Standing Tall with Big Annie
Engle, Diana Paiz, Michigan History Magazine
A tall young woman sat in a Calumet jail cell, serving a ten-day sentence for assault. The surroundings were familiar--she had been there before. But her stay in mid-January 1914 was different than the other times. Life had turned for the worse. Much had been lost--the union cause, her marriage and so many lives. But despite these setbacks, the young woman was determined to remain standing tall. She was, after all, "Big Annie."
Born in 1888 in Calumet, Annie was the eldest of George and Mary Klobuchar's five children. To support their family, George worked in the copper mines and Mary was a cook and maid. They, like many other area residents, were among the thousands of immigrants who had flocked to the Upper Peninsula to work in the booming copper and iron mines.
Calumet prospered during the post-Civil War copper boom, thanks primarily to the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company (C&H). The Boston-based company operated in a manner later described as "benevolent feudalism." Because of C&H, Calumet was a city with all the modern amenities. The streets were paved and serviced by streetcars and trains. There were C&H-built schools, bathhouses, a library and a hospital. The opera house was a major venue for top-name entertainers like Enrico Caruso. Many residents had telephones (still considered a luxury elsewhere), and lived in low-cost C&H housing with water supplied by C&H free of charge.
But copper was getting more difficult to remove from the Keweenaw earth. Mines had to be dug deeper and more ore taken to get the valuable red metal. In 1874, one ton of copper ore produced ninety-seven pounds of copper. By 1913, one ton of ore produced only twenty-five pounds of copper.
Seeking a way to increase profits, C&H switched from using the two-man drill to extract ore to the one-man drill--the 150-pound "widow-maker." As one miner recalled, "Even before the one-man drill, we lost maybe a man a week in those mines." With the two-man drill, "one guy was always watching out for the other. The one-man drill scared the miners." Besides fear of the widow-maker, miners were fed up with the poor working conditions. They toiled four thousand feet beneath the surface of the earth for up to eleven hours each day. Their pay--$2.50 a day.
The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) had five locals in the Keweenaw. More than nine thousand men carried WFM union cards, including Joseph Clemenc (pronounced Clements), the husband of the six-foot, two-inch Annie Klobuchar Clemenc. Everyone knew her as Big Annie.
In the spring of 1913 a group of miners asked C&H for a meeting to discuss their concerns. The miners wanted a one-dollar-a-day raise, a shorter work day and a return to the two-man drill. The company refused to meet with the miners. Although the WFM advised the miners not to strike, on July 23, 1913, the copper miners--at the urging of their wives--voted to strike. James MacNaughton, C&H's general manager, was livid. "The grass will grow on your streets before I'll ever give in," he vowed.
On the third day of the strike, four hundred striking miners gathered to march down Calumet Avenue. A group of women and children gathered to one side of the men. Suddenly, a "tall, straight-backed woman, beaming confidence" stepped to the fore of the men, and the other women and children followed her. It was Annie, holding high a ten-foot-long staff from which flew an American flag "bigger than herself."
Every morning at six o'clock as many as two thousand people gathered behind Annie to march five to seven miles to the mines the same time nonstriking miners were traveling to work. On Sunday mornings, the marchers exchanged their simple clothes for their church clothing. Annie was joined at the front of the line by two young girls dressed in white, who carried the ends of streamers that fell from the tip of flagstaff. When a reporter questioned Annie about the weight of her large flag, she responded, "I get used to it. …