Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

American politician (1890-1964)

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (August 7, 1890 – September 5, 1964) was a labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Flynn was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a visible proponent of women's rights, birth control, and women's suffrage. She joined the Communist Party USA in 1936 and late in life, in 1961, became its chairwoman.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn


  • The Industrial Workers of the World is a new form of labor organization, one that stands for the industrial working class and that class alone.
  • The working class of this country look out upon a situation where there are natural resources present to supply the entire world with plenty; they look out upon an industrial situation which has invented machinery capable of getting these natural resources with but little labor expenditure into finished commodities of necessities or luxuries. Yet in spite of that and in spite of the productiveness made possible by men who labor and the natural abundance of the earth itself, in spite of that, we have people starving in this country and five million idle; over a million child laborers in the United States; seventy thousand children in New York City and fifty thousand in Chicago that go to school without a breakfast in the morning. We have a conditionin which the majority of the people are a propertyless class, are a class that own no land, that control none of that productive machinery, that control absolutely nothing in this land of the free and home of the brave but their own labor power; their own abilities to work.
  • Today the working class have only conditions that they themselves are in a position to remedy, they have only false conditions, not nature’s making, but man’s making, that they themselves can overthrow
  • All we have is our ability to labor and the capitalist class have not that one commodity; they have the factories, they have the land, they have the railroad but they have not the labor power, the power of wealth producing.
  • We have only our organization, fellow workers; they have capital; they have the power of the government, the slugging community of the capitalist class; they have the power of the state; they have the power of international capital — and we have but our power of organization.

"The Truth About the Paterson Strike" (1914)


Anthologized in Outspoken Women (1984). Caption: "The following speech was delivered before the New York Civic Club Forum in New York City on January 31, 1914. The typescript is located in the Labadie Collection, the University of Michigan Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan."

  • I feel that many of our critics are people who stayed at home in bed while we were doing the hard work of the strike.
  • What is a labor victory? I maintain that it is a twofold thing. Workers must gain economic advantage, but they must also gain revolutionary spirit, in order to achieve a complete victory. For workers to gain a few cents more a day, a few minutes less a day, and go back to work with the same psychology, the same attitude toward society is to have achieved a temporary gain and not a lasting victory. For workers to go back with a class-conscious spirit, with an organized and a determined attitude toward society means that even if they have made no economic gain they the possibility of gaining in the future. In other words, a labor victory must be economic must be revolutionizing. Otherwise it is not complete.
  • a labor victory must be twofold, but if it can only be one it is better to gain in spirit than to gain economic advantage.
  • Our work was to educate and stimulate. Education is not a conversion, it is a process. One speech to a body of workers does not overcome their prejudices of a lifetime. We had prejudices on the national issues, prejudices between crafts, prejudices between competing men and women, all these to overcome.
  • Stimulation, in a strike, means to make that strike and through it the class struggle their religion; to make them forget all about the fact that it's for a few cents or a few hours, but to make them feel it is a "religious duty" for them to win that strike. Those two things constituted our work, to create in them a feeling of solidarity and a feeling of class-consciousness
  • I don't say that violence should not be used, but where there is no call for it, there is no reason why we should resort to it.
  • Physical violence is dramatic. It's especially dramatic when you talk about it and don't resort to it. But actual violence is an old-fashioned method of conducting a strike. And mass action, paralyzing all industry, is a new-fashioned and a much more feared method of conducting a strike. That does not mean that violence shouldn't be used in self-defense. Everybody believes in violence for self-defense. Strikers don't need to be told that. But the actual fact is that in spite of our theory that the way to win a strike is to put your hands in your pocket and refuse to work...
  • If on Sunday, however, you let those people stay at home, sit around the stove without any fire in it, sit down at the table where there isn't very much food, see the feet of the children with shoes getting thin, and the bodies of the children where the clothes are getting ragged, they begin to think in terms of "myself" and lose that spirit of the mass and the realization that all are suffering as they are suffering. You have got to keep them busy every day in the week, and particularly on Sunday, in order to keep that spirit from going down to zero. I believe that's one reason why ministers have sermons on Sunday, so that people don't get a chance to think how bad their conditions are the rest of the week. Anyhow, it's a very necessary thing in a strike.
  • In fact that is a necessary process in every strike, to keep the people busy all the time, to keep them active, working, fighting soldiers in the ranks. And this is the agitator's work,-to plan and suggest activity, diverse, but concentrated on the strike. That's the reason why the I.W.W. has these great mass meetings, women's meetings, children's meetings; why we have mass picketing and mass funerals. And out of all this continuous mass activity we are able to create that feeling on the part of the workers, "One for all and all for one." We are able to make them realize that an injury to one is an injury to all, we are able to bring them to the point where they will have relief and not strike benefits, to the point where they will go to jail and refuse fines, and go hundreds of them together.
  • This is the agitator's work, this continual activity. And we lay awake many nights trying to think of something more we could give them to do. I remember one night in Lawrence none of us slept. The strike spirit was in danger of waning for lack of action. And I remember Bill Haywood said finally, "Let's get a picket line out in Essex street. Get every striker to put a little red ribbon on and walk up and down and show that the strike is not broken." A few days later the suggestion was carried out, and when they got out of their homes and saw this great body that they were, they had renewed strength and renewed energy which carried them along for many weeks more in the strike.
  • People learn to do by doing. We haven't a military body in a strike, a body to which you can say "Do this" and "Do that" and "Do the other thing" and they obey unfailingly. Democracy means mistakes, lots of them, mistake after mistake. But it also means experience and that there will be no repetition of those mistakes.
  • The employers have a full view of your army. You have no view of their army and can only guess at their condition.

in The Masses

  • Shall it be 'America First' or 'Workers of the World, Unite!'"
  • Let those who own the country, who are howling for and profiting by preparedness, fight to defend their property.
  • I despise the rule of Rockefeller and Morgan as much as that of King or Kaiser, and am as outraged by Ludlow and Calumet as by Belgium.
  • The majority of our workers are foreigners, one or two generations removed, and with their European home-ties and American environment, internationalism becomes the logical patriotism of a heterogeneous population.
  • The train on which I write rushes by factories where murder instruments are made for gold.
  • It obliterates all differences of race, creed, color, and nationality. It celebrates the brotherhood of all workers everywhere. It crosses all national boundaries, it transcends all language barriers, it ignores all religious differences. It makes sharp and clear, around the world, the impassable chasm between all workers and all exploiters. It is the day when the class struggle in its most militant significance is reaffirmed by every conscious worker.
  • This day is to the enlightened worker an augury of a new world, a classless world, a peaceful world, a world without poverty or misery. It is the glowing promise of socialism, the real brotherhood of mankind. On this day in 1941 the wise words of Lenin; “Life will assert itself. The Communists must know that the future at any rate is theirs,” will light up the lonely jail cells of Browder and Thaelman and countless others. Lowhummed snatches of revolutionary song will be heard in concentration camps. On the sea, in military barracks, in the forced labor of factory or mill, the hearts of the driven workers will beat to unison with those far away who parade joyously behind gleaming red banners, to stirring music on Moscow’s Red Square. “Do your damnedest to us!” they mutter between clenched teeth, the conscripts in European trenches, the prisoners in Franco’s dungeons, in Hitler’s hell holes, in Mussolini’s prisons; “Your days are numbered. You can’t stop the final victory of the people!"
  • May Day was baptized in the blood of American workers.
  • "Let the voice of the people be heard!" cried Parsons, as the noose tightened around his neck. It has been, it ever Will be on May Day, brave martyred hero of yesterday! This year the newly organized, victorious strikers of the International Harvester Works in Chicago will hallow your names on May first.
  • Rosa Luxemburg, brave woman Socialist of Germany, who was later brutally murdered by the militarists, sounded the alarm against a World War in 1913. She called upon the workers to make May Day a mighty demonstration for peace and socialism. “Workers of the world, Unite!” became the insistent cry on May Day. Every vital issue was pressed, more and more militant slogans raised in each country and internationally.
  • Only workers are forbidden to be internationalists. It’s perfectly proper for J. P. Morgan and Henry Ford; for the bankers, the munitions trusts, the chemical companies. It’s proper for scientists, stamp collectors, athletic associations, musicians, spiritualists, people who raise bees, to be internationalist – but not workers. Only the clasped hands of the workers across the boundaries are struck down in every country. It will pass for all anthropologist to say in abstruse language, “There is but one race – the human race!” But let a worker say, “Brother, fellow worker, comrade” – and there’s hell to pay. He should be sent back from where he came from! He should be deprived of his citizenship; he should lose his job; he should be jailed! If a Christ-like voice should challenge them: “But what about loving thy neighbor as thyself?” the wild man from Texas would roar: “Who said that? He’s a Red, subversive, a trouble maker!” Let us not be dismayed in the slightest by all this frenzy. Let us remember the cool words of Lenin: "Acting thus the bourgeoisie acts as did all classes condemned to death by history." Every beautiful May Day of solidarity, triumph, and hope is another reminder to us to take “the long view” – the Bolshevik view of passing events. The road ahead may be rougher but it is shorter than the road behind.
  • On May Day we salute the Soviet Union – land of socialism – land of peace and plenty, the great ideal of labor since time immemorial, the cooperative commonwealth of all who toil.
  • Let the war mongers shout; let the profit-mad rave. “We shall not be moved!” retort these millions of American workers on May Day. There is nothing to be despondent about; nothing to be weary about – not so long as we are organizing and fighting. Not so long as we are holding what we have won in an iron grip; are moving forward, getting more. Not so long as there is unswerving resistance to the Roosevelt-Willkie war party among eighty-six percent of the American people. Organize. Fight. Press Forward – that’s the spirit of America’s May Day in 1941.
  • Organize and fight, to stay out of war! Against all imperialism and fascism, including American!
  • peace and socialism is in the hearts, in the minds, on the lips of millions around the world May First, 1941. The “sun of tomorrow” shines upon us. The future is ours.

Speech in Court, charged under the Smith Act (1952)


In Women at the Podium: Memorable Speeches in History edited by S. Michele Nix

  • I and none of my comrades are guilty of any conspiracy to advocate overthrow of the United States government by force and violence. Silence might be construed as defeatism when the truth is that I am so serene in our consciousness of innocence of any crimes, that I can be imprisoned but I cannot be corrected, reformed or changed. My body can be incarcerated but my thoughts will remain free and unaffected. All human history has demonstrated that ideas, thoughts, cannot be put in prison. They can only be met in the forum of public discussion.
  • The political, industrial and social conditions under capitalism which created our ideas remain. They will produce similar ideas in the minds of countless others and further strengthen them in ours. Never did prison affect resolute people who live and work and die if necessary by their ideas. We Communists are such people. I have faith in the ultimate justice of the American people once the fog of lies, hysteria, prejudice and, worst of all, fear is swept away. It is a terrible thing to see one's country in the grip of fear-needless, stupid, foolish fear; fear of imaginary enemies, fear of our allies and friends; fear of the accusing fingers of stool pigeons, fear of losing one's job or one's citizenship or one's place in a community. The whole governmental bureaucracy, wasting billions of dollars, boasting, bragging, bullying, is whistling in the dark of fear, trying to make the whole world afraid of us.
  • It is from a small handful of frightened rich that this contagion has spread the men of the trusts, who never loved their country more than their stocks and bonds, whose patriotism is always on a percentage basis, who would rule and exploit and use violence against not only their fellow countrymen but the human race. They would plunge the world into a sea of blood by atomic warfare in order to maintain their own mean and mercenary rule, their way of life, and foist it upon other people who want none of it. Great as the danger looms, I have faith that fascism will never come to pass in our country. I am proud of the role that our Party has played in signalizing that danger since 1935.
  • Somewhere and soon the Smith Act will go into the discard as did the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1800, the Fugitive Slave Laws of the sixties, the Criminal Syndicalist Laws of the 1920s.
  • The fog engulfing courtrooms, middle class juries and the press will lift among the masses of plain people, the ones who never get on federal juries because their appearance and manner doesn't satisfy a hard-boiled political appointee who splits his infinitives, doubles his negatives and toadies to the prosperous.
  • A people's movement is arising in our country like a strong, fresh prairie wind against repressive legislation, loyalty oaths, congressional investigations, witch-hunts, political trials and the like.
  • I asked you a question on Friday, Your Honor, which I now repeat: If the Communist Party is not illegal, its membership and officership is not illegal, if advocating socialism is not illegal, if advocating a day-to-day program of "good deeds," as the government cynically calls it, is not illegal, what in all conscience is illegal here? Of what are we guilty?
  • In all my long life. ... I never expected that I would go to jail for books, and not even whole books but scraps and pieces, and if I return to my normal life of the last forty-seven years, of working and speaking on unionism, democratic rights, the rights of the Negro people and of women, on peace and against fascism and war, and on socialism, what happens then, Your Honor?
  • Your Honor, all the material property I possess, as far as a fine is concerned, are books accumulated since I first bought a paper-covered copy of Tom Paine's Common Sense at the age of sixteen. They are good books-poetry, drama, history, political economy, fiction, philosophy, art, music, travel, literature. Marx and Engels are there beside Shakespeare, Shaw, Emerson, Hegel, Mark Twain; Lenin and Stalin are there beside Thoreau, Jefferson, the Beards, the Webbs, Hugo, Hardy and many others...There is force and violence on those shelves but not where the government looked for it. It is in Irish history-Connelly, O'Casey and others telling of the long and bloody struggle against British rule. It is in American labor history, in Colorado, West Virginia, Homestead, South Chicago and on the Embarcadero of San Francisco. It is in American history-the Revolution, the wars against the American Indians, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War. It is in the struggles of the Negro people. It is in the Bible, too-which is on my shelf, Your Honor-violence against the Jewish Tribes, and the old prophets, against Jesus and his Disciples, and the early Christian martyrs.
  • Force and violence come from the ruling class and not from the people.

The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, My First Life (1955)

  • An unforgettable tragedy of our childhood was the burning of the excursion boat, the General Slocum, in 1904.
  • The book (Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy) first popularized the idea of socialism in this country. It was a biting criticism of capitalism, which hit home to many Americans and with which they agreed in the days of rising monopolies.
  • His (Peter Kropotkin's) appeal to the youth of the poor struck home to me personally, as if he were speaking to us there in our shabby poverty-stricken Bronx flat: "Must you drag on the same weary existence as your father and mother for thirty or forty years? Must you toil your life long to procure for others all the pleasures of well-being, of knowledge, of art, and keep for yourself only the eternal anxiety as to whether you can get a bit of bread?"
  • Another book I recall, which caused an immediate change in my life, was The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. After reading it I forthwith became a vegetarian!
  • During that period (around 1906) I had studied two more books, which helped to catapult me into socialist activities. One was the Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft; the other was Women and Socialism by August Bebel.
  • The unionization of women, even in occupations like the needle trades where they predominated, had scarcely yet begun. Equal opportunities, equal pay, and the right to be organized, were the crying needs of women wage-earners then and unfortunately these demands remain with us today. Many union leaders, like Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, did not consider women workers organizable or dependable. "They only work for pin mon-ey was the usual complaint. An outside job was considered by the woman worker herself as a temporary necessary evil-a stop-gap between her father's home and her husband's home. Fathers and husbands collected women's wages, sometimes right at the company office. Women did not have a legal right to their own earnings. There was no consideration for the special needs and problems of working mothers, though they were numerous and pressing. Even the clothes of women hampered them-the long skirts that touched the ground, the big unwieldy sleeves, the enormous hats. You were still "a girl" if your skirt was above your shoe tops.
  • The struggle for the right of women to vote was nationwide and growing. It had started with the first Equal Rights Convention, at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which was addressed by Frederick Douglass, the great Negro leader. The suffragists had been ridiculed, assaulted by mobs, refused halls, arrested for attempting to vote, disowned by their families. By 1904, groups of working women, especially Socialist women, were banding together to join in the demand for the vote. Two years later, International Women's Day was born on the East Side of New York, at the initiative of these women demonstrating for suffrage. It spread around the world and is universally celebrated today, while here it is deprecated as "a foreign holiday."
  • The suffrage movement was growing more militant and figures like Maude Malone appeared. She organized the Harlem Equal Rights League in 1905. She interrupted Theodore Roosevelt at a meeting of 3,000 people to demand where he stood on woman suffrage. She walked up and down Broadway, at the same time we were holding our street meetings there, with signs front and back, like a sandwich man, demanding "Votes for Women," and lost her post as a librarian in consequence.
  • Suffragist speakers on streetcorners were invariably told: "Go home and wash your dishes," or, regardless of their age: "Who's taking care of your children?" Others said: "Imagine a pregnant woman running for office," or "How could women serve on juries and be locked up with men jurors?"
  • There was a prevalent concept that "woman's work" was confined to the domestic scene. "Woman's place is in the home," was the cry. Women were constantly accused of taking "men's jobs."
  • I said then and am still convinced that the full opportunity for women to become free and equal citizens with access to all spheres of human endeavor cannot come under capitalism, although many demands have been won by organized struggle.
  • "Big" Bill Haywood came out of jail a hero-a fitting symbol of the solidarity of labor. He was described by one reporter as, "big in body, in brain, and in courage." He made a triumphal tour of the United States and Canada, under the auspices of the Socialist Party and the labor organizations which had defended him. He was an intensely down-to-earth dramatic speaker. I remember hearing him say: "I'm a two-gun man from the West, you know," and while the audience waited breathlessly, he pulled his union card from one pocket and his Socialist card from the other.
  • In 1907, During the campaign to free Moyer, Haywood and Pettibone, I was invited to speak at a meeting, in Newark, New Jersey, arranged by the Socialist Labor Party...This meeting is an unforgettable event in my life because it was here I first met James Connolly, the Irish Socialist speaker, writer and labor organizer who gave his life for Irish freedom nine years later in the Easter Week Uprising of 1916 in Dublin...He was short, rather stout, a plain-looking man with a large black moustache, a very high forehead and dark sad eyes, a man who rarely smiled. A scholar and an excellent writer, his speech was marred for American audiences by his thick, North of Ireland accent, with a Scotch burr from his long residence in Glasgow...Connolly worked for the IWW and had an office at Cooper Square. He was a splendid organizer, as his later work for the Irish Transport Workers, with James Larkin, demonstrated...He felt keenly that not enough understanding and sympathy was shown by American Socialists for the cause of Ireland's national liberation, that the Irish workers here were too readily abandoned by the Socialists as "reactionaries" and that there was not sufficient effort made to bring the message of socialism to the Irish-American workers...He published a monthly magazine, The Harp. Many poems from his own pen appeared. It was a pathetic sight to see him standing, poorly clad, at the door of Cooper Union or some other East Side hall, selling his little paper. None of the prosperous professional Irish, who shouted their admiration for him after his death, lent him a helping hand at that time. Jim Connolly was anathema to them because he was a "So'-cialist." He had no false pride and encouraged others to do these Jimmy Higgins tasks by setting an example. At the street meetings he persuaded those who had no experience in speaking to "chair the meeting" as a method of training them. Connolly had a rare skill, born of vast knowledge, in approaching the Irish workers. He spoke the truth sharply and forcefully when necessary
  • Its (the IWW's) advent was an important event and it blazed a trail, like a great comet across the American labor scene, from 1905 to the early 1920s. It made labor history, and left an indelible impress on the labor movement. The IWW was a militant, fighting, working class union. The employing class soon recognized this and gave battle from its birth. The Iww identified itself with all the pressing immediate needs of the poorest, the most exploited, the most oppressed workers. It "fanned the flames" of their discontent. It led them in heroic struggles, some of which it organized. Others jumped in to give leadership after the strike had started. The memorable accusation against Jesus, "He stirreth up the people!" fitted the IWW. It set out to organize the unorganized, unskilled foreign-born workers in the mass production industries of the East and the unorganized migratory workers of the West, who were largely American born and employed in maritime, lumber, agriculture, mining and construction work. In the East and South, it reached workers in textile, rubber, coal maritime and lumber and in a variety of smaller industries. In New York City, for instance, there were IWW locals in clothing, textile, shoe, cigar, rattan, piano, brass and hotels. In the West there was a Cowboys' and Broncho Busters' local of the IWW. The entire working class of the fabulous town of Goldfield, Nevada, was organized in 1906 by Vincent St. John into the IWW. The Italian laborers at the U.S. Army's West Point were once organized in the IWW. I recall speaking to them there, about 1911. I joined in 1906…
  • At this (IWW) convention I was thrilled to meet Mrs. Lucy Parsons, widow of Albert Parsons, who had been executed 20 years before in the yard of the Cook County Jail in the heart of Chicago. While he was hanged she was held a prisoner in the Clark Street Station House, not far from where we were then meeting... I remember Mrs. Parsons speaking warmly to the young people, warning us of the seriousness of the struggles ahead that could lead to jail and death before victory was won. For years she traveled from city to city, knocking on the doors of local unions and telling the story of the Chicago trial. Her husband had said: "Clear our names!" and she made this her lifelong mission.
  • I never met a man I admired more than Vincent St. John...He was damned as a dynamiter, a gunman, a dangerous agitator; he entered camps with a price on his head, used his mother's name-Magee-and organized hundreds of men, often single-handed. He was one of the greatest labor organizers this country ever produced...He was short and slight in build, though broad-shouldered, quick and graceful in his movements, quiet, self-contained, modest, but his keenness of mind and wit outmatched any opponent...In a real fight, Saint's mild blue eyes became steely and cold. He fought only on principle and then as mercilessly as the enemies of the workers did. His loyalty to the working class was boundless. For eight years, from 1907 to 1915, he struggled with lack of funds and the uneven development of the IWW, whose strength he never exaggerated.
  • The Greatest woman agitator of our time was Mother Jones. Arrested, deported, held in custody by the militia, hunted and threatened by police and gunmen-she carried on fearlessly for 60 years. I first saw her in the summer of 1908, speaking at a Bronx open-air meeting. She was giving the "city folks" hell. Why weren't we helping the miners of the West? Why weren't we backing up the Mexican people against Diaz? We were "white-livered rabbits who never put our feet on Mother Earth," she said. Her description of the bullpen, where the miners were herded by federal troops during a Western miners' strike, and of the bloodshed and suffering was so vivid that, being slightly dizzy from standing so long, I fainted. She stopped in the middle of a fiery appeal. "Get the poor child some water!" she said, and went on with her speech. I was terribly embarrassed.
  • The next winter I saw Mother Jones again in Chicago at a meeting in Hull House of the Rudewitz Committee, to which I was a delegate from Local 85, IWW. I heard her hot angry defiant words against the deportation of a young Jewish worker on the vile pretext of "ritual murder." (Jane Addams and others saved him from certain death by their spirited defense). Mother Jones was dressed in an old-fashioned black silk basque, with lace around her neck, a long full skirt and a little bonnet, trimmed with flowers. She never changed her style of dress throughout her lifetime. She may sound like Whistler's Mother but this old lady was neither calm nor still, breathing fearless agitation wherever she went... She was put out of hotels. Families who housed her in company towns were dispossessed. She spoke in open fields when halls were closed. She waded through Kelly Creek, West Virginia, to organize miners on the other side. Tried for violating an injunction, she called the judge a "scab" and proved it to him. She organized "women's armies" to chase scabs-with mops, brooms and dishpans. "God! It's the old mother with her wild women!" the bosses would groan. In Greensburg, Pennsylvania, when a group of women pickets with babies were arrested and sentenced to 30 days, she advised them: "Sing to the babies all night long!" The women sang their way out of jail in a few days to the relief of the sleepless town. She was asked at Congressional hearing: "Where is your home?" and she answered: "Sometimes I'm in Washington, then in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Colorado, Minnesota. My address is like my shoes. It travels with me. I abide where there is a fight against wrong. In 1903 she led a group of child workers from the textile mills in the Kensington district of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Oyster Bay, Long Island, to confront President Theodore Roosevelt with proof of child labor. In Colorado, after the Ludlow massacre in 1914, she led a protest parade up to the governor's office. In West Virginia, time after time, she led delegations to see various governors and "gave them hell," as she said...When she was a very old lady, she warned the rank and file against leaders who put their own interests ahead of labor. Until her death she stoutly affirmed her one great faith: "The future is in labor's strong, rough hands!"... She inspired me a great deal when I first heard her in New York and Chicago in those early days, though I confess I was afraid of her sharp tongue. But when I reminded her of the meeting in the Bronx and told her I had lost my baby, she was very sympathetic and kind. Her harshness was for bosses, scabs and crooked labor leaders.
  • After war was declared a mounting wave of hysteria and mob violence swept the country. It was not shared by the vast majority of American people who became increasingly intimidated. Printed signs were tacked up in public places: "Obey the law and keep your mouth shut!" signed by Attorney General Gregory. The victims of mob violence were varied-Christian ministers, Negro and white, advocates of peace on religious, moral or political grounds; Socialists, IWWS, members of the Non-Partisan League, which was strong among farmers in the Middle West; friends of Irish freedom, and others. Some individuals, both men and women, who made chance remarks on war, conscription or the sale of bonds were tarred and feathered, beaten sometimes to insensibility, forced to kiss the flag, driven out of town, forced to buy bonds, threatened with lynching.
  • This spirit of mob violence was one of the most dangerous and shameful manifestations in our country, all in the name of making the world "Safe for Democracy."
  • Kate Richards O'Hare, as I have described, was a prominent and extremely effective Socialist speaker.
  • Whatever her subsequent political shortcomings may have been, progressive women were very proud of her at that time.
  • I had been a devoted IWW, but my activities in the Workers Defense Union also brought me into contact with Socialists, anarchists, trade unionists, Communists, suffragists, pacifists, liberals, Indians, Irish nationalists and official representatives of both the Soviet and Irish Republics.
  • There were practically no women in the Italian movement-anarchist or socialist. Whatever homes I went into with Carlo the women were always in the background, cooking in the kitchen, and seldom even sitting down to eat with the men.
  • Woodrow Wilson spoke fluently and freely on all subjects as a "liberal," but his sorry deeds belied his words. "Self-determination" and "make the world safe for democracy" were the most vulnerable. Demonstrations and delegations of advocates of peace, "Hands off Russia," freedom for Ireland, amnesty for political prisoners and last, but not least, "Votes for Women," confronted him at every turn. His administration was faced with the great steel strike of 1919-20. His plans to join the League of Nations were defeated by the Senate. Members of his administration resigned in protest over various issues-a secretary of state over war, a collector of the New York port over suffrage, the issue that perhaps plagued him most.
  • World War I made many radical changes in the lives of American women. It brought to an end the "lady" type. The labor shortage was great, the need of trained workers acute. At the end of 1918, nearly three million women were employed in food, textile and war industries. Occupations hitherto regarded as "men's work" were open to woman. They worked as conductors on street cars. For the first time they were trained as radio operators. Women volunteered for the motor corps in the army and wore uniforms for the first time. "Farmerettes," wearing bloomers, went from the cities to farms. Women did relief work, sold war bonds, organized canteens for the armed forces, joined nursing units. Thousands emerged from their homes into public life. Many remained in industry, either from necessity or choice, when the war ended.
  • Brave women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony had been the early pioneers, facing abuse and ridicule, violence and even arrests for attempting to vote. Later, women like Dr. Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt headed the National American Women's Suffrage Association, which struggled against "the lethargy of women and the opposition of men." But by 1916 a younger, bolder and more militant group emerged, which was dissatisfied with the slower process of winning suffrage, state by state, and fought for a constitutional amendment. They organized the Women's Party in 1916, which planned to mobilize the women's vote in all suffrage states only for parties and candidates who would support national suffrage. That year a group of wealthy suffragists financed and toured in a Suffrage Special. They did not campaign directly for the Republican candidate, Charles Evans Hughes, but their slogan was anti-Wilson: "Vote against Wilson! He Kept Us Out of Suffrage!" Many voted for Eugene V. Debs, then in prison.
  • The Women's Party picketed almost continuously from January 1917 until March 19, 1919. They picketed the White House and Capitol, held military parades, return receptions for Wilson after his trips to Europe and receptions when he departed. They picketed him in Washington, Boston and New York. Only the Irish had attempted such tactics. Later, a Children's Crusade for Amnesty picketed President Harding. Suffrage banners were addressed to foreign visitors and President Wilson's speeches on "freedom" and "democracy" at home and abroad were burned by the suffragists in a "watch-fire of freedom" urn.
  • Once the right to vote was achieved, women did not remain united as women, but divided into the existing political parties and other organizations as their views and interests dictated. The one common denominator of peace could, I believe, unite women once again, with a few exceptions.
  • I have no recollection of the term "united front" in the 1920s. It came into use considerably later. But the extent to which the radical and progressive movements operated then on such a principle is very apparent. Men and women who spoke out for suffrage would also sign appeals for financial aid to the IWW and appear on Irish and amnesty delegations and were in the peace movement. There were no hard and fast lines drawn between one good freedom cause and another and no such fears of reprisal as there are today. People were not afraid they would hurt one cause by identifying themselves with another. I marvel today at how wide and diffuse were my contacts and friendships in those days.
  • I was still an IWW in my convictions and hesitated to join a political party, although the Russian Revolution and association with the suffragists and the Communists were modifying my views considera-bly
  • When the news of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917 burst upon the world, American workers learned for the first time of a man named Vladimir Lenin-through this great event in human history, the beginning of socialism. We also learned some new words, which became part of the language in no time, "Bolshevik" and "Soviet," among them. Even those of us who were left-Socialists and IWWs knew practically nothing of the Russian Socialist movement, except that we had great sympathy with its long, agonizing struggle to overthrow the tsar's cruel and bloody regime. Overnight, "Bolshevik" became a household word, even to those who did not know it merely meant "majority," and referred to a political division in the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party. "I am a Bolshevik from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes!" said Debs. "Damned Bolsheviks!" employers shouted at militant workers and union organizers. All strikers were "Bolsheviks," of course.
  • the IWW...those are the initials for the Industrial Workers of the World which used to be called the "I Won't Work" which was extremely incongruous because actually the people who belonged to the organization were in the basic, most difficult hard-working industries of our country. To call it the workers of the World was rather an ambitious name as actually it never did go beyond the confines of the United States and it grew out of the desire of American workers to continue the traditions and the form of organization of the old Knights of Labor.
  • (The IWW} was not only the inheritor of many of the traditions of the 1880's but personalities who were identified with the 1880's were present at the early conventions of the IWW. The names may not be known to you unless you are students of labor history but included were such figures as Eugene Debs, Daniel DeLeon and Mrs. Lucy Parsons
  • There were many free speech fights...their techniques were something like the Freedom Riders of today. They would send out telegrams, and; I am explaining, you understand, I am not agitating, they would send out telegrams something like this, and say: "Foot Loose Wobblies, come at once, defend the Bill of Rights", and they would come on top of the trains and beneath the train, and on the sides, in the box cars and every way that you-didn't have to pay fare, and by the hundreds literally they would land in these communities, to the horror and consternation of the authorities and they would stand up on platforms or soap box and they would read part of the Constitution of the United States or the Bill of Rights...those were the free-speech fights that are very well known and very characteristic of the IWW in the western part of the country.
  • The AFL was the skilled workers' organization and its form and methods and principles were not the same as the IWW. The IWW believed in the class struggle. They didn't believe in the brotherhood of capital and labour and they believed that these unorganized foreign-born mass production workers should be organized in an industrial union - all together in one union and not split up into a dozen or more organizations.
  • what precipitated the big strike in 1912, [which was known as the Bread & Roses Strike] which is one of the great historical struggles in our country, was a political act on the-part of the State.
  • Bill Haywood decided that we had to speak English so these people could understand it. And I will never forget the lesson he gave to us. I was very young at that time, I was 22, and he said, now listen here, you speak to these workers, these miners in the same kind of English that their children who are in the primary school would speak to them and they would understand that. Well, that's not easy -- to speak to them in primary school English. Well, we learned how to do it. The only trouble is with me it kind of stuck and when I go to speak to a college audience I feel at a little bit of a disadvantage because I don't know all the big words. The small words, the short words, were the ones I was drilled in by William Haywood.
  • I will give you an example of how he used to speak. We had to explain to them why we wanted them to be in the IWW, one big union and not in the AFL. Well, he would say, [showing his hand fingers spread] the American Federation of Labor, the AFL is like that, each one separated, but the IWW is like that, [he would make a fist] and they would all say, three cheers for the IWW and he had made his point.
  • At the same time that this Lawrence strike was going on, there was a great strike of timber workers in Louisiana, also under the auspices of the IWW, and I single that out, although we had strikes all over the place, we were just hopping all over from one place to another, because there for the first time the discrimination, the segregation rules were-broken down. William D. Haywood went down there to speak and he said every striker sits wherever he wants to sit. Segregation in this hall of the IWW and the Negro and white workers, I think for the first time in American labor history, broke that taboo and met together.
  • if there is really one thing that I am proud of in my long labor history, it is that while he was in prison, before he was executed, Joe Hill wrote a song for me dedicated to me, that was called, the "Rebel Girl" and that song, I hope you will do it here some time, it may not be the best of words or the best of music, but it came from the heart and it was certainly so treasured.
  • in the period of World War I a tremendous onslaught was made against the IWW, the Socialists, all Progressives in our country. There was a very strong peace movement at that time. It was not like World War II, which was an anti-Fascist war.
  • I really should tell you something about where the IWW stood in relation to other organizations because the picture probably is not yet too clear. Well, it was not a craft union; it was an industrial union and it was opposed to the AFL, bitterly so. It did not stand for any of the things that the AFL stood for, a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, a brotherhood of capital and labor, none of those things. It was strong for fighting the boss every time we got a chance and so some of the things sound very strange, but it was the truth. They did not believe in making any contracts. They believed that as long as you were organized, you could hold the office to what it said it was going to do. But a contract, a piece of paper held you and so they didn't make any contracts. How, their attitudes towards what we call the white collar workers was not good. Not good at all, because they just considered that they didn't belong to the working class. You had to wear overalls, be muscular, you had to work. If you were a pen pusher, you were not a worker, according to the IWW. Now, this also applied to students. In other words, what they would call today a very sectarian organization. But to some extent the students of that day were responsible because the students had no sympathy with the labor movement. In fact, when there were strikes it was always possible, as I saw down in a hotel, at a strike in New York City, it was always possible to get students to go in and take the place of the workers. Well, times have changed, I am very glad to say.
  • the IWW also differed from the AFL in that it stood for Socialism. Although it differed from the Socialist Party in that it rejected political parties and political action, and this might have been a reflection of is composition...they had this very peculiar attitude that the real struggle was in the industries, in the shops, what they call at the point of production.
  • it almost seems to me that we lived in a kind of wilderness when I tell you what didn't exist. There were no radios, no TV, no movies, very little of advertising as we know it today, there were no plastics, no artificial fabrics, no airplanes.
  • I am talking about 1919, 1920, that Mr. J. Edgar Hoover first put in his appearance. He was put in charge of these raids and all reports of all over the country were to be made to him, and they were called "G" men. The FBI came into existence a little later - in 1924. So he has had this kingdom for 38 years now, regardless of administrations and it is not actually under Civil Service or under the control of the Department of Justice.
  • the hatred against the IWW was so great -that editorials in papers would say, "They should be arrested at dawn and shot before breakfast, without a trial."
  • today the methods to have political auxiliaries to unions is a much better and a much more effective thing. But we tried to put everything in one pot and it simply didn't work. We were unable, and we were pretty arrogant. We were young and had the right answer to everything. We didn't want to work with the AFL, we didn't want to work with the Socialist Party, we didn't want to work with anybody else. And naturally, when the Communist Party came along, they considered that a real party because here was a much more revolutionary organization than the old Socialist Party, and they didn't agree either with the concept of the Russian Revolution although they were glad that it was a revolution that overthrew the Czar and they didn't stand with Kerensky but there was certain, you might almost call it, primitive concepts of a revolution. To the IWW a revolution meant that you take over the factories, and the shops and the mills, and the mines and the fields and you chase the bosses out, just chase them out, and that was the end of it. That was the revolution.
  • the IWW's positive side, certainly it was militant, it was courageous, that it fitted the period, that it belonged to the pioneer days and that it fought for the interests of the poorest, the most lonely, the most despised, those that the AFL couldn't organize, the foreign born, the women, and as the Negroes began coming into industry, the Negroes.
  • we certainly never heard of such a thing and we never thought it would be possible, that there would be social security or unemployment insurance. Those were the results of the 30's. The great struggle hat came out after the decline of the IWW. Also, we never heard of vacations with pay. We never heard of vacations, let alone vacations with pay. We never heard of seniority as it is understood today. There were no pensions for retirement of workers. There were no welfare funds of unions. There were no health centers of unions, and there were no trade union schools such as there are today. All of these things have come with the unions that have come into existence since the period of the IWW.
  • There is less violence against labor today, but there are more legal restrictions. There are more attempts to invade the rights of labor by repressive legislation and by all kinds of restrictions.
  • have we made progress? Oh, we certainly have, we certainly have, in spite of all the difficulties, in spite of all the problems, the labor movement has made tremendous progress. There is a new role and a new outlook for youth today. One of the pamphlets that I read years ago, I don't know if any of you have ever heard of it, is Peter Kropotkin's Appeal to the Young and it was a beautiful appeal to the young to carry forward their responsibility to make this world a better world to live in. Now, I feel in our way we did our best but the time comes when you know, they say old age isn't a disease but I say it is. The time comes when you have to slow down and lay off and give the benefit of your experience to a younger generation, if they want it.

Quotes about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

  • Club member Elizabeth Gurly Flynn, famed organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World, and later a leading member of the U.S. Communist party referred to her membership in Heterodoxy as "an experience of unbroken delight!" She added, "It has been a glimpse of the women of the future, big spirited, intellectually alert, devoid of the old 'femininity' which has been replaced by a wonderful freemasonry of women."
    • Bettina Aptheker Tapestries of Life: Women's Work, Women's Consciousness, and the Meaning of Daily Experience (1989)
  • During my days of solitary confinement, after Margaret had persuaded the warden that I should have access to reading material, I spent a few sessions alone in the library. Within a short time I had combed the entire place, turning up only a few books that held the slightest interest: A book on the Chinese Revolution by Edgar Snow, the autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois, and a book on communism written by an astonishingly objective little-known author. After my discovery of these books, my thoughts kept wandering back to their enigmatic presence. And suddenly it hit me: they had probably been read by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Claudia Jones, or one of the other Communist leaders who had been persecuted under the Smith Act during the McCarthy era. I myself had been told that if I received any books during my time there, I would have to donate them to the library-which was a pleasure, considering the state of that so-called place of learning. As I turned the pages of those books, I felt honored to be following in the tradition of some of this country's most outstanding heroines: Communist women leaders, especially the Black Communist Claudia Jones.
  • The gap left by the arrest of Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti was immediately filled by Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Haywood's years of experience in the labour struggle, his determination and tact, made him a distinctive power in the Lawrence situation. On the other hand, Elizabeth's youth, charm, and eloquence easily won everybody's heart. The names of the two and their reputation gained for the strike country-wide publicity and support. I had known and admired Elizabeth since I had first heard her, years before, at an open-air gathering. She could not have been more than fourteen years of age at the time, with a beautiful face and figure and a voice vibrant with earnestness. She made a strong impression on me. Later I used to see her in the company of her father at my lectures. She was a fascinating picture with her black hair, large blue eyes, and lovely complexion...The splendid free-speech fight she had made in Spokane with other members of the I.W.W., and the persecution she had endured, brought Elizabeth Gurley Flynn very near to me. And when I heard she was ill, after the birth of her child, I felt great sympathy for this young rebel, one of the first American women revolutionists of proletarian background. My interest in her had served to increase my efforts in raising funds, not only for the Spokane fight, but for Elizabeth's own use during her first months of young motherhood. Since she had returned to New York we were often thrown together, in meetings and in more intimate ways. Elizabeth was not an anarchist, but neither was she fanatical or antagonistic, as were some of her comrades who had emerged from the Socialist Labor Party. She was accepted in our circles as one of our own, and I loved her as a friend.
  • Flynn succeeded Gene as Party chairman. She was the first woman to be elected to that post. She had been a compromise candidate; Ben Davis was also campaigning for it and many people in the Party, including a good section of the Black leadership, were terrified by that prospect. Liz seemed the best alternative. Elizabeth enjoyed a very positive reputation in the Party. When she rejoined in the 1930s (she had been a member briefly and secretly in the 1920s), she moved directly into the top leadership. She didn't need to adopt that fierce demeanor that was required of other women who were battling their way up in the hierarchy. She was genuinely concerned about people in a way that most Party leaders were not. Whenever I went to New York I would try to visit her down in the Chelsea Hotel, where she lived. She was worth listening to for her political views and because she had very acute opinions of her coworkers in the national office and wasn't afraid to express them. She adored Gene Dennis but was always very critical of Foster. Evidently the antagonism went back many, many years. She wasn't taken in by all the glamour of his heroic past as a union organizer. After all, she had her own credentials which were at least as impressive as his. She was very effective in the role of a public face for the Party, as well as a link with the historic past of the Wobblies, the "Bread and Roses" strike in Lawrence, and the free speech fight in Spokane. She had a remarkable ability to speak in plain language before a large audience and establish immediate rapport. That was something that the old-time agitators in the Party had, people like Flynn and Foster, and Clarence Hathaway, much more than my own generation. But over time I developed very mixed feelings about Liz. In Party meetings she was always very careful not to say anything unacceptable to Gus or to the Soviet Union. She was worried about me and the bad end to which my politics would lead me.
  • I share the faith of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Pettis Perry and all my co–defendants that America’s working people, Negro and white, will surely rise, not like sheep, but with vigilance towards their liberty, to assure that peace will win and that the decadent Smith Act, which contravenes the Bill of Rights, will be swept from the scene of history.
  • I'll see you in young shooting sprouts/That sneer at weeds - age-gnarled in doubt/Of users who defile in epithet,/A life well-lived in service, built from strife...I'll think of you forever/And how your spirit rings/Because your faith leaps as a flame/Sweet nurture to all things
    • "To Elizabeth Gurley Flynn" in Claudia Jones: Beyond Containment: Autobiographical Reflections, Essays, and Poems
  • Dorothy Day regarded Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, for instance, who had joined the U.S. Communist Party in 1937, as "my sister in the deep sense of the word." Flynn, Day wrote, "always did what the laity is nowadays urged to do. She felt a responsibility to do all in her power in defense of the poor, to protect them gainst injustice and destitution" (Long Loneliness, 145-146).
    • Margaret C.Jones, Heretics and Hellraisers: Women Contributors to The Masses, 1911-1917 (1993)
  • One of my favorite historical labor figures, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the famed rebel girl whom Joe Hill sang about and a formidable union organizer in her own right, hit the nail on the head way back in the nineteenth century while discussing the need to keep political and social justice demands on the same level as so-called bread-and-butter economic issues. In her words: "What is a labour victory? I maintain that it is a twofold thing. Workers must gain economic advantage, but they must also gain revolutionary spirit, in order to achieve a complete victory. For workers to gain a few cents more a day, a few minutes less a day, and go back to work with the same psychology, the same attitude toward society, is to achieve a temporary gain and not a lasting victory."
  • In Flynn's words, it was "a day without parallel in American labor history... a reign of terror prevailed in Lawrence which literally shook America."
  • According to traditional Marxist theory housewives were problematical as to their class consciousness; they often were unreliable allies of radical men. They were usually grouped with peasants and intellectuals as a potentially conservative drag line on the forward march of proletarian men. Women's equality was a stated goal of all Marxist movements, but the way women's issues were treated, one got the clear message that what women did was marginal to the struggle, unless they excelled at doing it the way men did. The great and celebrated heroines-La Pasionaria, Mother Bloor, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Clara Lemlich did not organize housewives; they organized female factory workers, women's auxiliaries or men.
    • Gerda Lerner, ’’Fireweed: A Political Autobiography’’ (2002)
  • During my tours for the war prisoners I went back to New York periodically to report to the organization and consult with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and others in this work. So began my long years of association with that fighting daughter of a long line of fighting Irish ancestors. At sixteen she was already active in the I.W.W., and Joe Hill put her in a Wobbly song, "The Rebel Girl." While she did not join with us in the early days of the Communist Party, she worked with us closely. Finally, after an interlude of ten years of illness in Portland, Oregon, she came back to New York and joined the Party, and is today one of our finest speakers, and one of the most honored and beloved members of our National Executive Committee. The story of Elizabeth's life is interwoven with many of the great labor struggles of this country. Workers everywhere know her lovely ringing voice and glowing spirit and great fighting heart. Calumet-Pas-saic-Paterson-Lawrence-all these places knew her on the picket line and the platform. Today, bearing a heavy burden of sorrow from the sudden death of her only son, Fred, she fights on for a world in which mothers will not have to lose their sons needlessly in battles for their masters.
  • She began this amazing record by getting arrested on a street corner when she was fifteen. Her father was arrested with her. He never has been arrested since. It was only the beginning for her. The judge inquired, "Do you expect to convert people to socialism by talking on Broadway?" She looked up at him and replied gravely, "Indeed I do." The judge sighed deeply in pity. "Dismissed," he said.
    • Mary Heaton Vorse (1926) anthologized in The Female Experience: An American Documentary edited by Gerda Lerner
  • she joined the I.W.W., which was then in its golden age. Full of idealism, it swept the Northwest. They had free-speech fights everywhere. The authorities arrested them and more came. They crammed the jails to bursting. "In one town," said Elizabeth, "there were so many in jail that they let them out during the day. We outside had to feed them. Every night they went back to jail. At last the wobblies decided that when the jail opened they would not come out. People came from far and near to see the wobblies who wouldn't leave jail." This part of her life, organizing and fighting the fights of the migratory workers of the West, is the part of her life that she likes most.
    • Mary Heaton Vorse (1926) anthologized in The Female Experience: An American Documentary edited by Gerda Lerner
  • Defense work was no new thing to her, and from 1918 until recently her major activities have been getting political prisoners out of jail. And since 1921 she has concentrated on the Sacco-Vanzetti case. There has been constant work, there have been arrests, there has been her preoccupation with comrades in jail for their opinions. She comes out of her first twenty years in the labor movement undimmed and undiscouraged.
    • Mary Heaton Vorse (1926) anthologized in The Female Experience: An American Documentary edited by Gerda Lerner
  • If I had no other pleasant memories to recall than those of the beautiful women I have met who were active in progressive or radical affairs, life would still be worth while. I fell in love with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn when as a young girl she aroused uncounted thousands with her clear, ringing voice to the cause of social revolt.
  • One gets a sense of the energy and fire of some of those turn-of-the-century radicals by looking at the police record of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Wikipedia has an article about: