Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 84

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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  • Jordan

    I had never heard of Flynn before. Is there any further reading on her?

  • Bruce Vail

    I’m guessing the stone is at Forest Home because the Haymarket Martrys Monument is there.

  • Porkman

    Whenever I read these histories of labor activists who have good relationships with the Soviets, I wonder how much did they know? Were they managed by minders to keep them from really seeing life for Soviet citizens or did they think that Soviet citizens had a better life than in the US.

    The Soviet union was not a very nice place even in 1962.

    • Is it so different than people who claim the U.S. is the greatest nation in world history, a complete preposterous statement just if you compare quality of life to 3 dozen other nations today? Ideology is a hell of a drug.

      • Dennis Orphen

        Far, far, far too many people judge their quality of life by one predominant criteria: how many guns they have. Okay, two: how many rounds of ammo for those guns.

      • Thom

        Excellent analogy, Erik.

      • Dilan Esper

        Is it so different than people who claim the U.S. is the greatest nation in world history, a complete preposterous statement just if you compare quality of life to 3 dozen other nations today? Ideology is a hell of a drug.

        +1

        Also, there’s a whole bunch of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” as well. (We see this with conservatives in America, by the way, who love problematic people who drive liberals bats.) Remember who the vocal anti-communists were, in both the 1920’s and the 1950’s.

        And I am even somewhat sympathetic to this line of thinking. The reality is, for instance, that we should have had better relations with the USSR than we did for most of the Cold War. Brinksmanship drew us into a couple of really costly wars and came scarily close to nuclear war.

        We have this issue with Russia now too. Without in any way defending either (1) Putin’s general thuggishness or (2) his interference in US elections, which while not outrageous (we do it too) was certainly deserving of a firm response, nonetheless, being reflexively anti-Russia in our foreign policy seems like a great way to risk the lives of a lot of Americans for no benefit whatsoever. Specifically, policies like not recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea seem incredibly stupid to me. (In general, not recognizing a government that is in charge of a place for a period of time basically never works out very well. It just entrenches an unreality and creates a problem we have to dig out from later, while not changing the reality in any way. See China and Cuba for examples of this.)

        Now the thing is, I think it’s important to do this while also acknolwedging just what an awful person Putin really is. But I get why, given how dumb the American policies often are, people dispense with that step.

    • Nepos

      That’s the question that hangs over all of early-to-mid 20th century leftism–what did they know about the Soviets, and when did they know it?

      I take a sympathetic approach–it is easy to understand why the Soviet Union (as it presented itself) would be appealing to leftists, and why said leftists would also be suspicious of negative reports about the USSR being capitalist propaganda. Of course, their good intentions don’t override the fact that people like Flynn were carrying water for a vicious totalitarian regime. But I think they were misguided, not corrupted.

      More importantly, it doesn’t mean we should dismiss their ideas and actions out of hand, just because they misjudged the Soviets. (Not that anyone here would do that, but in the broader discussion of leftism it can be an issue.)

      • Ellie1789

        And, if you were a feminist committed to reproductive rights and equal pay, the USSR would have been (in theory and, at least partly, in practice) a much better choice than the US of A in the 1920s and 1930s.

        • RonC

          Yes this and also they were strongly in favor of racial equality and (except for a couple of years there in the late 1930s early 40s) were reliably anti-fascist in ways the US Government simply wasn’t.

        • Nepos

          If you are talking specifically about Western feminists, then yes, the USSR might have been a better place to live. Of course, for the millions of women killed in the Ukrainian famine, in the Kulak purge, and the various other mass murders, the USSR under Stalin was a nightmare to rival the Nazis.

          To be sure, the USA was (and is) a hive of scum and villainy, but Americans had largely given up genocide by the 1930s.

          • cpinva

            “To be sure, the USA was (and is) a hive of scum and villainy, but Americans had largely given up genocide by the 1930s.”

            at least overt genocide. jim crow in the south, and the more subtle (but just as bad) racism of the north conspired to murder a lot of AA’s (especially the “dangerous” male ones), either juradicially, or extrajuradicially. while we don’t typically classify those murders as “genocide”, that was the actual effect of them.

            • Marek

              Bad, sure, but “just as bad”?

  • Ellie1789

    Fascinating. Any idea how she ended up buried in Illinois, rather than one of the places she lived?

    • There’s a lot of American radicals buried there because the Haymarket anarchists who were executed are also buried there. This will be a cemetery that comes up frequently in this series.

      • Denverite

        Btw, if you’re making a trip to Haymarket, it’s in the heart of Greektown. I’d recommend Santorini’s for high end food, and probably Athena for more standard/touristy Greek fare. Though if you’re in that part of Chicago, might as well make a trip to Racine and Taylor and do Chez Joel — great Northern African-influenced French food.

        • When I was in Chicago, the Haymarket statue was temporarily down as they build a high-rise.

          • Denverite

            Is there a statue? I remember a plaque and some sort of pedestal thing, but not a statue. Though this is circa 2000, so maybe that’s changed? (The funny thing is that one of my running routes was basically up Halsted past Goose Island, so I’ve run by that corner hundreds of times.)

            Maybe I’ll check next weekend. We’re going to be back in Chicago to visit a sick friend, though most of the time will be in Hyde Park.

            • I’ve never been there. Whatever is there is presently not, that’s all I can say. Or wasn’t 2 months ago.

            • hypersphericalcow

              The Haymarket Statue is actually behind a fence at the Chicago Police Academy. The city moved it there decades ago because it kept getting vandalized.

              • RonC

                Blown up actually, but that was decades ago, so perhaps things have changed.

          • AB

            At the actual site there is a fairly hideous sculpture erected in the late 20th century; I’ve been to May Day re-enactments there.

            https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_s_publicartthehaymarketmemorial.html

  • Anna in PDX

    I had heard of her, but I think it was mostly a parenthetical reference in a mystery novel (John Straley is the author of a series that often involves IWW history). Thanks for this post. I love this series.

  • cpinva

    out of curiosity, how far is this from Chicago? I am in the windy city as I write, for my nephew’s wedding, so if it’s not far away, and preferably east of here, i’d be interested in visiting that cemetery. especially so, knowing Prof. Loomis had trod those same grounds before me. :)

    • It’s at the very end of one of the train lines, whichever the one you take to O’Hare, you take it to the other end. You can walk from the station.

      • Denverite

        Blue Line. You can pick it up along Dearborn if you’re in the Loop.

        • cpinva

          i’m actually driving, as a sort of therapeutic trip, by myself, for the first time since my wife passed away in March. if any of you have an address, I’ll go on MapQuest, and get directions from the hotel to there, then back to 94E.

          should have mentioned, I’m in Skokie, on Old Orchard Road.

          • Linnaeus

            You playing with a barbershop quartet in Skokie?

          • Vance Maverick

            Forest Home Cemetery, 863 Des Plaines Ave, Forest Park IL 60130

    • AB

      In the other part of the cemetery, adjacent to the one with the Communist Plot, you’ll find Billy Sunday.

  • Bloix

    I’ve been familiar with the Joe Hill songbook for over 40 years (The Preacher and the Slave (“Pie in the Sky”), There is Power in a Union, Casey Jones) – but I don’t think I was aware that “The Rebel Girl” was about a particular person. Thanks for this.

  • Origami Isopod

    I’ve long known who she was but my brain keeps trolling me by confusing her with Helen Gurley Brown. Anyway, good post.

    • cpinva

      yeah, that was my very first thought, when I saw the title of the post. Although (and I’ve not looked it up), I wonder if the Gurley, in Helen Gurley Brown, was an homage to this one?

      • Linnaeus

        I doubt it. Gurley Brown was born in Arkansas and kept her own family name when she married.

  • An unrelated bit of good news for hotel workers. I hate that “panic buttons” are necessary, but given that they clearly are, I love that Unite Here negotiated them into their contract in D.C.

    • Origami Isopod

      He was jailed alongside more than 200 protesters, including black-clad anarchists accused of smashing Starbucks windows and torching a limousine.

      When he was released the following afternoon, Boswell emerged from the D.C. Superior courthouse — less than a mile from where Trump had been sworn in — wearing a green flannel shirt, jeans and glasses.

      At first, the crowd cheered, mistaking him for a protester. Then someone who had been in court when Boswell was charged shouted that he was a “sex offender.” Protesters began throwing things at him. An orange slice struck Boswell in the head.

      “Well, that wasn’t very nice,” he told a Post reporter, wiping the fruit from his forehead before walking back toward his hotel.

      Bwahahaha.

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