Tragedy in 1919: Fannie Sellins

by Nov 30, 2018History, Latest Postings

A new portrait of Fannie Sellins, done by BHF member, Jennifer Rempel.

On August 26, 1919, Fannie Sellins, organizer for the mine workers’ union was brutally murdered by Coal and Iron Police outside a mine entry in Natrona Heights when she attempted to intervene in the beating of a picketer. Born Fannie Mooney, Sellins was a garment worker and a widowed mother of four children who became union leader and negotiator for 400 women locked out of a garment factory in St. Louis. In 1913, she came to Pittsburgh and joined a United Mine Worker drive to organize miners in West Virginia. She described her work as the distribution of “…clothing and food to starving women and babies, to assist poverty stricken mothers and bring children into the world, and to minister to the sick and close the eyes of the dying.”

Arrested for defying an anti-union injunction in Colliers, West Virginia, Fannie spoke out: “I am free and I have a right to walk or talk any place in this country as long as I obey the law. I have done nothing wrong. The only wrong they can say I’ve done is to take shoes to the little children in Colliers who needed shoes. And when I think of their bare little feet, blue with the cruel blasts of winter, it makes me determined that if it be wrong to put shoes upon those little feet, then I will continue to do wrong as long as I have hands and feet to crawl to Colliers.”

Freed through the intervention of President Wilson, she returned to Pittsburgh and was hired by Phil Murray onto the staff of United Mine Workers. In the summer of 1919, Sellins was assigned to the Allegheny Valley to direct picketing for striking miners at Allegheny Coal and Coke. She came upon guards beating a picketing miner, Joseph Starzelski. When Sellins remonstrated, the guards turned on her. The autopsy describes two bullets to the head, one apparently from behind and the other from the front, as well as a depressed fracture running from her left eye to above her right ear. Fannie Sellins’ funeral was held in St. Peter’s Church, New Kensington, on August 29, 1919. The funeral cortege that accompanied the bodies of Sellins and Starzelski was said to be the largest in the town’s history and mineworkers erected a beautiful memorial at her grave in Arnold.

Excerpts from The Point of Pittsburgh, by Charles McCollester

Join Us for 100 Years After the Assassination of Mineworker Organizer Fannie Sellins; A Community Commemoration on Monday, August 26 @ 2:00 pm – 8:30 pm.

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Gather and remember Labor Martyr Fannie Sellins at three Allegheny Valley locations:

1) Ducktown, 1230 Argonne Dr, Natrona Heights, PA 15065 where  striking Miners rallied and Fannie was shot.

2:00-3:00 pm Community Commemoration
Assassination site “Ducktown,” Natrona Heights
Boy and/or girl scouts for the pledge, Joe Szalanski coordinator.
Master of Ceremonies: Jacqueline Cavalier
Invocation: Fr. Tim Thomson, St. Mary’s Ukrainian, McKees Rocks
Welcome, Jim Thomas – Allegheny Kiski Valley Historical Society;
Mine Worker Speakers: Nick Molnar and Kip Dawson
Community Speaker: Mary Cronk Farrell

Labor Welcome: (Darin Kelly, Allegheny County Labor Council)
Song: Anne Feeney and Fannie Sellins Chorus – Casey Deely, Ginnie Hildebrand, Bette McDevitt (other Raging Grannies, et al).
Reading – “The Only Wrong” statement of Fannie Sellins
Visit to the murder site

2) Brackenridge at USW Local 1196 Union Hall, 1080 Brackenridge Ave, Brackenridge, PA 15014 to hear speeches about Fannie’s relevance today.

3:30-6:15 pm Steelworker Commemoration – USW Local 1196 (Brackenridge)

3:30 pm Fannie Sellins – Her meaning today: (Steffi Domike and John Lepley)

5:00 pm Dinner and Speeches (Union Hall and parking lot behind with tent)

Master of Ceremonies: Maria Soma, Director of Organization, USW

Welcome: Todd Barbiaux,
Invocation: Fr. Jack O’Malley
Song: Mike Stout –  Remembrance of Tony Slomkoski
Fred Redmond, International Vice President USW
Levi Allen, International Secretary-Treasurer UMW

6:15 pm Leave Brackenridge for Arnold Cemetery at 6:15

3) Arnold Cemetery 2030 Freeport Rd, New Kensington, PA 15068 at the Mineworker Memorial to pray for the dead.

6:45 pm Mineworker Memorial
Fannie Sellins and Joe Strazeleski Gravesite, Arnold Cemetery
MC: Rosemary Trump – Battle of Homestead Foundation
Invocation: Reverend Rodney Torbit, Serbian Orthodox priest
Welcome: Rick Bloomingdale, PA AFL-CIO
Music, Tom Breiding
Tanya James, UMW International Auditor/Teller
Ed Yankovich, UMW International VP, District 2 emeritus
Candlelight and Taps

Sponsoring partners with BHF include United Mineworkers and United Steelworkers.

Everyone welcome.

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