Boston Police Strike September 9th 1919

Boston Police Strike


John McEvoy

The year of 1919 was the year of strikes. A few months prior to the Boston Police strike, there was a police strike in London that was quite large. A couple weeks after that, there was a Liverpool Police strike. The infamous steel strike happened in 1919 as well. On September 9th 1919, around 5:45 pm, many Boston police officers made the decision to hand in their badges. The officers in Boston were going on strike partially for what most people go on strike for, their wages. The officers were unhappy with their ten hour shifts, as many cops worked an insane amount of hours throughout the week. This issue has already come up multiple times. The cops had formed a social club in 1906. Around 1917, police officers asked about a possible raise, but higher figures said that now was a bad time to ask. The mayor, Andrew Peters at the time, tried to help the police officers with a little bit of a raise, but this raise was given to less than a quarter of Boston Police officers, so they were still upset.  Although they thought their pay was unfair, that is not the only reason they went on strike. They were very upset with the condition of certain facilities. “In 1919 Station House No. 2 contained only one bath tub and four toilets for one hundred and thirty-five men”. (Lyons 149).  Little did they know, when they went into the police headquarters to give in their uniforms, it would be the last time they would wear one; at least for the city of Boston. All of the cops who handed in their uniform ended up be replaced, which resulted in them losing their jobs. Police commissioner Edwin Upton Curtis was encouraged to hire the officers back during the strike, but he was very stubborn, and refused to re-hire the officers.

When the word got out to the public, all hell broke loose. The crime rate took a drastic spike, making the Boston area a very dangerous place to be. The night during this crisis, the Governor of Boston, Calvin Coolidge begged students, alumni, and faculty from Harvard University to volunteer and help the city out in its time of need. Coolidge also asked 100 surrounding police officers to fill the striker’s places, but less than half of the officers that were asked accepted this request. In the first night of the police strike, 9 people were killed for terrible reasons such as refusing to play games and cooperate with one another, but this was just the beginning. The worst nights for violence in the city was on the 10th and 11th. After the first night, the city of Boston knew that it had to prepare for what was to come. Certain shops took expensive item out of their stores and hid them. Other boarded up their doors and walls to make it harder to steal from their stores. Even more extreme, store owners hired personal security guards to stay outside of their store during the riots and protests. Some store owners were lucky, but others had hired guards with little to zero experience, which backfired. A big part of being a security guard is being able to handle sticky situations. Many guards had trouble with this part of the job, resulting in killing citizens that did not need to be physically harmed. Other guards had trouble with keeping the stores untouched. Crowds scared them away and ended up leaving the area for their own safety.

Riots in Boston during the Police Strike

After the strike was over, the police officers who went on strike ended up making their own union about a year after the police strike, called the Association of Former Police of the City Boston. Coolidge gained a lot of political popularity due to this strike, and he admitted that he thinks that it was a big reason why he won presidency.

This event was very important because it was the first major police strike in the United States. We learned how important it is to keep our police officers happy, and we saw the consequences when things got out of hand. It is also important because we saw the political movement a politician made during a rough time in his city.





Editors, “The Boston Police Department Goes on Strike.” November 13, 2009. February 18, 2019.

Lyons, Richard L. “The Boston Police Strike of 1919.” The New England Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1947): 147-68. doi:10.2307/361175.


Russell, Francis. “Coolidge and the Boston Police Strike.” The Antioch Review 16, no. 4 (1956): 403-15. doi:10.2307/4609899.



Hello, My name is John McEvoy. I am very passionate about history, and the game of soccer. I am a 2016 graduate at Verona High School, and a 2018 graduate of the County College of Morris, where I studied history and played soccer. I am always interested in learning more history!

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