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Arch Little: Iron molder, union organizer and dance promoter of the 1920s

Simultaneously published in the Hannibal Courier-Post December 19, 2015

An iron molder by trade, Arch Little made a name for himself locally as both a staunch Democrat and as a leader in the union movement of his day.

But the charismatic tradesman’s role in Hannibal, Missouri, during the nearly four decades between the time when he came of age and when he left Hannibal for more lucrative job opportunities in Utah (1890s-early 1930s) William Archibald Cooper Little (Arch, to all who knew him) could be found at the hub of almost any music-related venue in this area.

A promoter and planner, as well as a talented musician, Arch Little successfully melded his role of leadership in the Iron Molders Union No. 142, with his personal musical interests.

As early as November 1904, Little was instrumental in the planning of the Iron Molders’ thirteenth annual ball, an event which attracted an estimated 150 dancers. This event was staged at the Knights of Father Mathew Hall, 407-409 ½ Broadway in Hannibal.

Jumping ahead to 1919 and beyond, Little’s name was associated with a variety of musical and labor-related events.

• He was involved in the move to unionize local theatrical employees, associating them with The White Rats, a national labor organization. Those workers included motion picture machine operators. Little was organizer for the Hannibal Trades & Labor assembly.

• He received top billing in a street carnival and celebration planned for returning service members during May 1919. A featured entertainer secured by Little for this event was his good friend, Joe McGee, a well-known minstrel man.

• That same year, Arch Little stepped forward as local organizer for the newly formed Boot and Shoe Workers’ Union. It was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor.

• Also in 1919, Arch Little, John Mahoney and James Mangles arranged for the opening of the Princess dancing academy in what was then known as the Mathew-Columbus Hall at 407-409 ½ Broadway, and dances were scheduled every Tuesday during the fall and winter. The Labor Temple Orchestra was scheduled to provide dance music, while Arch Little served as floor manager.

• The following year, The Victory Dance Academy was established at the Armory Hall, located at 605 Broadway. Arch Little was dance manager.

• Another friend of Arch Little, Billy Call, was engaged to perform at the Victory Dancing Academy. Cull was a violinist of note from Hannibal, who was later lured into the vaudeville circuit for a time.

• Billy Stout was yet another Hannibal musician promoted by Little. Stout was summoned to sing at a Victory Dancing Academy, accompanied by the Billy Call orchestra.


Arch Little was born on May 2, 1872, in Center, Ralls County, Mo. His parents were James William Little, born in 1843 at Palmyra, and Susan Ann Abell, born in 1845 on a steamboat near New Orleans, La.

He married Miss Ida Fritz, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Evans Fritz of Hannibal, in 1896 or 1897. Their only daughter, Kathryn Christina Little, was born on Christmas Eve, 1916.

The Labor Temple

Central to Little’s life and interests was the three-story building still standing at 304 Broadway. Many dances were conducted on the third floor of this building. In addition, during the 1920s, Little and his family were living on the second floor of the building that now houses the Salvation Army Thrift Store. On the ground floor in 1920 was the retail outlet for F. W. Woolworth’s 5 and 10 cent Store, managed by W.J. McFarland.

End of an era

Little continued with his career as a molder and focused on his passion for promoting music in Hannibal until the early 1930s, when the foundry closed at the beginning of the Great Depression. Out of a job, Little and his family left Hannibal and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Mr. and Mrs. Little's son, Karl, was working for the Union Pacific Railroad.

Arch Little obtained a job as a security guard, at which profession he worked until retirement. He died in 1939

Never too old

to learn to dance

The Quincy Daily Whig picked up on a human-interest story told to a reporter by Arch Little, and published in the April 18, 1920 edition.

A Hannibal woman named Lola Asher said she was tired of being a “wall flower” at local dances, and signed up for dance lessons at the Victory Dancing Academy. She was the oldest woman in the history of the school to sign up for lessons, and after completing a course, she told the newspaper reporter that she felt years younger, and was able to be a participant on the dance floor.

She was 60 years old, and lived on Hannibal’s west side.

Labor Temple:

Hub of activity

The Labor Temple, later renamed the Trades and Labor Assembly Hall, was located at 302-304 ½ Broadway in 1922.

Union groups that met in this hall circa 1922, as included in the city directory accessed via the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website, are as follows:

Bakery Workers Local, J.M. Toalson president

Barbers Local No. 271, C.L. Varney president

Boiler Makers Local, R.B. Gleason president

Carpenters Local 607, W.H. Thomas, president

Cigarmakers Local No. 76, James Kearns, president

Iron Molders Local No. 142, Arch Little, president

Letter Carriers Local, H.E. Snodgrass, president

Machinists Local No. 537, J.P. Ryan, president

Maintenance of Way Employees, G.P. Bowles president

Meat Cutters Local, Frank Cleveland president

Musicians’ Local George Petter, president

Painters Local No. 298, Gene Branstetter president

Plumbers Local, Andy O’Hern president

Polishers’ Local, Wm. Duesdieker president

Railway Carmen, P.M. Snyder president

Railway Clerks Local, W.M. Gibbs president

Retail Clerks Union, H. Waltz president

Sheet Metal Workers’s Local, A.C. Moore, president

State Employees Local, Glen Bramblett president

Stove Mounters Local, George Mulhern, president

Street Car Employees Local , U.T. Seniff president

Teamsters Local, Lee Curt president

Trades and Labor Assembly, H.L. Wilbur president

Typographical Union No. 88, B.F. Brown president

Womans Union Label League, B.F. Brown president

To read about Arch Little's pioneer Ralls County family, click here

Arch Little (wearing glasses) is pictured with an early 1900s musical band. CONTRIBUTED DELMAS ANDERSON

Ida Bell Fritz married Arch Little just before the turn of the 20th Century. They lived in Hannibal until the start of the Great Depression, then moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. CONTRIBUTED DELMAS ANDERSON

Arch Little, front row, left, was an iron molder by trade, and a music promoter by passion. CONTRIBUTED DELMAS ANDERSON

Arch Little, left, loved dogs, and had a dog at his side throughout his lifetime. CONTRIBUTED DELMAS ANDERSON

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