A local teachers union is covering the city of Woodstock’s expense for a marker recognizing a famous labor leader.

McHenry County Federation of Teachers Local 1642 has donated $1,500 to help pay for a plaque from the Illinois State Historical Society commemorating Eugene V. Debs’ six-month imprisonment in 1895 at Woodstock’s Sheriff’s House.

“Eugene Debs is pretty important in terms of the history of the American labor movement, so we thought it was pretty important for him to be recognized,” said Duane Peiffer, a teacher at Creekside Middle School who serves as president of Local 1642.

In May, the Woodstock City Council approved the installation of the marker at the Sheriff’s House and agreed to pay $1,500 for it, a move that proved controversial.

The Friends of the Old Courthouse, a nonprofit that raises money for the restoration of the city-owned Courthouse and Sheriff’s House, had said its board was concerned close associations between the property and Debs could scare off donors who oppose Debs’ politics.

“We figured we could absolve the city of having to use tax funds for the plaque,” Peiffer said. “… [The union’s executive board] were all for us using some of our funds.”
Debs, a five-time presidential candidate who founded the Socialist Party of America, was sent to what was then the McHenry County Jail for violating a court injunction against the 1894 Pullman Strike as a leader of the American Railway Union. His incarceration in Woodstock “transformed Debs from a labor leader into a national political activist,” the marker’s text will read.

The Illinois State Historical Society grants plaques to buildings and other locations where historic events of national or international significance occurred.

Nancy Baker, Woodstock’s city planner who is helping to oversee the restoration of the Old Courthouse and Sheriff’s House, said the plaque likely will be installed in September.

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