To the ever living memory of my dearly beloved only son, Fred Flynn, who died March 29, 1940, at the age of 29. He was my friend and comrade—loving, encouraging, humorous, active in progressive labor politics—to whom I promised this book would be written, and to whom I consciously dedicated my life’s work, before and after his death.
This edition of the first part of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s autobiography has been reedited in accordance with her wishes. She had prepared the manuscript during very trying times. Her trial under the Smith Act took place in Foley Square, New York, in 1952. In the years immediately following, she was engaged in the exhausting processes of appeal and defense, not only in her case but on behalf of the many Communist leaders who were victims of that thought-control prosecution. She began serving her sentence at the Federal Women’s Reformatory at Alderson, West Virginia in January 1955 and was not released until May 1957. The book first appeared, under the imprint of Masses & Mainstream, in November 1955. While in prison she was not permitted to see the proofs (nor the book when it appeared). She thus had no opportunity to make final corrections before publication.
Fortunately, Miss Flynn left among her papers a marked copy of the book, in which she noted some corrections. These have been included in the present edition. She had also planned to give the book a more thorough critical reading, but did not manage to do so before her death. However, when she asked International Publishers to reissue the book, she urged that it be completely reedited to correct the errors and smooth out the rough spots. This has been done for the present edition.
Evidently, the author before beginning to serve her prison sentence had no time to round out the full period through 1926. Missing, among other things, is her role in the textile strike in Passaic, New Jersey, and the nationwide tour she made as the newly elected chairman of the International Labor Defense on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti in a desperate effort to save the lives of these martyrs. It was in the course of this trip that she became seriously ill in Portland, Oregon; it took ten years of cure and convalescence before she could return to public life.
The book was first published under the title “I Speak My Own Piece: Autobiography of ‘The Rebel Girl’.” In aletter to the editor (San Francisco, May 25, 1962) she expressed the desire that in a new edition, the title be changed to “The Rebel Girl” and that Joe Hill’s song
EDITOR’S NOTE of that name be printed in the book. Also found among her papers was an early outline for the autobiography, to comprise two volumes, the first to be subtitled “My First Life (1906-1926)” and the other “My Second Life.” These wishes have been honored in the present edition.
The editor has taken the liberty to give a better structure to the book, by dividing it into seven parts, more or less as the author described the book in her Preface. An index has been added.
It is characteristic of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn that in her preliminary outline she wrote under “My Second Life” the motto: “If I could live my life over again!” and then added emphatically “— I did.”
After her release from the Alderson prison, she was deeply immersed in the many pressing defense campaigns arising from the McCarthy period and its aftermath. Under the circumstances, she thought it more important to write about her recent prison experiences rather than turn to the second part of the autobiography. She finished her prison book in 1962 and it was published the following year under the title, The Alderson Story: My Life as a Political Prisoner. On finishing the manuscript she wrote the editor: “Then I propose, now at last I have my hand to writing again, that I go to work on my second volume of autobiography . . . (from 1927 to 1951, approximately).” She did manage to draft a few pages, which were found among her papers, before setting off hopefully to Moscow in 1964 where, in seclusion from the many demands upon her at home, she planned to complete the book. She had hardly begun, when she died on September 4, 1964, at the age of 74.
As Miss Flynn says in the Preface to the present book, her intention in the second volume was to “portray my life as an active Communist from 1937 to the present day. Many have written as ex-Communists. This second book will be the story of an active American Communist and one who is proud of it. No matter what are the consequences, ‘I will never move from where I stand!’ ”
To clear up any possible misunderstanding as to when her life as an “active Communist” began—“My Second Life”—it would be in place to explain an important change made in the Preface as it appeared in the first edition. There the date of her joining the Communist Party was given as 1937. In her copy of the book she wrote “1927 correct date” and subtracted 1927 from 1962 (the year evidently in which she made this note) to give the result “35 years”—with the obvious implication that she considered herself a Communist for those 35 years.
11 According to the draft manuscript already referred to, she applied for membership not in 1927 but in the Fall of 1926, on the request of C. E. Ruthenberg, then general secretary of the Communist Party. As she writes in the Preface, she did so after “careful examination and evaluation of 21 years of previous activities, which led me, to my mind logically and irrevocably” to take this action. Unfortunately, due to the complex factional situation in the party after the death of Ruthenberg in the Spring of 1927, her application was not acted upon. Finally, after her recovery and with the sponsorship of her old friends William Z. Foster and Ella “Mother” Bloor, she became a member of the party, this time for good. “Like vaccination it didn’t take the first time,” she wrote in her notes. She was soon elected a member of the National Committee and in 1961 became the National Chairman of the party. The year of her first application for membership is given as 1926 in the present Preface.
That Elizabeth Gurley Flynn never completed her autobiography is an inestimable loss. She would have written about the climactic events of the later years, in which she was deeply engaged, with the same understanding, sensitivity, wit, and devotion to working people and socialism that mark her story of the earlier years.
At the time the book first appeared in 1955 it received little general attention, despite the fame, or as some would have it, the “notoriety” of the author. In the general atmosphere of red-baiting and repression which prevailed, the book suffered “prior censorship” in circles where normally it would have aroused the deepest interest. Let us hope that in the new version the autobiography of “The Rebel Girl” will command the attention due this outstanding Communist leader who since the turn of the century had devoted herself so completely to the cause of labor and socialism.
15 Harvest Stiffs Organize 201 The Saint Turns Prospector 203 Blood on the Range 207 A Solomon’s Decision 212
six: World War I and its Aftermath The Mooney Frame-Up 217 The Everett Massacre 220 Tom Tracy Acquitted 223 Arrested for Vagrancy 226 “Safe for Democracy!” 229 Frank Little Lynched 232 “Seditious Conspiracy” 235 The War Year of 1918 238
Came Armistice Day 241
Amnesty for All Political Prisoners, 1918 to 1923 244
Free Your Fellow-Workers! 246
Women Who Opposed World War I 249
“Life Behind Bars” 252
The Palmer Raids 255
Ruthenberg—“Most Arrested Man in America” 257
Centralia, 1919 261
Criminal Syndicalist Laws 265
“511”—Meeting Place of Many Minds 269
The Irish and Soviet Republics 272
Woodrow Wilson and “Votes for Women” 276
“United Front” in the Twenties 279
When Americans First Heard of Lenin 283
Foster—Leader of Labor 286
The Great Steel Strike, 1919 289
The Children’s Crusade 292
seven: Sacco and Vanzetti
Bomb Scare—Prelude to Murder 297
The Anatomy of a New England Frame-Up 300
I Visit Sacco and Vanzetti 303
The Campaign Starts 305
The DeFalco Affair 308
Before the Trial 311
CONTENTS The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti
The World as Jury 322
“A Ghastly Miscarriage of Justice’
The Dark Days of 1924 327
Now the Higher Courts 329
Not Much Personal Life 332
314 ' 324
The Rebel Girl, songsheet 3
Frontispiece, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, 1908 4
Thomas Flynn, 1895 27 Annie Gurley Flynn, 1895 Elizabeth, school picture, 1903
On Rutgers Square, New York City, 1906 28
On tour through Senator Clark’s mine, 1909 98 With Big Bill Haywood and Hubert Harrison
An Alfred Steiglitz portrait of Elizabeth, 1907 100
In Lawrence, Mass., 1912: the author with a 139 delegation of strikers’ children.
Joe Ettor and Artuto Giovanitti
Strikers march in Lowell, Mass., 1912 140
Three photos of The Rebel Girl at Patterson, N. J. 1913 157
Carlo Tresca, 158
Mrs. Masonovich and child, Mesabi Range, 1916 208 Judge O. N. Hilton, 1914
Mary Heaton Vorse 210
Hannah Sheey Skeffington 271 Fanny Sellins
Thomas Flynn’s party card
Letter from Eugene Debs, 1926 315
Letter from Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 1925 316
Son Fred (six years’ old), 1915 317
Women’s Conference delegate’s badge, 1926 Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, 1926 318
Preface Here is the story of my life. This first book deals with my childhood and early youth; my becoming a Socialist at the age of sixteen; my activities as an IWW agitator and strike leader up to 1918; and my subsequent work in defense of civil liberties and labor’s rights in World War I and during its aftermath of the Palmer raids. It ends with the period of 1920 to 1927 and my close identification in those seven years with the struggle to free Sacco and Vanzetti. The second book will deal with my period of inactivity, due to illness, and my careful examination and evaluation of my 21 years of previous activities, which led me, to my mind logically and irrevocably, to apply for membership in the Communist Party in 1926. It will portray my life as an active Communist from 1936 to. the present day. Many have written as ex-Communists. This second book will be the story of an active American Communist and one who is proud of it. No matter what are the consequences, “I will never move from where I stand!”
I have tried to write this first book from the viewpoint and in the context of my experiences at the time, avoiding superimposing the viewpoint of the writer at the age of 65, which will be fully developed in the second volume. I feel it is important for me to set down here my personal recollections of this earlier part of the century, a period full of heroic struggles on the part of the American working class, especially the foreign bom. As the reader will see, the years 1906 to 1926 were full of “force and violence” used by the ruling class in America against the workers, who gave their lives, shed their blood, were beaten, jailed, blacklisted and framed, as they fought for the right to organize, to strike and to picket. Struggles—for a few cents more an hour, for a few minutes less work a day—were long and bitterly fought. Nothing was handed on a silver platter to the American working class by employers. All their hard-won gains came through their own efforts and solidarity.
It was my privilege to be identified with many of these earlier labor struggles and the heroic men and women, particularly of the “Left,” who made labor history in those days. They should never be forgotten. I feel I have a responsibility to share my memories of them with
PREFACE younger generations and to make available this record of their noble words and deeds. They were flesh and blood of the American working class. I hope this book will help to encourage and inspire others to follow in their footsteps, not only along the path they made wider, smoother and clearer for us today, but to travel far beyond, toward the horizons they glimpsed—peace on earth, and an America free from poverty, exploitation, greed and injustice—a Socialist America. To this I have happily dedicated my life.
—Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Childhood and Early Youth
Paddy the Rebel
By birth I am a New Englander, though not of Mayflower stock. My ancestors were “immigrants and revolutionists”—from the Emerald Isle. I was bom in 1890 in Concord, New Hampshire, at the end of a most tragic century for “that most distressful country,” which had suffered under British rule for over 700 years. There had been an uprising in each generation in Ireland, and forefathers of mine were reputed to be in every one of them. The awareness of being Irish came to us as small children, through plaintive song and heroic story. The Irish people fought to wrest their native. soil from foreign landlords, to speak their native Gaelic tongue, to worship in the church of their choice, to have their own schools, to be independent and self-governing. As children, we drew in a burning hatred of British rule with our mother’s milk. Until my father died, at over eighty, he never said “England” without adding, “God damn her!” Before I was ten I knew of the great heroes—Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, Michael Davitt, Parnell, and O’Donovan Rossa, who was chained hand and foot, like a dog, and had to eat from a tin plate on the floor of a British prison.
When the French army landed at Killalla Bay in 1798, on an expedition planned by Wolfe Tone to help free Ireland, all four of my great grandfathers—Gurley, Flynn, Ryan and Conneran—joined the French. They were members of the Society of United Irishmen, dedicated to set up an Irish Republic. Fired with enthusiasm over the French revolution and the success of the American colonies, they were determined to follow their examples. Young Irishmen for miles around dropped their potato digging when they heard “the French are in the
CHILDHOOD AND EARLY YOUTH Bay.” The French armed the Irish, who had only pikes for weapons, and together they defeated the British garrison at Castlebar. The story is that Paddy Flynn of Mayo County, known far and wide as “Paddy the Rebel,” led the French 18 miles around through the mountains to attack the British from the rear. The Irish revolution was finally crushed in a sea of blood by the same General Cornwallis who had surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown.
A reign of horrible terror and reprisal against the Irish followed— floggings, executions, massacres, exile. Paddy Flynn lay in a ditch near his home all night till he heard that a baby was bom. Then he was “On the run!”—again with a price on his head, fed and protected by the peasants, like hundreds of his countrymen. Others fled to France, some came to the Americas, still others were shipped to Austrailian penal colonies. Irish songs reflect this period—“Who dares to speak of ’98?” and “Here’s a memory to the friends that are gone, boys— gone!” Paddy slipped around the hills he knew so well. Once he lay in the center of a ripe wheatfield, while the peasants, knowing he was there, slowly cut and reaped all around him, and the British soldiers rode past looking for rebels. Finally he reached the home of his foster brother, who was a landlord, but who had a loyalty to the son of his peasant wet-nurse and with whom he grew up as a lad. So he hid him away safely in the bam.
My bold adventurous great-grandfather-to-be had a gun, a blunderbuss it was called, that “shot a hatful of bullets.” He couldn’t resist taking aim at the wild geese as they flew over. A “loyal” (pro-British) weaver heard the shot and came after him with a shuttle board, demanding his surrender. “A fine challenge!” cried Paddy, and shot the king’s spokesman. A neighbor digging peat nearby threw down his spade and rushed to town spreading the news: “Paddy Flynn is in the bog shooting yeomen!” All his friends rushed to his aid while the British sent out a searching party. But he was over the hills and far away again. After several years ammesty was granted, and he came home to live to a ripe old age. He had two wives and 18 children, who later scattered as immigrants to all continents. When he was dying, his last words were, “I want to see the French land on this coast once more!”
My grandfather, Tom Flynn, was one of the many sons of Paddy the Rebel. He was arrested in Ireland as a boy of 16 when caught fishing for salmon on a Sunday morning, at an hour when everybody was expected to be in church. The river was considered the private proper-