Emma Florence Langdon (1875–1937) was a linotype operator, historian, and labor leader celebrated for her courageous defense of the freedom of the press during the Colorado Labor Wars. When National Guardsmen arrested five prounion employees of the Victor Record, Langdon outraced the military to the newspaper office, barricaded the doors, and printed the next day’s edition herself. Later, she wrote a history of the labor conflicts of the Cripple Creek district and remained an active participant and sought-after speaker in the labor movement during its most tumultuous years in Colorado.
Emma Florence Parker was born on September 29, 1875, in Tennessee, to parents who were native southerners. Little is known about her early life. She married J. W. Lockett when she was fifteen years old, and in 1893 gave birth to her only daughter, Lucile. The marriage did not last, and two years later, she married Charles G. Langdon, a printer, and settled in Junction City, Kansas, where he had grown up.
Cripple Creek Strike
By 1903 Langdon was in the Cripple Creek mining district, working as an apprentice linotype operator alongside her husband and brother-in-law at the Victor Record, the last prounion newspaper in Teller County. When the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) went on strike in August in support of Colorado City’s smelter workers, Langdon, a member of the Typographical Union, supported the decision. “They are brothers,” she would later write. “We are both subjected to the same conditions. He is on strike today, I may be tomorrow. We both stand for the same—unionism.”
In September, Governor James Peabody sent the National Guard to Cripple Creek under the command of Adjutant General Sherman Bell. The Mine Owners’ Association would be paying the guardsmen, the result of what Langdon called “an unholy and dastardly contract” to “stamp out the life” of the WFM. On September 20, Langdon and her family were present when the military, serving as an escort to nonunion workers, “charged upon the mass of men, women and children and herded them like wild beasts upon the sidewalks.” Langdon, along with her husband, fled into a billiard hall to avoid being trampled.
Putting Out the Paper
Tensions between the military and civilians grew stronger by the day. General Bell rejected every attempt to curtail or question his authority. When the Victor Record erroneously reported on September 29 that two convicts were among the troops he commanded, a unit soon arrived to arrest the newspaper’s employees.
Before the troops escorted managing editor George Kyner and four of his employees to the military “bull pen,” a makeshift jail, Kyner was able to telephone his wife. Mrs. Kyner came to Langdon’s door after midnight and let her know what had happened—that their husbands had been arrested and the newspaper office was empty.
Langdon dressed hurriedly and sprinted the five blocks to the office, arriving before the militia could return from booking its prisoners. She secured the help of two men, including the operator of the printing press, and they “locked, bolted, and barred the doors” just before the soldiers got back. Langdon refused to admit them and dared them to break in. The dare was not accepted, and Langdon, only half-dressed and with unlaced shoes, spent the next three hours setting the type for the morning’s paper, which bore the headline “Somewhat Disfigured, But Still in the Ring.”
After preparing the paper for distribution and informing her sister-in-law that her husband, too, had been arrested, Langdon undertook to deliver the first shipment herself. She brought the Record to the National Guard’s Camp Goldfield, much to the surprise of the guardsmen who received her. Contrary to her expectations, she was not arrested, and she returned to the office to begin work on the next day’s paper. At two o’clock the next morning, after more than twenty-four hours of feverish activity, she was finally able to rest when the prisoners were released and resumed their regular duties.
The Strike Is History
The standoff with the National Guard in defense of her newspaper made Emma Langdon famous. Hundreds of letters arrived from across the country in praise of her courage, and she received many honors and awards, including becoming the first female member of the WFM. But her career as a journalist and activist had just begun. Before the year was over, with the strike still ongoing, she started writing a history of the labor wars in Cripple Creek, which would be published in two parts, in 1904 and 1905. Endorsed by the WFM as its official account of the conflict, The Cripple Creek Strike is a mixture of history, eyewitness accounts, and advocacy. It has been recognized by later historians as “unusually significant,” valuable not only for Langdon’s treatment of the facts but for her inclusion of testimony from leaders of other regional labor conflicts.
In January 1904, Langdon was a member of the Typographical Union committee that personally presented prounion demands to Governor Peabody, and the next month forty of her neighbors in Victor surprised her with a speech recognizing her as a heroine of the “late unpleasantness.” The strike would end that year, however, with a total victory for the Mine Owners’ Association, and the Langdon family, along with other prounion residents, left the Cripple Creek district for good.
Later Life and Legacy
Langdon moved to Denver, where she would reside for the rest of her life, and her union career continued. She was elected assistant secretary at the founding meeting of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905 and remained prominent in the WFM and its successor union, delivering speeches across the country in support of labor rights and the Socialist Party. In 1913 she helped unite typographical union members from Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming, and in 1916 she led a campaign to organize smelter workers in Kansas and Oklahoma. That year the WFM elected her as a “fraternal delegate” to the United Mine Workers convention.
Langdon largely disappears from the historical record after World War I, perhaps as a result of the Red Scare of 1919, a nationwide panic over communism that scattered IWW leaders and sympathizers. She died on November 29, 1937, at the age of sixty-two, and is buried alongside her daughter in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery. In 1989 Barbara Jo Revelle included Langdon in the Colorado Convention Center’s Colorado Panorama mural recognizing significant figures in the state’s history.