Get the latest
Recent Posts

The Rebel Girl: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

“There are women of many descriptions
In this queer world, as everyone knows.
Some are living in beautiful mansions,
And are wearing the finest of clothes.
There are blue blood queens and princesses,
Who have charms made of diamonds and pearl
But the only and thoroughbred lady
Is the Rebel Girl…”

The Rebel Girl
Joe Hill (1879 – 1915)
Ithaca, NY: Glad Day Press, 1970s (reprint)
M1665 I5 R4 1915a

Joe Hill’s song “The Rebel Girl” first appeared in the Little Red Songbook — a collection of sheet music published by the Industrial Workers of the World in 1915. The song is said to have been inspired by and written for Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. In addition to being a labor leader and activist, Flynn was also a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, a fierce proponent of women’s rights and suffrage, and later the chairwomen of the Communist Party USA. Her story can be traced through the dozens of pamphlets Flynn wrote and compiled throughout her lifetime. 

In 1907, Flynn became a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World — an international labor union started in the early twentieth century. Commonly referred to as Wobblies, the I.W.W.s promoted the concept of “one big union,” contending that all workers should be united as a social class to replace capitalism and wage labor with industrial democracy. Over the next several years she organized campaigns among garment workers in Pennsylvania, silk weavers in New Jersey, restaurant workers in New York, miners in Minnesota, Montana, and Washington, and textile workers in Massachusetts. Her courage and passion gave her many nicknames, including “The Rebel Girl” and “an East Side Joan of Arc.”

Debs, Haywood, Ruthenberg
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: Workers Library Publishers, 1939
HX89 F58 1939 

The founders of the I.W.W. included William D. (Big Bill) Haywood, James Connolly, Daniel de Leon, Eugene Debs, Thomas Hagerty, Lucy Parsons, Mary Harris (Mother) Jones, Frank Bohn, William Trautmann, Vincent Saint John, Ralph Chaplin, and many others. The I.W.W. cut across traditional guild and union lines to organize workers in a variety of trades and industries, promoting the idea of “industrial unionism” as opposed to “craft unionism.” The notion of industrial unionism also pushed other aspects of social justice, such as welcoming women, Black Americans, and immigrants not only into the organization, but into prominent roles of leadership.

Its inclusion of diverse workers, trades, and industries helped the I.W.W. grow in popularity. At its peak in 1917, it celebrated more than 150,000 members with active charters all throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia. By the 1920s, however, several factors caused membership to decline dramatically. Other labor groups saw the Wobblies as too radical. This same sentiment was also echoed by the government, which began to crack down on a growing number of socialist groups during the First Red Scare, after World War I. Throughout the twentieth century, the Industrial Workers of the World were met with unparalleled resistance from Federal, State and Local governments in America. Beyond mere suppression of the First Amendment, many of its members and affiliates were imprisoned on the basis of legislative acts passed by Congress – such as the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act, the Smith Act, and the McCarran Act.

Debs, Haywood and Charles Ruthenberg were also central figures of the Socialist Party of America during the 1930s. This pamphlet, written by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and published by the Workers Library Publishers, celebrates their victories in the early years of the twentieth century. Although all three men had passed away during the previous decade, their legacies continued to live on in print.

Earl Browder: The Man from Kansas
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: Workers Library Publishers, 1941
HX84 B7 F6 1941

In 1936, Flynn joined the Communist Party and quickly rose in the ranks. However, her association with CPUSA created contention with her role as a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. She was ousted from the ACLU board in 1940, following the nonaggression pact signed by Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. Flynn remained committed to her goals of equal economic opportunity and pay for women, even running for Congress in 1942 as a member of the Communist Party.  

Among her political colleagues was Earl Browder, an American political activist and General Secretary of CPUSA during 1930s and 1940s. He was associated with socialist and syndicate groups during the early twentieth century, and aggressively opposed United States involvement in the first World War. Due to his outspoken nature and controversial politics, Browder was investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice and subpoenaed to appear before the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities. On January 17, 1940, Browder’s trial began. The conviction carried a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a $4,000 fine. On March 25 the following year, Browder was transported to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and sentenced to four years. 

This pamphlet, written by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and published by the Worker’s Library Publishers, was part of the “Free Earl Browder” campaign.

Meet the Communists
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: Communist Party USA, 1946
HX83 F55 1946

During the 1940s, Flynn traveled to Paris where she attended the International Women’s conference, meeting with many other female activists who played significant roles in resistance movements of Nazi-occupied countries. In 1946, CPUSA started their Party Building Campaign, with the goal to recruit at least 20,000 new members to the party. The same year, they published Flynn’s propaganda pamphlet, Meet the Communists, which emphasized the party’s role in combating fascism and capitalism. Though membership was not exactly exclusive, the pamphlet specifically targeted veterans,  Black-Americans, women, workers, and youth. Flynn described the CPUSA as “a vanguard political party of the working class, to bring together those who are ready not only to fight for day by day immediate gains, both economic and political, but who are also ready to curb and control by nationalization, and eventual to abolish through Socialism, the octopus of monopoly capitalism.”

The Twelve and You
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1948
HX 87 F548 1948

Following the Congressional investigation of both left-wing and right-wing extremist political groups in the mid-1930s, support grew for a statutory prohibition of their activities. On June 28, 1940 Congress passed the Alien Registration Act, popularly known as the Smith Act. The Smith Act required all non-citizen adult to register with the federal government, and criminalized any “intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or… organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof.”

During the Smith Act trials of the CPUSA, New Century Publishers printed dozens of political pamphlets hoping to promote the defense of the twelve communist leaders who were arrested. Many of these pamphlets were written by Flynn. The Twelve and You dissects the charges, exposes the court, and uses the attention given to the upcoming trial as an opportunity to publicize CPUSA’s policies.

New Century’s pamphlets encouraged readers to help with its efforts to provide a legal defense team and to give publicity to that defense, whether through literature, radio programs, leaflets, mass meetings, etc. Published and distributed before the set trial date of October 15 1947, The Twelve and You was particularly important as the trial would begin just two weeks and three days before the presidential election.  In the pamphlet, Flynn asks the reader, “Can ideas be put in jail? People can, but the whole history of the human race has proved it is impossible to imprison ideas. The crucifixion of Jesus and the violent deaths of all the apostles who preached his works; the torture of Galileo; the exiling of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchison, did not succeed in killing their ides.”

Labor’s Own William Z. Foster
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1949
HX84 F6 F55 1949

In an effort to persuade public opinion of the Communist Party in the United States during the Smith Act Trials, New Century Publishers distributed dozens of pamphlets which promoted the Party’s socialist policies and highlighted the prominent members who were being persecuted. Written by Flynn, Labor’s Own William Z. Foster tells the perilous story of the General Secretary of CPUSA, while emphasizing his poverty, humility, working-class background, and passion for equality and justice. Readers of the pamphlet were invited to join the Communist party in order to honor Foster and help the twelve defendants in the process of appealing their case.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1949
KF224 C6 F59 1949

Flynn’s Stool-pigeon was written following the imprisonment of the top leaders in the CPUSA. The pamphlet starts by questioning the right of the government to indict the leaders based on the notion of what they are supposed to think. Flynn defines stool-pigeons as “private detectives hired by employers or company agents, despised as ‘finks,’ tools of the bosses, by all honest workers […] Throughout human history there has been scorn and contempt for one who betrays what he pretends loyally to support, and by shamming sincerity gains the confidence of his fellows. Judas Iscariot is the best-known example.”

Debs and Dennis, Fighter’s for Peace
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1950
HX84 D3 F54 1950

In Debs and Dennis Flynn draws similarities between Communist Party leader, Eugene Dennis, to Socialist activist, Eugene Debs. In addition to their names, both men were sentenced to prison for their political views and for opposing war during peacetime. Debs was convicted for violating the Sedition Act of 1918, while Dennis was convicted on charges under the Smith Act of 1940. Furthermore, both Debs and Dennis defended themselves in court, presenting the jury with moving speeches that were later featured in print.

The Plot to Gag America
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1950
K3275 F48 1950

The Plot to Gag America was one of several pamphlets written by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and published by New Century Publishers which came out in response to the Smith Act Trials of twelve Communist Party leaders. Many of Flynn’s writings, including those published in her column in the Daily Worker, were used by the United States government as exhibits in the trials. In response, Flynn did not deny her association with the Party nor her attempts to invite others to join it. Instead, she advocated for the Party with the belief that it is in the best interest of the people. The government did not include the pamphlets Stool-pigeon or The Plot to Gag America in the proceedings, likely because of the way Flynn covered the indictments. As the second wave of trials continued, Flynn urged the court to review the numerous “handbills, advertisements and press clipping relative to hundreds of public mass meetings arranged by the Communist Party,” which she claimed “will prove that nowhere has there been any advocacy of force and violence.”

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Speaks to the Court
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1952
HX84 F5 A4 1952

During the first few years of the Smith Act trials of the Communist Party, Flynn had launched a campaign to help overturn the convictions of twelve prominent Communist leaders in the United States. In June 1951, however, a second wave of arrests were made in which Flynn, herself, was indicted. After a nine-month trial, she was found guilty and sentenced to a three-year term. Her Stool-pigeon testimony was used to deny her constitutional rights. On April 24, 1952 Flynn addressed the court, acting as her own attorney. Her speech was published as a pamphlet by New Century Publishers the same year and distributed widely. Flynn served her sentence from January 1955 to May 1957 at the Alderson Federal Penitentiary in West Virginia.

Communists and the People
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1953
HX89 F498 1953

Communists and the People contains the full text of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s summation speech to the Jury in the second Foley Square Smith Act trial, where thirteen communists leaders received “guilty” verdicts. In addition to Flynn’s summation, made on January 6, 1953, this pamphlet also includes her address to the Court, on January 30, in support of the defense’s motion for an acquittal. Judge Edward J. Dimock sentenced the defendants to prison, ranging from one to three years, and imposed fines between $2,000 and $6,000.

The opening statements of both the Court and the Jury, delivered on April 24-25 have been published in separate pamphlets, as have the statements to the court of all the defendants before hearing sentence. This latter pamphlet has been issued under the title, 13 Communists Speak to the Court.

13 Communists Speak to the Court
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1953
KF224 F59 A15 1953

13 Communists Speak to the Court was taken from the statements made in the course of the trial which lead to the conviction Flynn and Pettis Perry, in addition to defendants Claudia Jones, Alexander Bittleman, Alexander Trachtenberg, V.J. Jerome, Albert Lannon, Louis Weinstock, Arnold Johnson, Betty Gannett, Jacob Mindel, William Weinstone and George Blake Charney. From the prefatory note: “Under the infamous provisions of the fascist-like Smith Act before a rigged jury, with framed-up testimony provided by paid stool-pigeons and professional informers, and in an atmosphere of hysteria directed not only against Communists, but against all opponents of the war in Korea and all advocates of peaceful and friendly relations with the Soviet Union and People’s Democracies of Europe and Asia.”

I Speak my Own Piece
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: Masses & Mainstream, 1955
HX84 F5 A3 1955

The same year Flynn began serving her sentence at Alderson State Penitentiary she released her first autobiography,  I Speak My Own Piece. The book begins with the immigration to the United States of her Irish forebears and follows with vivid descriptions of her early participation in the Socialist movement, her first soap-box speech and arrest, the events that led to her joining the I.W.W., and her meeting with prominent figures in the working-class and political movements of the day. It moves through women’s suffrage, free speech, and labor strikes, and follows up with several high-profile defense cases. Though autobiographical, the book ends abruptly in the 1920s and offers no glimpses to ongoing trials and prison sentence Flynn was about to receive.

Horizons of the Future of a Socialist America
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: Communist Party USA, 1959
HX86 F54 1959

Upon her release from prison and despite the countless legal battles which came from her association with the CPUSA, Flynn continued to write pamphlets promoting the party’s agenda. Horizons of the Future of a Socialist America, written by Flynn and illustrated by Hugo Gellert, celebrates the forty-year anniversary of the Communist Party USA, and the Party’s 17th National Convention. The 52-page pamphlet tells the story of the Communist Party, “what it is, what it stands for, and what part it played in our country’s history during the past forty years.” It also features photos of prominent socialist and communist leaders, as well as images of early union organizers and labor strikes.

Hugo Gellert was a Hungarian-American illustrator and muralist who contributed work to socialist and communist organizations throughout the twentieth century. Many of his illustrations were featured in the Masses, Liberator, the Workers Month, and even in the New Yorker and the New York Times.

Freedom Begins at Home
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: New Century Publishers, 1961
HX87 F48 1961

Through pamphlets distributed by New Century Publishers, the CPUSA sought to educate the public on what they deemed “thought-control suppression.” Flynn’s Freedom Begins at Home, in particular, traces the history and issues of the McCarran Act to the equally famous Smith Act, which was enacted by Congress a decade prior. Flynn contextualizes what it means to “register” as a communist as it pertains to the Bill of Rights and the future of the United States.

In 1950, the United States Congress passed the Internal Security Act of 1950, better known as the McCarran Act. The Act required organizations associated with the Communist Party to register with the United States Attorney General, as well as provide a list of all of its members and reveal the organizations financial records. Once registered, members were liable for prosecution solely based on membership under a continuation of the Smith Act, due to the alleged intent of the organization. Eleven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the order of the Subversive Activities Control Board, a committee established under the McCarran Act to investigate Communist Party members. In effect, the legislation would publicly brand the CPUSA as an agent of foreign conspiracy against the country.

The McCarran Act and the Right to Travel
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: Gus Hall-Benjamin J. Davis Defense Committee, 1962
KF4850.6 F58 1962

Under the “McCarran” Internal Security Act of 1950, the question of the right to travel arose when the State Department ordered the singer Paul Robeson to surrender his passport. At the time, Robeson was scheduled to give a European concert. For associating with the Communist Party, however, Robeson was “blacklisted” and thereby denied his financial livelihood, despite no allegations of any illegal acts on his part. The story gained national attention, with opinions coming from both sides of the political spectrum. The American Civil Liberties Union also became involved, and voted not to support Robeson on the grounds that the First Amendment did not guarantee an unrestricted right to travel. 

Pamphlet includes statements by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, her attorney Joseph Forer, and Herbert Aptheker.

The McCarran Act: Fact and Fancy
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: Gus Hall-Benjamin J Davis Defense Committee, 1963
KF4850.6 F59 1963

Fact and Fancy was published as a continued effort to influence public opinion on the McCarran Act. As with previous pamphlets related to the McCarran Act, Flynn reviews the effects of the act and provides “source materials” for readers to research. From the introductory note: “The repeal or nullification of what has become known as the ‘McCarran Act’ – the Internal Security Act of 1950 – is imperative. The McCarran Act outlaws political dissent. It denies to many Americans, because of their political views, the right to travel and to work in all places designated as ‘defense facilities.’ It harasses and intimidates the foreign born. It sets up concentration camps for the internment of dissenters in times of public ‘emergency.’ It freezes the ‘Cold War’ into law, creates fictitious dangers and imaginary enemies as a means of inducing the people their constitutional democratic prerogatives. By denying due process the Act creates skepticism of American democracy in other countries, invites ridicule of our legal procedures, weakens the cause of liberty throughout the world…”

The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890 – 1964)
New York, NY: International Publishers, 1963
HV9474 A44 F55 1963

Published in 1963, nearly six years after her release from prison, Flynn came out with her second book, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner. Unlike her first autobiography, the prison memoir is much more complex. It is a detailed account of everyday life in a women’s prison, a call for prison reform, and a narrative of resistance. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn died while visiting Moscow a year after The Alderson Story was published. The Soviet government gave Flynn a state funeral in the Red Square with more than 25,000 people in attendance. In accordance with her wishes, Flynn’s remains were flown back to the United States for burial in Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery, near the graves of Eugene Dennis, Bill Haywood, Emma Goldman and the Haymarket Riot Martyrs.

Learn more about the history and culture surrounding the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn with our exhibition, Radical! A Retrospective of Twentieth Century Dissent now on display in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery on level four of the J. Willard Marriott Library.

No Comments

Post A Comment