This row house, built in 1902, served as the home of Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and one of the country’s most influential union leaders during the labor movement. His D.C. residence of 15 years, this First Street is a modest 3-story bay-fronted brick row house typical of the Edwardian era.
Gompers was born in a London tenement in 1850 and only experienced formal schooling for a short time before apprenticing in his father's cigar-making trade. In 1863, when Gompers was 14, he and his family emigrated to America. He continued his work with cigar making in New York's East Side, and it was here that he joined the Cigarmakers' Union. In these factories, Gompers and his coworkers would discuss and read significant commentaries they found relevant to the lives of the working class, including pieces written by Karl Marx. As time went on, Gompers became actively involved in the union and worked as an organizer. He was instrumental in making the Cigarmakers a national labor model, with a hierarchical leadership and exercising centralized control of funds for benefits drawn from increased membership payments. He and his colleagues in the union also fought for businesses to adopt worker benefits for unemployment, sickness, and accidents.
In 1877, Gompers and some of his colleagues organized the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States of America and Canada, which would later become the AFL in 1886. Gompers was elected president of the AFL and, until his death in 1924, struggled for higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. He succeeded in making the AFL the strongest spokesman for organized labor in America. By World War I, the AFL had approximately four million members and a seat at the negotiation table between countries fighting in the war.
In 1897, the AFL decided to move from Indianapolis to DC to address legislative influences impacting the union more directly. Gompers first home in DC was a brick row house on H Street NE, and later he and his family moved to this home on First Street. They would stay here from 1902 to 1917 and it acted as an informal meeting place for Gompers and other labor leaders, to discuss their plans and work. During Gompers’ time in DC, the Wilson administration appointed him to the Council of National Defense. While on the Council, Gompers worked to help garner labor support for the war. After the war, Gompers was then appointed to the Commission on International Labor Legislation at the Versailles Peace Conference, where he would eventually help establish the International Labor Organization (ILO).
National Historic Landmark designation: May 30, 1974
National Register listing: September 23, 1974
DC Inventory: March 3, 1979