman, the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen after 1890. In 1885 Bloomington workers organized a lodge and Morrissey was a charter member. That year his fellow workers elected young Morrissey to represent them at the union's Burlington, Iowa convention. He caught the eye of S.E. Wilkinson, the new organization's Grand Master, and Morrissey became the BRT's clerk, editing the union's "Journal."
In 1889 Morrissey was elected Vice-Grand Master, traveling the country helping establish new lodges. The financial downturn of the 1890s and the Pullman strike defeat left the BRT penniless and dwindling. Wilkinson retired and in 1895 Morrissey was elected BRT Grand Master. The organization had less than 10,000 members and was $105,000 in debt.
Morrissey saved the organization, strategically uniting with the Order of Railway Conductors. Following the Pullman strike all the operating brotherhoods attempted cooperative efforts, but this fell apart within three years. In 1902 the Conductors and Trainmen confronted the western railroads together, successfully winning a contract which they replicated in other regions. The key strategic move the two organizations made was confronting railroads regionally, rather than individually, thus thwarting the companies' attempts to play workers on one line against another.
Although the railway brotherhoods tended to be conservative and often aloof from other unions, Samuel Gompers noted Morrissey as one of 20 "outstanding fellows" who answered his pleas for support for West Virginia coal miners in 1902.
When Morrissey left the BRT in 1909 it had 120,000 members, held $2 million in insurance funds and had a $1.5 million strike fund. The union also opened a home for disabled and aged trainmen in Highland Park, Illinois in 1910. He was noted for his education and as a public spokesman for the rail brotherhoods:
With a varied training in railroading, in insurance, and in labor organization work, Morrissey was in many ways the antithesis of his predecessors who had, in a powerful and brusque way, prepared the way for his analytical and judicious leadership. He was unusually well informed.... This knowledge, together with his forcefulness, tact, parliamentary ability, and rare good judgement, soon made him the spokesman of all the railway Brotherhoods in their joint conferences and their leader before the public (Orth, 158-159).
For the next five years Morrissey worked in Chicago for the American Association of Railway Employees and Investors, which invested union funds in rail companies. In 1914 he became a special assistant to the president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. Two years later he was diagnosed with a "nervous breakdown," which was actually a brain tumor. He died at age 54 on November 25, 1916 and is buried in Galesburg, Illinois.
Morrissey's brothers all were politically active in local affairs and moved beyond their working class background and the railroad. Brother Michael was elected Bloomington Police Magistrate, learned law, and served as a successful labor arbitrator and lawyer, becoming Bloomington postmaster during Democratic administrations. James Morrissey joined the Bloomington Fire Department, retiring as an assistant chief. John was on the Bloomington Election Commission. The one brother to leave town was William, who went to Denver, was active in the labor movement, wrote for the Denver Post and served on the Colorado Boxing Commission (Matejka).
Another west-side Bloomington Irish rail worker's son who achieved national leadership was Daniel W. Tracy, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Morrissey was already working on the railroad when Tracy was born on April 7, 1886 at 1311 West Walnut Street in Bloomington, preceding by three sisters.
New electric technology provided Tracy's road to success, but it predominately came beyond Bloomington. After 1893 his father worked for the local street railway. Tracy completed grade school, worked briefly at the C&A shops and then began working for the street railways, occasionally listed as a laborer and later as an electrician.
Tracy last listed Bloomington as his address in 1913, migrating to the southwest. That year he joined IBEW Local 716 in Houston, working as a lineman in Texas and Oklahoma. Within three years he was business agent for two Houston locals and by 1920 was an International Vice-President for the union, representing the southwest. In 1933, with the union's membership at a record low because of the Depression, Tracy assumed the national organization's leadership, when there were 50,000 members.
By 1940, under Tracy's leadership and thanks to new legislation favorable to union organization, the IBEW had 200,000 members. A strong supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt, Tracy left the union in 1940 to serve as assistant Secretary of Labor under Frances Perkins. He returned to the union's presidency in 1947, served on the AFL's executive council, and led the IBEW as it grew to 360,000 members. He helped strengthen the union's apprenticeship programs and established a pension fund in 1946. A fierce anti-communist, Tracy's post-war reign was marked by tension with unions accused of being communist-led. He resigned his union presidency in 1954 and died in 1955. He's buried in Bloomington's St. Mary's Cemetery (Matejka).Previous Table of Contents Next