Filed Under Labor History

Frank Little Tour: Finlander Hall

Strike Leaders, and Frank Little, Held Meetings Here in 1917

Little argued for a more aggressive approach by striking miners.

It was in this modest, two-story brick building that Butte’s union leaders, and Frank Little, hashed out strike strategy. The building was known as the Finlander Hall (or Finnish Hall). The original address was 318 North Wyoming, but the building was demolished in 1941, leaving only this parking lot. For 40 years before that, however, it served Butte’s Finnish community, as well as some of Butte’s radical labor and socialist organizations.

The Finlander Hall’s uses changed over time. Butte’s Finns built the hall in 1901. Initially, the purpose was primarily religious and social. It was their church and a place to host weddings, holiday events, and other celebrations. When the hall was built, Butte’s Finnish population was small. But after 1910, it grew rapidly. Finns were soon one of the largest ethnicities in the city, with an enclave (Finn Town) centered a few blocks southeast of here.

While Butte’s Irish were deeply divided between conservative and radical unionists, Finns were exceptionally open to left-wing politics. The Hall hosted union meetings early on, and by the early 1910s it was regularly hosting Socialist Party events. After 1914, Finlander Hall became associated with Butte’s growing IWW membership. When a left-wing union movement emerged in 1917, the Finlander was a natural fit for a meeting hall.

Butte’s new miners’ union was officially called the Metal Mine Workers’ Union (MMWU). Some MMWU members were also IWW members, but most were not, and the new union turned down overtures to become a local of the IWW. Still, the strike leaders greeted Frank Little as an ally and included him in their meetings at the Finlander Hall.

By the time Little had joined them, the MMWU faced a tremendous uphill battle. Long strikes were grueling for workers and their families. And workers faced intense pressure from those who argued the strike was undermining America’s war efforts. These pressures, as well as the promise of better contracts, were already beginning to lure some skilled tradesmen back to the job in July of 1917.

Little argued, in closed door Finlander meetings, for a more aggressive approach. He suggested picketing mine entrances and packing protesters along the Anaconda Road (the main road that went up to the mines on the northeast side of the parking lot). But Butte’s strike leadership rejected that idea. They feared pickets and protests would be used as a pretext for violence by the Anaconda Company. And if chaos erupted, public opinion could turn against the union.

Violence, however, was already in the air. Private agents hired by the Company roamed the city. Some had even infiltrated the union and sat in on meetings at the Finlander. There were rumors that the police chief, Company gunmen, and government officials were hatching some kind of plan at the Finlen Hotel (a block and a half south). Frank Little, meanwhile, had already received direct death threats.

Audio

Ali Goldberg-Finnish Hall Mary Murphy interviews Ali Goldberg about her experiences growing up in the Finnish community in Butte in the early 1900s. Goldberg discusses the Finnish Hall and its relationship to socialist politics and the “Wobblies” (the Industrial Workers of the World). Source: Mary Murphy interviewer. Butte Oral History Project, Special Collections and Archives, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, University of Montana.
Date: February 29, 1980
Erkkila Reino-Frank Little Erkkila Reino describes his father’s membership in the IWW and his “first labor experience” as a five year old: participating in the funeral procession of Frank Little in Butte in 1917. Source: Howard Kimeldorf interviewer, no date. Oral History Collection, University of Washington.

Images

Finlander Hall and Steel Block In this photo, probably from 1917, workers gather outside the Finlander Hall (the building on the left). In 1917, the Hall was a meeting place for Butte’s revitalized mine workers union, as well as Butte’s more radical labor organizers, such as the IWW. To the right of the Hall is a building called the Steel Block, which was the location of Nora Byrne’s boarding house where Frank Little stayed. Source: Marxists.org Creator: Labor Defender magazine Date: c.1917

Location

318 N. Wyoming (now a parking lot) | Public

Metadata

Leif Fredrickson, “Frank Little Tour: Finlander Hall,” Story of Butte, accessed January 27, 2023, https://storyofbutte.org/items/show/3416.