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Seamen's Church Institute of New York & New Jersey Labor and Legislation Records

Identifier: SCI-2016-010

Scope and Content

Includes minutes, correspondence, and reports related to SCI’s work as an advocate for seafarers’ rights, as well as materials related to waterfront labor activism and tensions in the Port of New York. Of particular note is correspondence between J. Augustus Johnson and Rev. Archibald R. Mansfield with the Department of Commerce and Labor, the War Department of the U. S. Navy and various Senators and Representatives regarding seafarers’ rights legislation. Also of note is correspondence related to leftist activity among seafarers within the Institute and on the waterfront.


  • 1897-1968



The records of the Center for Seafarers’ Rights are currently being processed and are restricted until further notice.

Historical Note

The history of SCI’s advocacy for seafarers’ rights goes back to the Institute’s earliest years. J. Augustus Johnson, SCI’s Lay Manager of the Board of Managers and Chairman of the Institute’s Committee on Legislation, would also Chair the Joint Conference of the Promotion of the Interests of Seamen, a consortium of seamen’s rights advocacy groups that sought to build on the progress made by the Maguire Act of 1895, which abolished the imprisonment of deserting seafarers on coastwise journeys. The White Act of 1898, of which Johnson was a major supporter, further secures fundamental rights for seafarers, including the abolishment of corporal punishment, requirements for minimum safety provisions and living conditions on board, and the end of imprisonment for deserters regardless of vessel type or the location of port. Johnson also helped to establish a Seamen’s Branch of the Legal Aid Society that operated out of SCI’s headquarters at 25 South Street. Under the leadership of the Rev. Archibald R. Mansfield, the Institute continued its advocacy on behalf of the working seafarer well into the 20th century.

The post-World War I years saw the shipping industry plunge into a period of severe decline made precipitously worse by the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. One of the many results of the economic downturn was a sustained period of unrest along the country’s working waterfront. Waterfront labor groups had an active and vocal presence in Lower Manhattan during the 1930s. Often, these groups clashed with SCI over the price of meals and Institute’s inability to accommodate all of the tens of thousands of unemployed seafarers seeking shelter during the post-War years. Despite the Institute’s efforts to house as many seafarers as possible, even renovating the 39th Street Ferry House in 1920 to accommodate 500 more men per night, the tension between unemployed seafarers and the Institute remained high.


1.5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Arranged in alphabetical order according to creator and subject file within two sub-series: Bound Volumes and Subject Files.

Seamen's Church Institute of New York & New Jersey Labor and Legislation Records
Processed by Johnathan Thayer, 2011. Revised and machine readable finding aid created by Dan Brenner, Fall, 2016.
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Repository Details

Part of the Queens College (New York, N.Y.) Special Collections and Archives Repository

Queens College Library, CUNY
Benjamin Rosenthal Library RO317
65-30 Kissena Boulevard
Flushing 11367 USA us