New York Times headlines describing events in Boston on September 10, 1919
On September 10, 1919, Boston city officials asked the state militia to help maintain public order. Units in Boston responded immediately, and Governor Coolidge summoned additional troops from outside the city. By nightfall, thousands of soldiers were patrolling the streets.
They had their work cut out for them. Looters roamed the streets throughout the city, breaking shop windows and loading their trucks with stolen goods. One thief made off with 39 cases of shoes (worth roughly $10,000) from the McElwain Shoe Company
“Numberless persons were robbed,” the New York Times reported, and professional gamblers emerged from their dens to ply their trade openly on the streets. “One man on the Common,” the Times noted, “had just pocketed gains of $200 when he was knocked in the head and his roll taken.”
At times, the violence seemed particularly wanton and indiscriminate.
Other crimes of a revolting nature were committed. Unprotected women were brutally assaulted in dark corners. Two women pursued by a mob found refuge in the City hospital. Their pursuers forced their way into the institution, where they were driven back by policemen who had just brought in a man with a bullet in his head.
State Guard units responded vigorously to such disorder. ”Guardsmen opened fire with rifles and a machine gun on a mob in South Boston,” reported the Times, “killing two and wounding several others.” In Scollay Square, near police headquarters, a cavalry unit drew sabers and charged a mob of “hoodlums.” When the mob surged back, the cavalry asked for reinforcements, and 200 infantryman arrived to help restore calm.
Meanwhile, city and state officials traded accusations of incompetence, as each group tried to saddle the other with responsibility for the unrest. But as the strike entered its second day, all agreed that military units should be used to restore order. Governor Coolidge even promised to ask Washington for army and navy units should the need arise. Troops stationed at the Charlestown Navy yard, as well as various forts around Boston harbor, were reported to be available.