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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 84

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This is the grave of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Born in 1890 in Concord, New Hampshire to a family interested in socialism, Flynn was exposed to radical ideas early in life, particularly after they moved in 1900 to New York City. She gave her first public speech at the age of 16 titled “What Socialism Will Do For Women.” Successful, she became a famed orator for radical causes of the time. She dropped out of high school and in 1907, met J.A. Jones, an IWW organizer in Minnesota. They married and had two children. The marriage did not last and Flynn had relationships with other radicals, most notably the Italian anarchist Carlos Tresca. Sometimes speaking while pregnant, this young organizer became known as “The Rebel Girl” as she traveled the nation, using her oratory to rally workers for radical causes. That name itself was given to her by Joe Hill, who wrote a song about her with that title before his execution. She spoke at many of the major IWW events during these years–the various free speech fights in the West, at the Paterson and Lawrence textile strikes, and in support of many other IWW actions. She chained herself to a lamp post during the Spokane Free Speech Fight to make it harder to arrest her. She was however expelled from the IWW in 1916 after getting involved in a plea agreement for some Minnesota Wobblies who she convinced to plead guilty for a murder, even though Big Bill Haywood thought they could get off. When they ended up getting 20 years, Haywood was done with her.

She never again reached the prominence she had during her Wobbly days, but she remained active in radical causes for the rest of her life. She was a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920 and while the ACLU might not seem that radical today, it came about as a necessary organization in the very scary time of the Red Scare. Of course, it is playing a critical role in resisting the American fascism coming out of the White House today. She supported a broad swath of women’s issues, including birth control and equal pay at the workplace. She lived in Portland from 1926 to 1936, where she continued her work, supporting the Longshoremen’s Strike in 1934, among other activities. She finally joined the Communist Party in 1936, writing a column about women for Daily Worker. The ACLU eventually ejected her from its board for being a communist. She was caught up in the post-World War II attacks on communists, arrested for violating the Smith Act in 1951. She served two years in prison, an experience about which she then wrote a memoir. She became the national chairperson for the Communist Party in 1961 and frequently visited the Soviet Union after that, dying there in 1964 at the age of 74. She received a state funeral in Moscow. Her remains were then sent back to the United States for burial.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois.

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