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The Way We Really Were

By Virginia McConnell Simmons

During the elections in 1892 and in 2016, the respective populism bore no resemblance one to the other. In Colorado in 1892, union organization – especially the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) – was growing rapidly, while mine owners were trying to increase the three-dollar-a-day, eight-hour work day to nine without additional pay. Davis Waite, after a short stay in booming Leadville, had moved to Aspen and started a newspaper, where he vigorously supported miners. Backed by the People’s Party (a.k.a. Populist Party), Waite won election as governor, but his term (1893-95) was dominated by the crash of the price of silver, the Panic of 1893 and labor conflicts at Leadville and Cripple Creek, where mine owners called in the National Guard. Still, during his brief tenure, Populists and reformers managed to get the women’s suffrage referendum passed in 1893. (Illustration from Frank Hall, History of the State of Colorado.)