There is a widely held and entrenched notion that the history of the American work force is exclusively the story of white males. This notion is particularly prevalent in Oregon, where the diversity of the work force, especially during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is scarcely known. Photographs of the time reveal that workers in Oregon—as throughout the United States—were men and women from a wide range of racial and ethnic groups. Work-force diversity in the state of Oregon is a historical fact that must be acknowledged, embraced, and integrated as a fundamental tenet of our thinking.
History is never preserved in full; what remains is at best a patchwork that scholars seek to restore to a seamless fabric. The lives and the accomplishments of smaller populations are of equal worth to the majority, but they can be harder to discover. “The Many Faces of Oregon’s Workers” offers a glimpse of the diverse work force in Oregon during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This exhibit gives their names and tells their stories as best it can, but often those names and stories have been lost or fragmented, or tainted by language that we find uncomfortable today.
Through the exhibit we seek to show some of these lives, these stories, and these accomplishments. Some are the small achievements of daily life; some are notable and extraordinary. The images shown are selected from the collections in the Libraries of the University of Oregon, which are not complete. This exhibit does not show the Sikhs in the timber industry or the Tahitians who lived at Fort Umpqua, but they too are part of the Oregon work force.
The Libraries continue to expand our collections documenting the history of Oregon, its communities, and its minorities. We hope the exhibit will encourage others to explore the Oregon work force in greater depth and to produce similar exhibitions around the state that focus on the collections held in other libraries and repositories. And we hope those groups and citizens who hold important documents and photographs proving the lives and accomplishments of minorities in Oregon will consider placing them in a repository, to be preserved and shared, their stories told for centuries to come.