Joe Hill


Biography of Joe Hill

Joe Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden, and also known as Joseph Hillström (October 7, 1879 – November 19, 1915) was a Swedish-American labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the "Wobblies"). A native Swedish speaker, he learned English during the early 1900s, while working various jobs from New York to San Francisco. Hill, as an immigrant worker frequently facing unemployment and underemployment, became a popular song writer and cartoonist for the radical union. His most famous songs include "The Preacher and the Slave", "The Tramp", "There is Power in a Union", "The Rebel Girl", and "Casey Jones—the Union Scab", which generally express the harsh but combative life of itinerant workers, and the perceived necessity of organizing to improve conditions for working people.

In 1914, John G. Morrison, a Salt Lake City area grocer and former policeman, and his son were shot and killed by two men. The same evening, Hill arrived at a doctor's office with a gunshot wound, and briefly mentioned a fight over a woman. Yet Hill was reluctant to explain further, and he was later accused of the grocery store murders on the basis of his injury. Hill was convicted of the murders in a controversial trial. Following an unsuccessful appeal, political debates, and international calls for clemency from high profile people and workers' organizations, Hill was executed in November, 1915. After his death, he was memorialized by several folk songs. His life and death have inspired books and poetry.

Joe Hill's love relationship, though frequently speculated upon, remained mostly conjecture for nearly a century. William M. Adler's 2011 biography reveals new information about Hill's ostensible alibi, which was never introduced at his trial. According to the biography, Joe Hill and his friend and fellow countryman, Otto Appelquist, were rivals for the attention of twenty-year-old Hilda Erickson, a member of the family with whom the two men were lodging. In a recently discovered letter, Erickson confirmed her relationship with the two men, and the rivalry between them. The letter indicates that when she first discovered Hill was injured, he explained to her that Appelquist had shot him, apparently due to jealousy.

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