Skip to main content

Stephen Thornton Papers

Identifier: 2014-0073

Scope and Content Note

The papers, collected or created by Stephen Thornton, consist of alternative newspapers, flyers, pamphlets, notes, correspondence, writings, and campaign or political buttons. Topics among the materials are those that were of personal interest or were part of Mr. Thornton's labor organizing and social activist activities. These include the Peoples Bicentennial Commission (a populist alternative to the 1976 Bicentennial celebration), the Anti-Racist Coalition of Connecticut, anti-apartheid work (in particular the push to divest the pension funds of the city of Hartford from investing in South African corporations in the 1980s), anti-Ku Klux Klan rallies, training in non-violent protests, organizing against nuclear power, strikes in Connecticut including the Colt strike from 1985-1989, anti-racist publications, tenant issues in Hartford, and worker health and safety, among many other topics. The collection also includes local organizing buttons collected by Mr. Thornton during rallies and protests he organized or in which he participated.

The information about strikes represents support work Mr. Thornton and ad-hoc community committees performed on behalf of the strikers. Many of the flyers and leaflets found in the collection for the strikes were created by Mr. Thornton.

All information on Ku Klux Klan materials has been consolidated into box 1.

Of special interest are arrest citations Mr. Thornton received. Materials relating to the Hartford Unit of Irish Northern Aid were collected from Richard Lawlor of Hartford.


  • undated, 1898-2017


The collection is open and available for research.

Restrictions on Use and Copyright Information

Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from both the University of Connecticut Libraries and the owner(s) of the copyright.


Stephen Thornton was born in 1951 in Port Chester, New York, and raised in Windsor, Connecticut; he graduated in 1973 from the University of Connecticut, where he organized students against the Vietnam War. His career includes a progression of positions as an organizer for various unions, including as Executive Vice President of the AFSCME Local 1716 when he worked as a daycare teacher in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges (1980-1990), the International Ladies Garment Workers (1990-1994), and as Vice President of 1199/SEIU (Service Employees International Union) from 1994 to his retirement in 2013.

Mr. Thornton has been involved in organizing and participating in many strikes in and around Hartford, as well as organizing protests focusing on housing rights, homeless rights and environmental justice, particularly concerning anti-nuclear issues.

Mr. Thornton was a part of strike support committee for workers at Colt's Manufacturing Company, raising funds, editing the support committee newsletter, and training the participants (known as the Colt 45) to do civil disobedience at the Colt factory gate. He also organized a group of prominent local peace activists to issue a statement in support of the strike.

In 1977 Mr. Thornton joined the Clamshell Alliance, a regional organization that was formed by residents of the New Hampshire sea coast who opposed the planned construction of a nuclear power plant in the town of Seabrook. The "Clam" was the first grassroots movement to expose the dangers of commercial nuclear power through education and direct action. In 1977, 1414 people were arrested at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant site after camping there to block construction. Mr. Thornton was among those arrested at this protest, as well as at one in 1978.

Other organizations for which he has been involved include the Rainbow Coalition, the Peoples Bicentennial Commission, People for Change, the Anti-Racist Coalition of Connecticut, and the Haymarket Peoples Fund.

Mr. Thornton was active in the 1980 Presidential campaign for Jesse Jackson. In 1985 he went to Nicaragua as part of the "Sandy Pollack Brigade" to support the successful Nicaraguan revolution which was fighting against the U.S.-backed rebel groups, or Contras. His focus has been on non-violent protest and methods of civil disobedience and he has educated other organizers in this practices.

In recent years Mr. Thornton has written about radical and labor history, particularly as it pertains to Hartford and Connecticut. He has compiled his essays on a website he maintains, The Shoeleather History Project, at

Mr. Thornton is the author of the book A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies: Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Connecticut (Red Sun Press, 2013, Boston, Mass.). He frequently writes about labor and worker history for, an online encyclopedia of historical topics pertaining to the state.


12 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The papers of a labor activist and organizer of Hartford, Connecticut, including alternative press publications, union newsletters, strike and labor organizing literature, flyers and pamphlets.

Provenance and Acquisition

The papers were donated by Stephen Thornton in May 2014. Writings by Mr. Thornton are added to the collection on an occassional basis by Archives & Special Collections staff.

Related Material

Archives & Special Collections has a substantial collection of materials pertaining to materials documenting activities of organizations and individuals considered "alternative" to the mainstream of American culture and Connecticut labor issues. For detailed information on these collections please contact the curator or ask at the Reading Room desk.

Stephen Thornton Papers
Archives & Special Collections staff
2014 August
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US