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(en) Ireland, Anarchist Workers Solidarity #88 - Review: Rebel Girl: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn's Autobiography

Date Wed, 26 Oct 2005 10:28:23 +0200

Though born in the US, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was of Irish descent
and came from a long line of rebels and revolutionaries. She begins
her autobiography describing the exploits of some of her ancestors
who joined the French when in 1798 they landed in Killalla Bay to
help free Ireland from British rule and set up an Irish Republic.

Growing up in New York around the start of the 1900s she describes
how from an early age she was aware of social injustice and had a
keen hatred of poverty. In her family "ideas were our meal and drinks
and sometimes a substitute for both.

It is not strange, therefore, that in such a household our minds were
fertile fields for socialism, when the seeds finally came". The first
seeds came in the form of leaflets distributed door to door advertising a
Socialist Sunday night forum which she and father began to regularly

She quickly read as much radical literature as she could get her hands
on and was greatly influenced by anarchist Peter Kropotkin as well as
the writings of Marx and Engels.

"Socialism was a great discovery &endash; a hope, a purpose, a
flame within me, lit first by a spark from anthracite".

In 1906, when still only 15 years old, she gave her first public speech
entitled "What Socialism Will Do For Women" and from then went on
to give speeches regularly at mass meetings. She threw herself into the
labour movement and was too impatient to finish school "With the
Revolution on my mind I found it difficult to concentrate on Latin or
geometry." At the age of 16 she already had a great reputation as a
passionate socialist orator and as one of the most active workers for
the cause in New York City.

She gives a fascinating account of New York around this time: how
the East side was a hotbed of radical ideas &endash; with "the
Revolution" on everybody's lips; full of immigrants from all over the
world, living in dire poverty and working in sweatshops for starvation
wages. In mass meetings speeches were given in all different
languages "Jewish, Russian, Polish, Italian, German and others".

It was around this time she met James Connolly who was living in
New York at the time and was an IWW organiser. He became a family
friend and she was one of those to form the Irish Socialist Club
&endash; with Connolly as chairman and Gurley-Flynn's sister as

Elizabeth Gurley-Flynn joined the (The Industrial Workers of the
World) IWW in 1906 and the bulk of the autobiography describes the
various, often bitterly fought struggles she was involved in as an IWW
organiser. She describes the IWW as "a militant, fighting, working
class union. The employing class soon recognised 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."

Gurley-Flynn gives a great account of the culture of the IWW and of
how they organised, the battles for free speech, of the strikes they won
and lost. She also writes of the various well known figures from US
labour history she knew such as Big Bill Hayworth, Joe Hill, Mother
Jones (originally from Cork!) as well as famous anarchists such as
Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.

This books ends around the time of the state murder of Italian
anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti. There is another part to her
autobiography which details her life after having joined the
Communist Party.

Already a communist party member when she wrote this
autobiography she unfortunately dismisses some of her early activity
&endash; in particular for example her famous pamphlet on workplace

Nevertheless the book is a passionate and inspiring account of a life
dedicated to a revolutionary ideal from a remarkable woman. Before
Joe Hill was executed he wrote a fairwell letter to Elizabeth Gurley
Flynn where he writes "you have been more to me than a Fellow
Worker. You have been an inspirationÉ..locate a few more Rebel
Girls like yourself because they are needed and needed badly." This
book, already 50 years old, will certainly continue to inspire and
encourage others to follow in her footsteps.

by Deirdre Hogan
This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper
'Workers Solidarity'. http://struggle.ws/wsm/paper.html

We also provide PDF files of all our
publications for you to print out and distribute locally

Print out the PDF file of this issue

You can find out when new issues of the paper come out by joining
the Ainriail list http://struggle.ws/other/ainriail.html

This edition is No88 published in Sept 2005

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