By Hannah Hopkins
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn is pictured here standing on a soapbox on the right side of the image above the two large umbrellas. She is addressing a crowd of people in Seattle in 1917 at a rally in defense of IWW prisoners who were imprisoned following the Everett Massacre. At this time, Flynn worked full-time as an organizer for the IWW and was a key figure in the Spokane, Washington free speech fight, the Bread and Roses strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and often made trips west to sites of labor struggles like Seattle when she was needed. She defined herself first by her status as a working-class person, and she committed herself to workers’ emancipation as well as for women’s rights and birth control. And because of her intimate knowledge of the intersections between labor rights and women’s rights, she often criticized the bourgeois women who stood up for women’s suffrage while turning their backs on women laborers. Flynn wrote in 1915, “I have seen prosperous, polite, daintily-gowned ladies become indignant over police brutality in the Spokane free speech fight of 1909, and lose all interest even refuse to put up bail for pregnant women when they realized that the IWW intended to organize the lumber, mining and farming industries, whence the golden stream flowed to pay for their comfort and leisure.” A firebrand, a dedicated organizer, and a lifelong advocate for working people, Flynn reminds us why women have always been such an important part of the IWW: “The IWW has been accused of pushing women to the front. This is not true. Rather, the women have not been kept in back, and so they have naturally moved to the front.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of women and the IWW in the Pacific Northwest, check out the recently published Beyond the Rebel Girl by Heather Mayer from the Oregon State University Press (2018).
[This post was published in the January 2019 issue of the Seattle Worker]