Charles P. Neill
February 1905–March 1913
Appointed by: Theodore Roosevelt
Also served under: William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson
Charles Patrick Neill was born in Illinois in 1865 and grew up in Austin, Texas. He studied at numerous colleges, including the University of Notre Dame, The University of Texas, Georgetown University, and Johns Hopkins, and taught at Notre Dame and then Catholic University in Washington, D.C. While a professor of political economy at Catholic University, he was introduced to a fellow teacher, Commissioner of Labor Carroll Wright.
After serving as vice-president of the Board of Charities for the District of Columbia and actively participating in the District's Civic Center, Neill was recommended by Wright to serve on a commission to mediate the anthracite coal strike. President Roosevelt followed Wright's suggestion and appointed Neill to the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration for the anthracite industry in 1903. In 1904, the President chose Neill as Wright's successor to be Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor.
Neill tackled several large issues during his 8 years as Commissioner. In 1906, when Upton Sinclair exposed the unsanitary conditions in Chicago packinghouses in his novel The Jungle, President Roosevelt called upon Neill to investigate. Neill and James Bronson Reynolds, a reformer from New York City, submitted the Neill-Reynolds report, and by June, the President signed Congress' meat inspection bill and the Pure Food Law.
When the American Federation of Labor accused Government contractors of violating the law limiting their laborers and mechanics to an 8-hour workday, President Roosevelt assigned Neill the task of investigating the alleged abuses. Neill was also called upon to study the immigration situation after unions argued that current immigration laws provided cheap, nonunion labor to businesses. In 1907, Roosevelt appointed Neill to a committee studying immigration to the South and also to a commission charged with reviewing immigration as a whole.
Labor disputes, especially in the steel, mining, and textile industries, were common during Neill's years as Commissioner. His investigations led to comprehensive reports detailing everything from the causes of the disputes to the impact of new technology on labor. In 1910, a strike at Bethlehem Steel was investigated by the Bureau, which led to a four-volume study, published over 2 years, on the conditions in the iron and steel industry. Another Bureau investigation looked into the violent conflicts between police and strikers at textile mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Although started by only a few workers in response to reduced pay by the American Woolen Company, the strike quickly grew to where it involved an organized group of 20,000 workers, led by the Industrial Workers of the World. The Senate published the Bureau's report as a Senate Document, eventually leading to the establishment of a commission to thoroughly investigate labor conditions in the United States.
Neill was essential in mediating many labor disputes, helping to settle around 60 railway controversies. However, this work absorbed enormous amounts of his time, so, in 1913, Neill worked with a committee to develop a plan for a separate, permanent board of mediation. Once Congress passed the Newlands Act, setting up the Board of Mediation and Conciliation, Commissioners of the Bureau were no longer required to mediate labor disputes.
The Bureau under Neill led the movement to improve industrial safety and health conditions, publishing reports on railway employee accidents, fatal accidents in coal mining, and accident experiences in other countries. In 1912, the publication Accidents and Accident Prevention was the first in a continuing annual series on industrial accidents in iron and steel. An article published in 1908 on mortality from consumption gave rise to the fight against tuberculosis. Neill's concern over phosphoric poisoning led to a study in 1909 on the effects of white phosphorous in match production; after the report's publication, legislation was introduced to ban phosphorous matches from interstate commerce.
Neill also led the Bureau to publish a study on industrial education, which the American Federation of Labor termed as the "most comprehensive study of the whole subject that has ever been made in the United States." Educational work in the field of social insurance resulted in Congress passing the first workmen's compensation law in 1908; the Bureau oversaw the administrative function for 8 years.
In 1907, Neill and the Bureau launched a massive study on the working conditions of women and children. Work on the study continued through 1909, and the resulting 19 volumes dealt with several aspects of the employment of women and children in the cotton, glass, men's readymade garments, and silk industries to reasons for children leaving school and the relationship between employment and juvenile delinquency. Studies also covered historical accounts, health questions, family budgets of cotton-mill workers, and State enforcement of labor laws. Results from the study influenced the establishment in 1911 of a special unit in the Bureau of Labor to conduct studies relating to the condition of women in the United States and also the creation of the Children's Bureau in 1917. The Bureau's studies on women and children were met with strong criticism by southern Senators, but many others backed the findings of the investigation.
Neill sought to improve the quality of the Bureau's statistical work. He visited the Bureau's agents in the field, and in 1908, he undertook an extensive revision and reorganization of the Bureau's statistical work. Also in 1908, in line with a Governmentwide directive to improve efficiency, the Bureau moved to put its personnel system on a merit basis and instituted efficiency ratings for its employees.
Neill's second term as Commissioner expired on February 1, 1913. On March 4, President Taft's last day in office, Taft signed the bill creating the new Department of Labor. On March 8, President Wilson sent Neill's nomination forward for a third time as Commissioner. Accusations against Neill of political partisanship and unfairness to the South by former Bureau employees and Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina led to a full investigation of Neill, which succeeded in completely absolving him. President Wilson fought for Neill, and on March 22, the President made the appointment. However, two weeks after his reconfirmation, Neill submitted his resignation, citing financial difficulties.
Following his resignation, Neill took a position with the American Smelting and Refining Company to organize and conduct their labor department. Neill resigned from the company in 1915 to become manager of the Bureau of Information of the Southeastern Railways, a post he held until his retirement in 1939. Neill remained active in National Civic Federation projects directed at labor management-cooperation, mediation, and arbitration. He also continued to be active in civil and social welfare work, particularly concerning women and children. In January 1920, he was named to the Board of Education by the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, and in November 1921, he became the first director of the National Catholic School of Social Service. Charles Neill died in October 1942.
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Last Modified Date: June 13, 2012