Long before Dr. Carl W. Soderstrom Jr. opened skin care facilities across central Illinois, and even before his father, Carl W. Soderstrom Sr., became an accomplished attorney and state representative, another Soderstrom was emerging as a leader in his community.
Born in 1888 in Waverly, Minnesota, to Swedish immigrants, Reuben G. Soderstrom would rise from poverty to become a prominent labor leader and humanitarian. Forced into child labor to help support his family, Soderstrom was sent away at the age of nine to work in a blacksmith shop. At age 12, he moved to Streator, where he experienced firsthand the hardships inflicted upon young workers of the time, laboring as a trolley line water boy, a bottle blower in a glass factory and a linotype printer.
In 1916, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, where he served until 1936. Soderstrom was instrumental in guiding statewide labor legislation, including the abolishment of child labor, the right to assemble, the women’s eight-hour work day, the establishment of pensions and more. In 1930, he was elected president of the Illinois State Federation of Labor and remained in that position in the merged AFL-CIO until his death in 1970.
To honor his efforts to fight for human and worker rights, Governor Pat Quinn declared September 2, 2012, Reuben G. Soderstrom Day in the state. A statue of the labor leader was erected in Streator, where it is surrounded by 14 bronze tablets memorializing some of his greatest quotes. The eight-foot bronze statue was brought to life by the acclaimed artist Lonnie Stewart, who sifted through old photos and records and toiled for months to recreate the larger-than-life presence. To learn more, visit reubengsoderstromfoundation.com. iBi