Big Annie’s legacy honored

CALUMET – For Lyndon Comstock, the story of Anna “Big Annie” Klobuchar Clemenc hasn’t been told thoroughly enough, and because of that, he recently wrote a book called “Annie Clemenc and the Great Keweenaw Copper Strike.”

Because of her efforts on behalf of copper miners and their families before, during and after the 1913-14 copper strike, Comstock nominated Clemenc for induction into the Labor’s International Hall of Fame. The nomination was accepted, and at 7 p.m. July 26, Comstock will be part of the ceremony to honor her induction, which will take place at the Keweenaw National Historical Park Calumet Visitor Center. The ceremony is taking place in Calumet as part of the observance of the centennial of the strike, which started July 23, 1913.

Comstock said he became aware of Clemenc’s importance to the miners during the copper strike while doing research for his cousin, Joanne Thomas, who created an exhibit about her now on display at the Coppertown USA Mining Museum in Calumet Township.

Comstock said he and Thomas had Croation ancestors involved in the strike, so they both felt a connection to the period.

Thomas, who lives in Bolinas, Calif., but grew up in Muskegon, said as a result of working with Thomas, he decided to write the book.

“That really came out of doing that research,” he said.

Thomas said Clemenc, who was born in 1888 in Calumet to Slovenian immigrant parents, was unique for her involvement with the strike.

“Annie was one of the first women of Slavic background to get a leadership role in the Calumet area,” he said.

Before the strike, Comstock said Clemenc was involved with Slavic fraternal organizations, and during the strike, she was president of the women’s auxiliary of the Western Federation of Miners, the union which lead the strike.

In 1910, Comstock said Clemenc started a women’s lodge for one of the fraternal organizations, and that involvement carried over to the strike.

“The women of that lodge, I think, all followed her into the strike,” he said.

Although many people in the Copper Country or United States labor activists may have some knowledge of Clemenc and her activities before, during and after the strike, Comstock said that knowledge may be superficial.

“There’s a tendency to regard her as a media phenomena without substance,” he said. “As I looked at her, I thought, ‘No. There’s substance here.'”

Comstock said another reason he nominated Clemenc to be in the Labor’s International Hall of Fame was because her importance to the strike and labor was appreciated by too few people.

“She had become a forgotten figure in the decades after the strike,” he said.

Her efforts were somewhat rehabilitated during the women’s movement of the 1970s, however, Comstock said.

Shawn Ellis, labor co-chair of Labor’s International Hall of Fame, which is located in Detroit, said for this year’s induction, besides Clemenc, the two other inductees to the Hall of fame this year are Viola Liuzzo, who was killed in 1965 in Alabama during efforts to register African Americans to vote, and Evelyn Dubrow, a journalist and member of the American Newspaper Guild, who became a organizer, writer, educator and, in 1956, the chief Washington, D.C., lobbyist for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, which is now UNITE HERE.

Ellis said it was decided to do the induction for Clemenc in Calumet because of her connection to the area, and because of the centennial of the 1913-14 copper strike.

“She’s quite a historic figure up in the area,” he said.

Ellis said an 11-member LIHF board of trustees takes nominations for inductees from across the country. The nominees are then researched and a decision about induction is then made.

“We take a good, long look at (the nominee),” he said.

The board of trustees includes labor officials, a labor attorney, a historian and an archivist, Ellis said. The process to choose inductees takes place during spring and summer. Currently, the trustees are considering nominees for 2014.

Ellis said the process for induction is unique this year.

“This is the first time we’re doing three inductions at the same time,” he said.

There are more than 100 members of the LIHF, which began in 1973, Ellis said. Inducted last year as a single group were 636 union members killed during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the plane which crashed in a farm field in Pennsylvania.

Although he and other LIHF representatives will be at the July 26 ceremony at the Calumet Visitor Center, it’s really going to be a locally produced program.

“We’re just going to be honoring her legacy,” he said. “We’re pleased to be part of it. We’re honored to be part of it.”