Joan Cavanagh, director of the Greater New Haven Labor History Association, submitted the following report:
The Greater New Haven Labor History Association has received a $1,000 Historic New England 2014 Community Preservation Grant to expand its current traveling exhibit, Our Community at Winchester: An Elm City Story. The check was presented to the organization by Historic New England Executive Vice President Diane Viera on Monday, Aug. 25, at 3 p.m. in the atrium of New Haven’s City Hall, where the exhibit was showing.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp opened by thanking Historic New England for recognizing the importance of local history. Labor History Association Board member Lula White, who conducted many of the oral history interviews currently included in the exhibit, called the work “a labor of love,” noting that, as a child whose father worked at Winchester, she “could tell time” by the sound of the plant whistle.
State Sen. Martin J. Looney, who has been a strong advocate for state legislation to include labor history as part of the curriculum in Connecticut’s public schools, recalled that both of his parents worked at Winchester, his father from 1940 until 1965. His father was an active member of the International Association of Machinists Local 609, which represented workers at the plant from 1956 until it closed in 2006. He often “compared the differences” between the condition of workers at the plant pre- and post-union.
Looney’s story will be one of the eight new oral histories that the Historic New England grant will help to fund.
Craig Gauthier, a former president of Local 609, whose oral history interview figures prominently in the exhibit, noted that there is “still so much more to be told” about the stories of workers at Winchester. The Labor History Association hopes the Historic New England grant will be matched by other contributions to fund that effort.
Historic New England is a museum of cultural history that collects and preserves buildings, landscapes, and objects dating from the seventeenth century to the present and uses them to keep history alive and to help people develop a deeper understanding and enjoyment of New England life and appreciation for its preservation. Among its programs, the organization provides grants of $1,000 each to one affiliate member organization in each of the six New England states. Ms. Viera said the Winchester workers exhibit was chosen as the Connecticut recipient of this year’s award from a pool of 30 applicants. She said that her organization believes strongly in the importance of preserving and sharing the history of ordinary people, stories that would otherwise be lost.