As an industrial employee, an Irish Catholic, and a city boy, James J. Hurley is representative of the American working class at the turn of the twentieth century. His father had evidently died by the time the boy reached his teens, so work life started early as Hurley and two older brothers helped to support their mother. Sometime before 1901 he married Jennie B. Kiley and started work for the Delaware & Hudson railroad. Not long after, his mother died and his brothers, married with families of their own, settled down nearby.
Hurley was a capable, trustworthy worker, and rose to the position of upholstery shop foreman, which he appears to have held most of his life. When the Delaware & Hudson shops were transferred from Green Island to Oneonta, N.Y., in 1904, forcing a move from Hurley's native Troy, he was much displeased and sought positions elsewhere. He eventually decided to stick it out, however, for two years living in a boarding house during the work week and returning home on week-ends. He finally moved Jennie and their children Leo, Margaret, and Ted to Oneonta in 1906. The family settled into life in the new town, although Mrs. Hurley had trouble adjusting to the change. Nothing more is known of their lives, except that Leo Hurley, the eldest son, eventually married and remained in Oneonta.