Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a labor leader, activist, and feminist who played a leading role in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Born in Concord, New Hampshire in 1890, her family moved to New York in 1900, and she was educated at the local public schools. Her parents introduced her to socialism. When she was 16 she gave her first speech, "What Socialism Will Do for Women", at the Harlem Socialist Club. Flynn was expelled from high school for her political activities. Author Theodore Dreiser described her as "an East Side Joan of Arc".

In 1907, she became a full-time organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World and in 1912 traveled to Lawrence, MA during the Great Textile Strike. With the arrests of Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti Flynn at the end of January she became “the strike’s leading lady” (Watson, Bread and Roses, p. 152). She was a major organizer of the various trips by children to supportive cities like New York. She called the children’s demonstrations “the most wonderful that I have ever seen. I have been in strikes and battles for free speech but I have never seen such an outburst of human brotherhood as I saw Saturday” (Boston Globe, February 13, 1912.)

In her autobiography she said this about her time in Lawrence: “We talked especially to the women about the high cost of living here—how they had been fooled when they first came here when they figured the dollars in their home money. They thought they were rich till they had to pay rent, buy groceries, clothes, and shoes. Then they knew they were poor.”

Describing the strike scenes she witnessed she wrote: “As the terrible New England winter dragged along the terror and violence increased. On February 19, 200 policemen with drawn clubs routed 100 women picketers. A Boston newspaper described the scene: ‘A woman would be seen to shout from the crowd and run into a side street. Instantly two or three police would be after her. Usually a night-stick well aimed brought the woman to the ground like a shot and instantly the police would be on her, pulling her in as many ways as there were police."