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Labor lawyer Harold W. Houston (March 10, 1872-January 17, 1947) was born at Freedom, Ohio. When he was very young, his parents moved to West Virginia and located in Jackson County and later in Charleston. He graduated from Charleston High School in 1889.

Houston earned a law degree from West Virginia University and began his legal practice in 1901 in Parkersburg. By 1912, he had returned to Charleston. During the next few years, he became the chief attorney and counsel for most of the major labor organizations in West Virginia, including militant District 17 of the United Mine Workers of America. Houston represented the miners during the famous Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike of 1912–13 and, along with T. C. Townsend, successfully defended those UMWA leaders accused of treason against the state of West Virginia after the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain. Earlier that year, Houston had led the successful legal defense of Sid Hatfield and other defendants charged with murder in the shootout with coal company detectives known as the Matewan Massacre.

Houston was a dedicated Socialist who ran for local, state, and federal office on that party’s ticket. He helped to direct the Socialist involvement in the Paint Creek-Cabin Creek strike. After the treason trial, John L. Lewis fired Houston as union counsel and also dismissed the radical leaders of District 17. In 1931, Houston aided C. Frank Keeney with the organization of the West Virginia Mine Workers Union and the West Virginia Labor Party. Both organizations collapsed in 1933.

Houston married Sally Chambers, the widow of Ed Chambers, who was assassinated with Sid Hatfield at the McDowell County Courthouse in 1921. In his later years, Houston was involved in a number of business endeavors, including an automobile dealership and a real estate addition in the Spring Hill section of South Charleston that bears his name. Eventually, he retired to Lake Worth, Florida.

This Article was written by Fred A. Barkey

Last Revised on May 07, 2015


Lee, Howard B. Bloodletting in Appalachia. Morgantown: West Virginia University, 1969.

Lane, Winthrop D. Civil War in West Virginia. New York: B.W. Huebsch Inc., 1921.

Barkey, Fred. Fritz Merrick. West Virginia History, (1998).

Barkey, Fred. "West Virginia Socialist Party, 1898-1920." Ph.D diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1971.

Cite This Article

Barkey, Fred A. "Harold Houston." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 May 2015. Web. 17 July 2024.


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