Alexander Howat, the Industrial Court Law, and the "Amazon Army."

One of the significant European immigrants in Kansas history is Alexander Howat, president of the United Mine Workers of America, District 14. Alexander McWhirter Howat was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on September 10, 1876. At the age of three, Howat emigrated with his parents to Troy, New York, moving from there to Braidwood, Illinois, and finally to Crawford County, Kansas, where he attended public schools until the age of ten. He then worked in the mines until he was twenty-two.

Howat was chiefly responsible for the organization of a powerful and aggressive union which successfully defeated the Kansas Court of Industrial Relations, which at the time of its inception in 1920 was looked upon as a national model for dealing with labor disputes. Essentially the Industrial Court Law made all disputes between labor and management a matter of arbitration, taking away the right to strike, which was the only weapon by which labor could compel employers to listen to reason. The Kansas experiment in compulsory adjudication faded into history when it was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and consolidated with the Public Utilities Commission and the State Tax Commission as the Public Service Commission. This defeat came about largely because of Howat's challenging the Court, although doing so meant he would be heavily fined and forced to serve three years' imprisonment.

In 1919, during a general coal strike, Howat and District 14 stood firm in spite of pressure from Governor Henry Allen. This is probably one of the big reasons why Allen introduced the Kansas Industrial Court Law. Howat was bitterly opposed to the law and immediately set out to discredit it. District 14 pledged full support to their president. When he called a strike in defiance of the law, he was sent to jail in Girard, then in Columbus, and finally in Ottawa. The officers of the International United Mine Workers of America ordered him to call off his strike. He refused and thus in 1921 was expelled from the Union.

One development of the strikes in southeast Kansas was the replacement of the striking miners with "scabs;" a term for workers who refuse to strike, refuse to join a union, or take the places of the striking workers. In response, the wives, mothers, and sisters of the striking miners marched from coal camp to coal camp in 1921 in opposition to employment of the scabs. These women protesters became known as the "Amazon Army." Like Howat, most were European immigrants to the United States. These are the women to which Judge Curran refers in his correspondence with Mrs. John Tracy. Another perspective on these women can be gained from the following poems written by Eugene H. DeGruson. These poems, "Alien Women," and "The King of the Miners," were published in DeGruson's book of poetry titled Goat's House (Topeka: Woodley Memorial Press) in 1986.


In '21, my mother still herself
at seventeen marched for Alexander
Howat to bust the scabs who worked
the mines in place of the fathers
and husbands of the thousand women
who marched with her carrying
their men's pit buckets filled
with red pepper to throw in the eyes
of the poor scabs who cursed back
in English to their Slovene, German,
French, and Italian over
the State Militia's rifle fire.

It's all dim in her mind now. She
remembers only that she was hungry
and frightened. She does not remember
Judge Curran, who said, "It is a fact
that there are bolsheviki, communists,
and anarchists among the alien women
of this community. It was the lawlessness
of these women which made necessary
the stationing of the State Militia
in our county for two months
to preserve law and order."
She does not remember they
were called an Army of Amazons.


He was not an educated man
in the sense that he knew the law
or was certified to cure the ills
he saw, and one of his shortcomings
was that if he believed a thing right
he could see it no other way.

The coal companies never got too big
for Alexander Howat to tackle.
The bigger they were, the harder
he fought, his defiance bringing
prosecutions which sent him to jail.
He became a power of the past.

At his sentencing, miners stood up to join
the cry: "Jail one year-no work one year."
Though stripped of political power, he
remained armored in their love. Observers
saw "something in his fighting spirit
that even jail could not touch."

Courtesy of Leonard H. Axe Library  "Special Collections"   For further information contact Randy Roberts, 620-235-4883 or e-mail

Amazon Army