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There are women of many descriptions
In this queer world as everyone knows.
Some have beautiful mansions
And are wearing beautiful clothes.
There are blue-blooded queens and princesses
Who have charms made of diamonds and pearls.
But the only thoroughbred lady
Is the Rebel Girl.

Joe Hill


Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Rebel Girl: The Revolutionary Life and Work of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
by Mary Licht
March 13
American Music in Song: THE REBEL GIRL (JOE HILL) (1914-1915)
Iron in Her Soul: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the American Left
by Helen C. Camp
Book Review-Iron in Her Soul
Review by a very good friend of mine.
Labor History Page
Women in Labor History


"The Rebel Girl"

Rebel Girl: The revolutionary life andwork of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

by Mary Licht

This article was reprinted from the March 30, 1996 issue of the People's
Weekly World. 

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn may have died in 1961, but her life is ever vivid
and current. A biography, "Iron in Her Soul" by Helen C. Camp was
recently published and requests for permission to quote her in books
and essays still come in weekly to the Communist Party.

As early as age 5, Flynn already had the "indelible impression" of
working class life and poverty where they lived in Manchester, N.H.,
"where the great mills stretched like prisons along the bank of the
Merrimac River."

Her family moved to the Bronx, N.Y. at the turn of the century. She loved
the city and the school, especially the upper grades where she studied
the Constitution and the Bill of Rights which, she said, "I have been
defending ever since." 

Her family was an active socialist family. She vividly remembered the
Sunday night gatherings at the Harlem Socialist Club at 250 W. 125th
Street. It was here that Flynn, aged 15, made her first public speech. The
topic was "Women Under Socialism." 

She frequently went to Union Square with her father, an organizer for
the newly-formed Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). She would
speak there, attracting the attention of the press. The author Theodore
Dreiser, then working as a journalist, wrote of her as "an East Side Joan
of Arc."

She joined the IWW in 1906 at 16. Of the IWW Flynn wrote, "It blazed a
trail like a great comet across the American labor scene from 1905 to
1920." She was assigned to IWW Local 179. Her first experience as an
IWW speaker took place in Brandywine Park in Schenectady, N.Y. at a
meeting protesting the arrest of "Wobblies" Bill Haywood and George

She attended her first IWW Convention as a delegate from Local 177 in
Chicago in 1907 while still in high school and met Lucy Parson, widow of
Albert Parson, who had been executed 20 years before, a martyr of the
struggle for the eight-hour day.

At the convention she also met J. A. Jones, organizer of the Minnesota
IWW, who invited her to come on a speaking tour to the Mesabi Iron
Range north of Duluth where he was an organizer for the Western
Federation of Miners. She went on to Butte, and later to Kalispell,
Montana where the IWW was leading a lumber strike.

Gurley's first real participation in the IWW free speech fight and second
arrest occurred in Missoula, Mont. in the fall of 1908. The city council had
passed an ordinance making street speech unlawful. The IWW decided
to defy this ordinance as unconstitutional, a violation of the First
Amendment. Speaker after speaker was arrested, including Flynn. She
participated in 26 such battles between 1909 and 1916 and emerged as
an eloquent speaker.

1912 brought the Lawrence, Mass. mill strike: 14,000 people went out and
the mills remained empty for three months. The strikers spoke in 25
different languages and 45 different dialects. With the arrest of the
original leaders, Gurley and Haywood were brought into the strike. They
addressed 10 meetings a day.

Police brutality and hunger forced the strike committee to send their
children out of town to sympathizers who volunteered to take them for
the duration of the strike. Gurley was in charge of the evacuation of the
children. On Feb. 22 the police arrested the children at the train station.
The local authorities, infuriated by the favorable publicity of the strikers,
decided no more children would leave town.

On Feb. 24 Flynn tried to put another 40 children on a train for
Philadelphia. The police, with clubs drawn, attacked the group, arresting
15 parents and children, and sent 10 terrified children to the Lawrence
Poor Farm. The newspapers headlined the situation and the publicity
forced Congress to investigate the conditions in the shops. The strike
was won by mid-March with wage increases from 5 to 25 percent, with
the largest increases going to the lowest paid workers.

On March 3, 1913, 25,000 silk workers in Paterson, N.J. struck. Over 1,000
strikers were arrested. It became a bloody confrontation between the
strikers and the hired thugs, police and judges.

Picketing and outdoor meetings were forbidden. Picketers arrested
were automatically sentenced to three months in jail. The nearest
meeting place was Haledon, a neighboring suburb whose mayor was a
socialist. There Flynn spoke to the mass meetings.

On June 7, the strikers gave a propaganda pageant for the Paterson
strike, in Madison Square Garden in New York City, orchestrated by John
Reed. It was a theatrical success, but financially a failure because of the
expense of the Garden, transportation and publicity. The treasury was
zero and the strikers - starved into submission - slowly drifted back
into the shops. By Aug. 1 the strike was officially ended. The IWW
suffered a setback in Paterson and never completely recovered.

Meanwhile in the west, Joe Hill, a friend of Flynn's was working with the
copper miners in Utah and was framed on charges of killing a Salt Lake
grocer. Many felt his arrest was due to his radicalism, especially for his
"red songbook," sold in the millions of copies, with songs like "Solidarity
Forever," "Hold The Fort," "Casey Jones" and others sung by strikers and

Flynn visited him in jail and the next day he sent her a copy of "The Rebel
Girl" which he dedicated to her. Flynn led the movement to save Hill. She
met personally with President Woodrow Wilson, who appealed to the
governor of Utah. However, the governor rejected the message from
Wilson as "unwarranted interference." Before his execution Hill wrote
Haywood, "Don't mourn, organize."

At the end of World War I the government organized an all- out attack
against workers, a reaction to the Russian Revolution and a near
uprising of workers in the United States. Nearly a million workers were
on strike, including the Seattle General Strike, an industry-wide strike of
365,000 steel workers led by William Z. Foster, 400,000 miners out, 200,000
railroad workers and the Boston Police Strike. During this time the
Communist Party was formed.

To halt this upsurge the government launched an all-out attack on
labor. The agents of U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and his
assistant, J. Edgar Hoover, invaded homes and meetings, arresting over
10,000 men and women in a single night. Hundreds were deported,
thousands imprisoned for opposition to the war. 

Two Italian anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolemeo Vanzetti, were
arrested and accused of murder. Flynn was one of the first to investigate
the case, which became the most famous labor defense fight in history.
For the next seven years, Communists helped lead the fightback against
the case, which sparked protests worldwide. Despite the outcry,
however, the two men were executed.

The International Labor Defense was organized in June of 1925 and Flynn
became chairperson in 1926. It existed for over 15 years and was
succeeded by the Civil Rights Congress, in which Flynn was also active.

Flynn joined the Communist Party in 1936. In 1937 she made her first
speech as a Communist at Madison Square Garden. She wrote a
biweekly column for the Daily Worker and served as chair of the
women's commission for 10 years.

In 1942 Flynn ran for Congress at large in New York and received 50,000
votes. Her program was geared especially toward women, millions of
whom had been drawn into factories and offices during the war. She
believed that African American women were the most discriminated
against, super- exploited workers in spite of the Fair Employment
Protection Act. The Ford Motor Co. would not even accept applications
from African American women until militant demonstrations forced an
end to this discrimination.

In July 1948 12 leaders of the CPUSA were arrested under the infamous
anti-Communist witchhunt, falsely accused of advocating the overthrow
of the U.S. government by force and violence. Flynn launched a mass
defense campaign for the release of the 11. In June 1951 at the height of
the McCarthy period, Flynn was arrested in the second wave of arrests.
Between the time of her sentencing and her actual imprisonment, Flynn
ran for Congress from the Bronx on the Communist Party ticket under the
slogan of "Vote No! to McCarthyism." For Peace and Jobs! Amnesty for
all." She received 4,000 votes. On Jan. 24, 1951, Flynn, Claudia Jones and
Betty Gannett were incarcerated in Alderson Women's Federal Prison in
West Virginia.

On her return from prison Flynn ran for city council with the slogan of
"Clean Jim Crow out of New York" and for full equality for women. In 1961
Flynn was elected CPUSA national chairperson, a post she held until her

In January 1962 the State Department revoked the passports of five
well-known Communists, including Flynn who had just returned from the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union's 22nd Congress. She protested that
"to set up classes of citizens who can't leave the country due to political
beliefs is unconstitutional and a violation of the United Nations
Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948. When the test case
reached the court in 1964 the justices agreed with her. They ruled
Section 6 of the McCarran Act unconstitutional.

In August 1964, after the McCarran Act was struck down, Flynn went to
the USSR representing the CPUSA at an international Party Congress. She
hoped to write her autobiography there. Instead she was hospitalized
for a stomach disorder and died on Sept. 5.

She was honored with a state funeral in Red Square. Her body lay in
state in the Hall of Columns of the Soviet Trade Unions. For eight hours a
column of mourners, six abreast, filed past. Wreaths from workers'
organizations and trade unions from the vast Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics and Communist parties around the globe adorned the casket.

The New York Times gave this story front page coverage, quoting a May
Day speech in which Flynn said "I believe in a socialist America. What a
May Day that will be to celebrate. Hail to it."

In accordance with her wishes, Flynn's remains were flown to the U.S. for
burial in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery, near the grave of Eugene
Dennis, Big Bill Haywood and the Haymarket martyrs.

-Mary Licht is chair of the History Commission of the Communist Party