Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

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Portrait of 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). She is just one of the many women who played leading roles in the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike.

Born in 1890, her family moved to New York in 1900, where she was educated in public schools and introduced to socialism at home. At 16 she gave her first speech at the Harlem Socialist Club. Author Theodore Dreiser described her as "an East Side Joan of Arc."

In 1907, she became a full-time organizer for the IWW and in 1912 traveled to Lawrence, Massachusetts, during the Great Textile Strike. After the arrests of Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti, she became "the strike’s leading lady" (Watson, Bread and Roses, p. 152). She was a major organizer of children’s demonstrations in supportive cities like New York.

Describing the strike scenes she witnessed she wrote in her autobiography,The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, My First Life (1906-1926): “As the terrible New England winter dragged along the terror and violence increased. On February 19, 1912, policemen with drawn clubs routed 100 women picketers. ...[u]sually 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."