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  • Central Trades and Labor Council Officers, 1903 - 1935

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Who’s Who » Biographical Sketches (1939) »

Samuel J. Gellette

A firm believer in human nature, a man who would trust his worst enemy because of his confidence in the human race, is Samuel J. Gellette, secretary-treasurer of the Journeymen Barbers’ International Union, Local 72.

In appearance younger than his years, Mr. Gellette, reticent to speak of himself and modest about his feats in the labor movement, commands the attention of all with his well chosen words and ideas.

The oldest child of a family of eleven, he was born in Italy, coming to this country at the age of two years. Mr. Gellette, whose family first lived in Niagara Falls, N.Y., was educated in the public grammar schools of Rochester and was graduated from the Rochester Business Institute as a cost accountant.

Although his first job was as a barber, he has worked at the Shuron Optical Co., the Morgan Machine Shop and at the North East Electric Co. as a cost accountant. Mr. Gellette has been in the labor movement for the last 24 years, entering when he was only 17 years old.

“Drafted” into the finance committee of the Barbers’ Union in 1928, Gellette’s services were desired by the union membership because he had always been a campaigner for unionism and organization. He became secretary-treasurer of Local 72 in 1930 and has held that office for the last nine years. Gellette has also been a delegate to the Central Trades and Labor Council and the Card and Label League since 1930.

Mr. Gellette probably possesses one of the most unique records in the labor movement. He became secretary-treasurer of his local union in 1930 and less than six months later, in 1931, he was elected to the presidency of the New York State Journeymen Barbers’ Association. Serving one term, he resigned as president to take the office of secretary-treasurer, which he has held ever since.

Since his first term as an officer of the New York State Barbers’ Association, Gellette has served as chairman of the Legislative committee. He has been in Albany attending every session of the State legislature for the last eight years.

Well acquainted with Governor Herbert Lehman, he is also a close friend of Lieutenant Governor Charles E. Polletti.

Attending the last eight sessions of the New York State Federation of Labor, Gellette has been on the permanent educational committee, serving under E. W. Edwards, now secretary-treasurer of the State Federation.

Mr. Gellette served as secretary of a committee to investigate communistic activities in the Central Trades and Labor Council. The committee was discharged when officials of the Central Body did not cooperate, Gellette said.

He also served on the Board of Control of the old Labor Herald, then the official organ of the Central Trades and Labor Council.

One of Mr. Gellette’s aims is to develop the barbering trade to a point where it will be regarded as a profession, rather than a trade.

A registered practitioner of Barber Science, he asserts that all barbers should know the scalp and how to build up the tissues of the skin rather than destroy them.

“I won’t be satisfied until all barbers understand the upper structure of the body,” Gellette said. “It is just as important to know the arteries and the muscles of the neck and face as well as the scalp,” he said.

An advocate of the use of sterile instruments in a barber or beauty shop, Mr. Gellette declares that the barber tools should be used but once before being sterilized.

“Through stringent legislation, people will be compelled to use personal hygiene in the shops,” Gellette declared. “At least 80 per cent of the barber shops do not sterilize their instruments and in the hairdressing shops the percentage is even higher,” he said.

Mr. Gellette was instrumental in the passing of the city ordinance requiring licensing of barbers. Through his efforts, the State Legislative bodies passed a state-wide licensing law on three different occasions, but each time the law was vetoed by the governor.

As an auditor for the International Journeymen Barbers’ Union Gellette held office for two years. While acting in the capacity of an organizer for the International Union, he helped organize Little Falls, Buffalo, Albany, Troy, Watertown, Jamestown and Dunkirk.

As a result of organization in this city, the barbers of Rochester now have their own Sectional Clubs and hold meetings every month. These clubs are for the purpose of promoting a friendly feeling among the barbers and for recreational activities.

Citing the value of the organization, Gellette asserted that 90 per cent of the barbers who received supplementary relief have left the welfare roles due to the increase of prices in the barber shops.

One of his chief aims at the present time is to see the hair-dressers of this city become organized.

Among his hobbies Mr. Gellette lists pocket billiards, bowling and pistol shooting. Probably his pet sport, he asserts, is the art of bait casting. He goes fishing but once a year, traveling to Georgian Bay, Canada. However, he feels that this one trip per year makes up for others that he might miss.

A strong union man, Gellette declares that the AFL and the CIO cannot afford to fight each other.

“We need each other because we both are striving to maintain standards and continue the fight for labor,” he said.

Married for the last 17 years, Gellette said, “That (his marriage) shows that at least I’m consistent.”