History of working people in antiquity begins in Chicago


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Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co, a Chicago instiution that Studs Terkel has called a “precious part” of “the great heritage of the American labor movement,” published the first edition of Illinois-born and raised C. Osborne Ward’s The Ancient Lowly: A History of the Ancient Working People from the Earliest Known Period to the Adoption of Christianity by Constantine (1887)  —  the book that introduced many people across the English-speaking world to ancient history, but from a working-class perspective. For more about Ward and the importance of The Ancient Lowly  in educating early 20th century labor actvists and socialists view the “encounter” with author Ward on the website of the Classics & Class project.

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This title seems to have been among the first publications brought out by Charles H. Kerr & Company, the oldest radical book publisher in America. According to the company’s own account of its history, the Pullmann Strike of 1884 and the Haymarket Affair of 1886 sparked Chicago-based (but Georgia-born) radical actvist Charles Kerr’s interest in starting a publishing house. He had experience editing publications as he had relocated to Chicago to join the staff of Unity magazine. Charles H. Kerr & Co had an expansive range of interests when it joined forces with the organized left. Its 1900 catalog promised books “on socialism, free thought, economics, history, hygiene, American fiction, etc.”

Examine the 1900 edition of volume II of The Ancient Lowly .

Charles H. Kerr’s recognition of the significance of this book might have had something to do wth his own personal experience. He studied Romance languages at University of Wisconsin at Madison while his father was chair of the department of classics at the same institution.

(S.S.M)

 

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