At 5:45 p.m. on September 9, 1919, Boston was effectively without a police force, leaving the city victim to four days of crime, looting, and violence. Ordered to disband their newly organized police union, the officers voted to walk off their posts in protest, leading to the greatest tragedy in American policing: the Boston Police Strike of 1919.
This is a compelling account of the historical antecedents that led to the strike and its complex political and societal ramifications. Through meticulous research, Oliver explores the perspectives and motivations of all involved, from the police officers attempting to unionize to the city’s leaders trying to retain command and control of its patrolmen.
Willard M. Oliver is a professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He has authored two dozen books, including The Birth of the FBI: Teddy Roosevelt, the Secret Service, and the Fight Over America’s Premier Law Enforcement Agency (Rowman & Littlefield 2019). Oliver is a retired major in the U.S. Army Reserves and a former police officer. He resides in Huntsville, Texas with his family.
Prologue: September 8-9, 1919
1 America’s First Police Department
2 The Boston Police Department
3 Political Control of the BPD
4 The Great War’s Impact on Boston
5 Boston’s Leadership
6 Governor Calvin Coolidge
7 The Call for Unionization
8 The Road to Hell . . .
9 In the Absence of Police, September 9, 1919
10 The Boston Riots, September 10, 1919
11 Quelling the Violence, September 11, 1919
12 Coolidge Takes Charge, September 12, 1919
13 Firing and Hiring a Police Department, September 13, 1919
14. . . Is Paved with Good Intentions
Epilogue: August 3, 1981
About the Author
This detailed history of the Boston strike of 1919 is an interesting and intriguing read for not just any Boston police officer, but for anyone interested in the fight for unionization of police officers. Oliver’s depictions and insights of the people involved in this historical moment give us lessons in history and politics that are still relevant and applicable today. A must read for anyone interested in the Police Labor movement.
The Boston Police Strike of 1919 is one of the signal events in Boston's history, and in Willard Oliver's vivid and well-research account, one of the most important in the nation's. He has mined the Boston newspapers and a new database compiled for the Strike's centennial in 1919 to tell the story, and to analyze its importance for Boston, for its police force, and for unions. The strike destroyed the nascent Boston police union, set off a wave of violence in the city, and helped make Calvin Coolidge President of the United States. This is a story that has long needed to be told well, and we are fortunate that Willard Oliver, one of the nation's foremost scholars of police work, has completed the task.