A dormitory at Williamson Trade school about 1908
The Williamson Trade School Strike
A number of my readers asked what happened at the Williamson Trade School Strike from 1900
The school strike started when the students protested, President John M. Shrigley’s constant teachings and lectures on temperance and the dangers of drinking alcohol. Shrigley forced the resignation of Robert N. Crawford, the school superintendent, “for business considerations” who disagreed with the teachings of temperance. Crawford continued to live on school grounds and the battle was on. On April 9, 1900 the students erected flags all over the campus grounds overnight, calling for Crawford’s reinstatement. They nailed the school’s United States flag at half mast so the school could not lower it. When Shrigley had the flag taken down, the students accused him of desecrating the U.S. flag. The flags were erected at night so President Shrigley would have no idea who the student ringleaders were. On April 11 the students went on strike. They met in the school auditorium and demanded an investigation into their grievances and the firing of Crawford. No one was more shocked than Shrigley; he had considered the strike over and done with. Shrigley met with the group but promised nothing, he considered the strike as just a “nuisance” led by a small group of “insurgents”. The “small group” was approx. 40 boys who were suspended by the board of trustees of Williamson. Shrigley allowed no reporters on campus and refused to answer any questions for a week, he told the Times newspaper, through the new school superintendent, a Mr. Bitting that “all the departments were running along as usual”. What running as “usual” will never be known but the school trustees upheld the firing of Superintendent Robert Crawford whose last day on the campus was April 23. When Crawford left the school by train for his home in Lansdowne the entire student body turned out. They met at his cottage and walked him and his family to the school train station were Crawford gave a small speech. After the speech as he was boarding the train the students gave three cheers and sang, “ My Country tis of thee” and the “Star Spangled Banner”.
Shortly after leaving, Crawford called the school to talk to student Joseph Hoffman about sending an article to the Chester Times office in Media. While on the phone, President John M. Shrigley walked in demanding to know what was going on and what Crawford was saying. Hoffman refused to say and when Shrigley demanded an answer, Hoffman resigned and left the school on the spot. That was the end of the strike, most of the 40 suspended student were never reinstated.
Special thanks to John Coleman, Brookhaven Historian, for his help with this article.