Missing from Haymarket Square

Missing from Haymarket Square

by Harriette Gillem Robinet

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CHICAGO, 1886. Twelve-year-old Dinah Bell is too young to be working twelve-hour days. But to the factory and mill owners, age doesn't matter. In fact nothing seems to matter to them except how much work gets done. But Dinah and workers like her have many concerns: Food is scarce, wages are small, and hope seems out of reach.
Dinah's father knows there…  See more details below


CHICAGO, 1886. Twelve-year-old Dinah Bell is too young to be working twelve-hour days. But to the factory and mill owners, age doesn't matter. In fact nothing seems to matter to them except how much work gets done. But Dinah and workers like her have many concerns: Food is scarce, wages are small, and hope seems out of reach.
Dinah's father knows there must be a better way -- that's why he and eight thousand others are planning to march for an eight-hour day. But when her father is taken prisoner for helping to plan the march, Dinah is desperate to rescue him. As the march gives way to a terrifying riot, Dinah faces constant danger and a persistent question: What will become of her family if she does not set her father free?

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Twelve-year-old Dinah is responsible for everyone—her bitter disabled mother, her jailed father, her siblings, and, on occasion, neighborhood immigrants. Going against her conscience, she "humbugs" (steals) to feed them. She also plots to free her father who has been arrested for supporting an eight-hour workday. This novel will give readers a dramatic historical look at Chicago's labor conditions, especially for Negroes and immigrants, in the late 1800s. Often, however, the prose is heavy-handed, making Dinah too adult and more melodramatic than sympathetic. One also wonders how she has the time, energy and unlikely good luck to accomplish so much while working the twelve-hour day required of children her age. There are moments of comic relief amid the struggle, but the occasional giggling and joke-telling often seem forced and out of place. Despite the uneven writing, readers will appreciate this eye-opening account of the events surrounding the Haymarket Square Riot, a significant incident in America's labor history, and the tragic way that it particularly affected children. 2001, Simon & Schuster/Atheneum, $16.00. Ages 9 to 13. Reviewer: Betty Hicks
It is the spring of 1886 in Chicago, and twelve-year-old Dinah Bell's activist father has been taken prisoner by the Pinkertons, detectives trying to break up the unions. This leaves Dinah in charge of supporting herself; her mother, injured on the job at the sewing factory; and five other impoverished families living in the same rat-infested tenement. She and her friend, Olive, pickpocket and work twelve-hour days at the sewing factory to try to take care of everyone—but they do not like to steal and are desperate to find an honest way to survive. Dinah also is expected to find her father and free him in time to participate in the demonstration that he helped plan in support of the eight-hour working day. This novel will be useful for curriculum reading and should be purchased by both school and public libraries in need of historical fiction on the subject of the Haymarket Square Riot. Robinet includes an author's note and bibliography at the end of the book to help students understand the factual events and the fictional characters she used to tell her story. The book is short and quite predictable, and there is a lack of depth to the characterization, but it still might be of interest to teens who enjoy historical fiction. Dinah is a hero—a competent and clever girl—whom students will find appealing, and they will enjoy her adventures. Biblio. VOYA CODES: 3Q 2P M (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2001, Atheneum/S & S, 143p, $16. Ages 11 to 14. Reviewer: Julie Roberts
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Dinah Bell is a child seamstress in an African-American family suffering from the horrid working conditions in Chicago in 1886. Her father has been arrested for being a labor organizer and her mother has lost an arm to the machines. Their one-room flat houses three families, including Olive and Ben, Austrian immigrants. Even that is lost when the landlord decides to evict them, leaving them with nowhere to go. Dinah is resourceful, often hungry, and frightened. She struggles to "humbug" or steal to get money for food, locate her father in prison and help him escape, and find a way to participate in the marches without losing her job. Somewhat improbably, she manages all these things with a great deal of help and support from almost everyone she meets. The network of labor organizers steps in when despair threatens, and Olive and Ben's ingenuity helps to see the eventful plot to its conclusion. Unfortunately, all of the threads don't mesh well. Dinah's work, though readers are told is at least 12 hours a day, occupies very little time, and she seems to sneak off effortlessly whenever the plot demands it, without consequences. Because her hunger and exhaustion never seem real, her moral dilemma about stealing or starving is weakened. Katherine Paterson's Lyddie (Dutton, 1991) is far more successful at presenting the inhumanity of child labor.-Carol A. Edwards, Sonoma County Library, Santa Rosa, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Historical fiction illuminates the events leading up to the 1886 Haymarket Riot. Twelve-year-old Dinah isn't much different from the mass of poor children working in Chicago's factories. She's always hungry; her family shares one room of a tenement with two others; she works 12 hours a day at a clothing factory; she unhappily supplements her family's meager income through petty theft. But she is different in one key respect: her father is an African-American labor leader who is instrumental in organizing the May 1 march calling for an eight-hour day. When her father is arrested days before the march, Dinah takes it upon herself to free him. Robinet (Walking to the Bus-Rider Blues, 2000, etc.) keeps her young heroine busy, what with work, her rescue mission, and her attendance at various labor gatherings, resulting in a somewhat uneven narrative flow. This is very much fiction-with-a-mission, and it's perfectly clear who the villains are, but the text strives to avoid oversimplification, including in its set pieces an encounter with a sympathetic police officer and a glimpse of the pressures brought to bear on the harsh manager of the factory where Dinah works. While Dinah's grasp of the big labor picture and her energy in the face of her privation occasionally strain credulity, they do allow the text to articulate the issues and to take the reader to the scene of the action. In doing so, it introduces them to an episode in US history rarely covered for children—as a bibliography void of children's titles will attest. (author's note, bibliography) (Fiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
9 - 13 Years

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Chapter One

That spring evening Dinah Bell walked carefully, trying not to stumble. Sunlight flickered on her brown face, and for a moment she closed her large black eyes. The family could starve, she thought; our little Josef has already died. We three children must do humbug, but I hate it.

The setting sun on Chicago's State Street lit windows so they shone like gold, windows in five-story buildings raised after Chicago's great fire in the fall of 1871.

It was now the spring of 1886, and the city was alive with new businesses and factories. However, there were no factories on State Street. Horse-drawn carriages passed, carrying wealthy families.

A rich lady in one of the carriages frowned at Dinah. Dinah steadied herself by holding the brass ring of a hitching post for horses. Why did the lady frown? Everyone whispered that Dinah was pretty. She touched her long black braid, which she had wrapped around her head like an olive wreath. She thought it made her look grand, like a girl in a Greek statue she once saw.

But she wore no bonnet, as someone noble would; a tattered shawl served as her head scarf. And worse still, she was dirty. She was not at all like the ladies in their long silk and satin dresses who strolled past her.

Taking a deep breath, she glanced over her shoulder. Several yards behind was blue-eyed Olive Schaffer, a recent immigrant who wore clothes as dirty and patched as Dinah's. Olive pulled a shawl to cover her grimy, butter white hair.

Like Dinah, she was twelve years old and ready for humbug. Olive was Dinah's good friend. Recent immigrants didn't seem to care that Dinah's people were of African ancestry and had been slaves only twenty years before.

Dinah glanced onto the street. At the curb their dog, Napoleon, trotted almost invisible in shadows. Good dog, he was ready. A brindled black on brown color, Napoleon's short-legged body was round like a sausage. At the thought, Dinah licked her lips. Humbug meant food. That was the only reason they did it.

On the other side of State Street sixteen-year-old, blue-eyed Ben Schaffer — Olive's brother — strolled, whistling, one hand in a pocket. He looked relaxed, but Dinah knew that he was testing the rock in his pocket and watching for danger.

Dinah knew that Ben hated humbug as much as she did. However, it was his little brother who had died, and he knew how important humbug was. His straw-colored hair stuck out from under a workman's cap, and his soiled workman's overalls seemed out of place among the gentlemen in suits and top hats who paraded on State Street.

Dinah searched the block around them. No police in sight. Pampered pooches of the rich met and sniffed one another. Straining their leashes, they yelped at Napoleon, but Napoleon trotted straight ahead.

Dinah and Olive reached the corner at Van Buren Street. Olive whispered: "Achtung!" Attention. "Rich man coming."

Did Napoleon hear? Dinah watched the dog kneel forward and cover his nose with a paw, as if he hated the smell of Chicago's rich people. Olive had taught him that trick. Dinah smiled.

As she stepped aside, Dinah decided the man striding toward her was probably not a millionaire. Millionaires rode those fancy carriages drawn by sleek, fat horses. However, this man was rich enough: well dressed, well fed, and well met.

With a moan, she threw herself across the man's feet and made him stumble. Her back ached from her long workday; she felt as if she wanted to lie there forever. But that, of course, was impossible. As the man leaned over Dinah, Olive darted up.

Dinah crawled to her knees. "Sorry, sir," she muttered, head down. He mustn't see her face.

Shawl covering her head, she stood and limped along Van Buren Street toward the lake. Behind her she heard Olive speak angrily. "You, you, how dare you. You knock her down!"

The man stuttered, "I believe...I do believe she — "

Without glancing behind, Dinah knew that Ben Schaffer had thrown the stone on time. She heard the man call, "My hat!"

She heard his footsteps as he ran after his rolling derby. Testing the wind with a finger, she sensed that the breeze had carried his hat south. Good. That meant Napoleon hadn't been needed. She felt the thrill of a successful humbug, but at the same time she felt a stab of shame.

A hand signal brought Napoleon to her side, and she stumbled out to Lake Michigan's breezy shoreline, where the air was clean and smelled of fresh seaweed floating at the foamy water's edge. The others would meet her there. They couldn't be seen together right away.

Napoleon sniffed a bloated fish. As he began to nibble it, Dinah squatted on the damp sand and drew her long skirt around her ankles. Her joking father liked to ask what the lake said to the lakeshore. She would giggle and answer, "Nothing. It just waved."

He would ask, "Was it beautiful?" He always looked for beauty, but not just the kind you see with your eyes. Her father, a union organizer, felt the struggle for justice was beautiful, too. The calm lake whispered of beauty to Dinah now, and she sighed.

Why wasn't her father more practical, more down-to-earth? He was a dreamer seeking the good, the true, and the beautiful; but it was hard for Dinah to notice beauty when she was hungry. She watched Napoleon eat the dead fish, sand and all. She was pleased. His stomach was as strong as a tin tub. Some dogs of working people had ribs that showed like porch railings, but not her dog.

A year ago Dinah and Olive had rescued Napoleon when his tail got chopped off. They had seen men throw him out of the metal-works plant at McCormick's Reaper Factory, where their fathers had worked. The bloody pup must have followed someone inside.

His chopped six-inch tail had hung from a one-inch stump. Olive had cut the skin; Dinah had torn her petticoat to make a bandage; and the grateful puppy had become their loyal pet.

After finishing the fish, Napoleon flushed a prairie hen off a nest and ate her eggs. Dinah's stomach churned painfully as she watched him. She grew so dizzy, she stumbled up the shore and sat. Leaning against an oak tree, she began to think.

It was Thursday, two days before the Saturday march for the Eight-Hour Day. She, her mother, and her father would march with thousands this May 15 demanding a shorter workday. Thousands were out of work and were hungry. Her father worked sixteen hours a day on his new job. With an Eight-Hour Day and fair wages, two men could have jobs; two families could have food.

She frowned. I hope the humbug's a good one, she thought, hugging her knees. Then we won't have to do it again for a few days. That spring there had been weeks of lockout and then the McCormick blacklist for her father and his friends. Ten weeks in all, and for three of those weeks they had almost starved; for the other seven, the children had done humbug once or twice a week.

Remembering Josef, Dinah moaned.

Before they began humbug, Josef Schaffer, six, had been ill with fever and weak from hunger. The day before he died, Dinah had played rolling a ball from her bed to his. He hadn't learned English, and she spoke little German, but their play hadn't needed words. They were friends.

The next day Josef lay staring until, eyes and mouth open, without a whimper, he died. That day as she wiped a tear, Dinah promised herself no one else in the family would die. Humbug had been the answer.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures," their priest had said. Dinah wasn't sure he would approve of their "desperate measures," but it was all they knew to do.

At last Olive warbled — her signal — and Dinah whistled in return. Running toward Dinah, Ben carried a narrow loaf of unwrapped bread. With a yell, Dinah lunged, tore an end off the bread, and bent over her knees to chew it.

She swallowed a lump of the crust, gulping so fast it scratched her throat. She ran and knelt by the lake, where she slurped water, then chewed more bread, stuffing it in her mouth. Turning her back to Olive and Ben, she hid three chunks of bread in her pocket.

Staggering back, she asked Olive, "What else?"

Olive wiped her lips. The bread was gone. She lifted a key high. Ben grabbed at it, but Olive dropped it in her pocket.

Ben pointed to his feet. "I can buy boots."

"That much?" Dinah asked, brushing sand off her damp skirt.

Olive nodded, then glanced away, and Dinah suspected there was something Olive didn't want to tell her in front of Ben.

Dinah turned to Ben, who worked unloading boats on the Chicago River. "Why buy shoes?" she asked, frowning.

Ben sat, rolled on his back like a porcupine, and raised both feet. Wet newspaper bulged like snake heads from holes in the bottoms of his shoes. She stared at the holes.

"Splinters and stones hurt feet in there," he said. "Two men die from gangrene. I need shoes."

Dinah nodded. Where she worked, sewing needles hurt fingers, not feet, and always at the end of their long work shift when people were tired.

Women seamstresses at their factory sewed sixteen-hour shifts. Sometimes they sewed eighteen hours or more when a shipment of shirts or gloves was needed. Because she and Olive were children, they worked only twelve hours — from seven in the morning until seven in the evening.

Ben stood and gazed down the lakeshore.

A well-dressed man strolled with a girl. The laughing girl, about Dinah's age, was dressed in a peach-colored dress with lace at her neck. Dinah straightened her back. She remembered having pretty clothes. Did that girl think she was better than Dinah because of her fancy dress?

Dinah heard the man call the girl "Rosellen."

As they walked closer, Dinah wished she could throw sand in that Rosellen girl's face. Olive and Ben stood to leave, but Dinah lingered to stare, clenching her teeth like an angry bulldog.

She bet that girl was in school. No long hours of work for her. Dinah had had to go to work two years ago, and she still missed school. Why couldn't she have fine clothes? Why couldn't she stay in school?

Turning, Dinah trudged up the sand to follow Olive. "What else?" she asked in a low voice. Ben had left.

Shaking her head, Olive said, "Gefahr!" Danger!

"Why?" asked Dinah.

"Last man we take money purse from?"

"Yes," whispered Dinah. Olive was the one who picked the pockets. What had she learned? How were the three of them in danger?

"Pinkerton detective."

The Pinkertons, killer sharks for hire! Pinkertons were worse than the police. Dinah frowned as she walked a safe distance ahead of Olive on their way to Chicago's north division. Could they find another way to pay for food for the family? They had to. Humbug was becoming too dangerous.

Copyright © 2001 by Harriette Gillem Robinet

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Meet the Author

Harriette Gillem Robinet, a Washington, D.C., native, graduated from the College of New Rochelle, New York, and from graduate studies at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She is a member of the National Writers Union.

Robinet felt compelled to write the story of the labor struggle for the eight-hour day. In Chicago, emotions still boil over the Haymarket tragedy, and year-round wreaths are placed at the Haymarket Monument. She was proud to be present when that monument was made a national memorial.

She and her husband, McLouis Robinet, live in Oak Park, Illinois, and have six children and four grandchildren.

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