Uriah Smith Stephens

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Uriah Smith Stephens
Born August 3, 1821
Cape May, New Jersey
Died February 13, 1882(1882-02-13) (aged 60)
Occupation Founder of Knights of Labor

Uriah Smith Stephens (August 3, 1821 – February 13, 1882) was a US labor leader. He led nine Philadelphia garment workers to found the Knights of Labor in 1869, a more successful early national union.

Stephens longed to be a Baptist minister but never entered the field. In 1846, he moved to Philadelphia, where he worked as a tailor and became very active in politics. He ran for the United States Congress in 1878 on the Greenback–Labor ticket, but lost. He was responsible for the incorporation of the word "labor" in this party’s name.

Stephens was initiated an Entered Apprentice Mason in Kensington Lodge No. 211 in Philadelphia on December 9, 1864; passed to the Degree of Fellowcraft on February 25, 1865; and raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason on March 24, 1865. He was also a member of Keystone Lodge No. 2, Knights of Pythias, and Fidelity Lodge No. 138, Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

Stephens' involvement with Masonry began during the same period of his initial involvement with organized labor. In 1862, he helped to organize the Garment Cutters' Union, which survived for only seven years. At his invitation, a few members of the recently demised union met at his home on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1869. At this meeting, he unfolded his plan for the "Noble and Holy Order of Knights of Labor" as a "brotherhood of toil" open to every laborer, mechanic, and artisan who wanted to improve his mind and condition, regardless of country, creed, or color. At the new order’s second meeting on December 28, 1869, Stephens' ritual, Adelphon Kruptos (Secret Brotherhood), was officially adopted. In this opus, Stephens expressed his conviction that the "Everlasting Truth sealed by the Grand Architect of the Universe" is that "everything of value, or merit, is the result of creative Industry." Ritualistic work included lectures on the nobility of labor and the evils of wage slavery, monopoly, and accumulation. Stephens selected an equilateral triangle within a circle as the new order’s emblem, embellishing it with symbolism from the various lodges to which he belonged.

The Knights of Labor elected Stephens as the first local Master Workman, the first District Master Workman, and the first Grand Master Workman. By 1879, there were 23 district assemblies and 1,300 local assemblies. At that time, Stephens resigned the highest office in the order and was replaced by Terence V. Powderly. The decision resulted from a policy shift experienced the previous year—which he opposed—when the General Assembly, mainly due to pressures exerted by Roman Catholic members, had voted to make public the name of the order, omit scriptural quotations from the ritual, and edit the initiation ceremonies to make them less offensive to the Catholic Church. On January 1, 1882, after five years of debate regarding the wisdom of secrecy, the Knights of Labor became a public organization.

Stephens died on February 13, 1882. He was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia. At the time of his death, he was estranged from the order he had founded and guided for nearly a decade. Nevertheless, he was still revered by many Knights. As a result, when the General Assembly convened in Richmond, Virginia, in 1886, they voted to appropriate $10,000 to erect a home for the family of their founder.