Eugene Debs and Old McHenry County Jail



Eugene Debs and Old McHenry County Jail


A plaque detailing Eugene Debs' time in the McHenry County Jail as well as why he was sentenced to jail. 


Eugene Debs and the Old McHenry County Jail

The 1894 Pullman Strike and boycott of Pullman railcars led by the American Railway Union involved 250,000 workers in 27 states. It paralyzed much of the nation's rail systems and directly led to the establishment that year of a national Labor Day. The strike also brought civil charges against American Railway Union leaders for violating a court injunction against the strike. Their attorneys, including Clarence Darrow and Lyman Trumbull, defended them before the United States Supreme Court. 

On 27 May 1895, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld court injunctions against labor strikes. The decision "In re DEBS" sent American Railway Union leader Euege V. Debs to a six-month stay in this building, then McHenry County Jail. The Pullman case guided governmental response to strikes for nearly four decades. Not until the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act did the United States Congress erase the power of courts to end strikes through injunctions. 

In Woodstock, Sheriff George Eckert protected Debs from threats and the Eckert family began three decades of warm friendship with Debs. Eckert allowed Debs to use his jail time to study and ponder the plight of working-class Americans. Famous visitors included reporter Nellie Bly, Milwaukee Socialist Victor Berger, and Keir Hardie, later the first Labour member of Parliament. 

Debs left Woodstock even more determined to fight for working people. His time in McHenry County Jail transformed Debs from a labor leader into a national political activist, Founder of the Socialist party, and five-time presidential candidate.

Sponsored by City of Woodstock, Woodstock Celebrates, inc., The Illinois Labor History Society, The Illinois State Historical Society, McHenry County Federation of Teachers, Local 1642.
September 2017



Illinois State Historical Society


September 2017


Public Domain






Still Image


Illinois State Historical Society , “Eugene Debs and Old McHenry County Jail,” Woodstock Public Library Archives, accessed April 15, 2024,


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