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Formed in 1869, the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor was a secret fraternal organization that sought to include all workers regardless of ethnic origin or sex. The Knights offered membership to those in all trades, including professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and bankers in addition to craftsmen and laborers. The Knights of Labor began organizing in West Virginia in the late 1870s and by the mid-1880s had organized local assemblies that made up 16 district assemblies. The Knights had dropped their secrecy by the 1880s and actively and openly represented its members in labor disputes.

The 1890s saw the Knights in competition for membership with the newly organized United Mine Workers of America, and for a while, the Knights were able to keep their numbers strong. Even though the Knights eschewed strikes as a means of securing their goals, competition from the UMWA led the organization to take part in the 1897 coal strike. The UMWA, with vigorous organizing campaigns, strong stands against coal operators, and growing national influence, began to eat into the Knights’ constituency. The competition was so intense that the UMWA accused the Knights of actually aligning with the operators and securing ‘‘scabs’’ to help break strikes of UMWA miners. By the early 1900s, only a few local assemblies continued to exist in the West Virginia coalfields and the Knights quickly disappeared.

This Article was written by Kenneth R. Bailey

Last Revised on October 07, 2010

Related Articles


Fox, Maier B. United We Stand. Washington: United Mine Workers of America, 1990.

Harris, Evelyn K. & Frank J. Krebs. From Humble Beginnings: The West Virginia State Federation of Labor, 1903-1957. Charleston: West Virginia Labor History Pub. Fund, 1960.

Cite This Article

Bailey, Kenneth R. "Knights of Labor." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 October 2010. Web. 29 May 2024.


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