The EMBA Life
The EMBA (The Employee Mutual Benefit Association) made a dramatic and lasting impact on the Corinth community. The EMBA had its origins in 1924 as part of International Paper’s broad program to provide benefits to its workers and discourage them from re-joining the labor unions that the Company had succeeded in eliminating from all of its mills during the 1921 Paper Strike. The EMBA was originally managed by dues-paying paper workers who organized and implemented social and recreational programs, most of which were held in the Community Building that stood on the corner of Pine and Heath Streets. The EMBA organized athletic competitions and provided a rich variety of recreational and social activities in Corinth for almost sixty years.
The EMBA was founded in the 1920’s when it was a common corporate practice to discourage unionization by offering recreational activities, playgrounds and even housing for families of employees. Encouraging the balancing of personal time and work hours conveyed an employer’s interest in their employees beyond the workplace. The creation of the EMBA by International Paper represented a commitment of a company to its employees and their community that is rare today.
Yet the support of workers’ recreational activities was a form of corporate control that extended the influence of the company into the private lives of its employees. It was more difficult to question the employer who built a bowling alley for its workers or who created a baseball field for adults and children. Providing recreational opportunities through the EMBA was a form of public relations for International Paper that sought to instill a greater sense of loyalty to the company by infusing individual identity with corporate purpose.
The early EMBA fielded semi-pro baseball and basketball teams that wore “IPCO” uniforms and played in regional industrial leagues. Eventually intra-mill sports leagues were formed and EMBA activities were expanded to include community events. Although the IPCO baseball team discontinued league play in the 1950’s, by 1953 International Paper had converted a pulp wood yard located at Palmer Avenue and River Street into Curtis Field, a baseball diamond intended for EMBA league play.
Curtis Field Site (1949)
Curtis Field (1953)
By the early 1930’s the Community Building had become a center of social activity in Corinth. Built in 1922 to house strikebreakers during the 1921 Paper Strike, the Community Building’s interior was reconfigured to provide a gymnasium that was used for basketball, roller-skating, social dances, banquets, and blood drives. Photographs of the building’s gym show rows of second and third story windows and high doors that remained after the upper floors of the building were removed. Other areas in the building housed four bowling lanes, a cafeteria, a shooting range, and the Youth Boxing Program. During most winter evenings the gymnasium was busy with men and boys’ basketball on teams sponsored by labor unions, local businesses and community organizations. Archery, darts, ping-pong were among other EMBA activities that were held in the Community Building through the years.
The Community Building also hosted community-wide events. Social dances were held by the late 1930’s, the Corinth Fire Department held its New Year Eve party in the gym, and each December an EMBA Christmas party attracted upwards of 500 children who came to sit on Santa’s lap and receive small gifts. Beginning in 1950 the Community Building began to host the annual EMBA Sports Banquet that celebrated the achievements of those who participated in EMBA programs. Each January over 200 men and boys - plus town officials, clergymen, school administrators, and Company officers - would enjoy a banquet meal together and watch winning teams and individuals receive trophies.
EMBA sports and recreational activities were also held at other locations. By the early 1960’s an outdoor ice-skating rink had been built adjacent to Curtis Field. A small warming hut was built at the rink, and loudspeakers played music as children enjoyed night skating under Company-installed lights. A major new venue for EMBA sponsored events was created in 1962 when the Brookhaven Golf Course was built in South Corinth, largely with men and equipment supplied by International Paper. The EMBA golf leagues that had used the Bend of the River Golf Course in Lake Luzerne were then moved to the new course.
The leisure and recreational activities depicted in many of these photographs reflect cultural norms and gender expectations that are consistent with the era. Although women worked in both clerical and productions jobs at the Hudson River Mill, their EMBA recreational opportunities were limited, and the annual Sports Banquet was held exclusively for men and boys. This fact is reflected in the Sports Banquet image that shows all of the attendees to be males while the only women in the photograph are the servers walking at the edge of the gym floor. Corinth women did compete in their own bowling league before 1965, but the yearly banquet honoring their achievements was held separately. The gendered organization of the EMBA reflected the cultural norms of the era.
Holland’s images that include girls and women show them visiting with Santa Claus, bowling, ice-skating, and dancing, activities that were culturally accepted for females in the period 1955-65. With the exception of dancing, the images reflect a gender segregated leisure time that provided many more athletic opportunities for males than females. While Corinth High School fielded competitive girl’s basketball, volleyball, field hockey and bowling teams in the 1950’s, the EMBA offered limited athletic opportunities for girls and adult women. This may have been due to residual cultural beliefs held by the EMBA leadership that females were not as capable of physical exertion as men, and that physical exertion could interfere with child-bearing later in life. Such ideas were common in this era.