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Iron in Her Soul

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the American Left

Helen C. Camp


As the only female leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn organized factory workers in the East and lumberjacks in the West. A founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, she also was the first woman to chair the American Communist Party.


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In 1906, speaking from a homemade soapbox near Times Square, 16-year-old Elizabeth Gurley Flynn stopped traffic on a Saturday night. Broadway producer David Belasco became so impressed he wanted to put her on stage. But she told him, “I’m in the labor movement and I speak my own piece.”

And for more than 50 years this fiery American radical truly did just that, crisscrossing the United States, crusading for her brand of humane socialism. As the only woman leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, she organized immigrant factory workers in the East and lumberjacks in the Pacific Northwest.

When the Red Scare that accompanied World War I emasculated the Wobblies, she became a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. By the late thirties, afraid that the “revolution” would pass her by, she joined the American Communist Party and was instantly thrust into the top ranks of its leadership. In 1961 she became the first woman to become chair of the party. Arrested more than a dozen times for exercising her right to free speech, she was a natural victim of McCarthyism, serving a three-year prison sentence in the 1950s.

As a lifelong professional revolutionary, she encountered an extraordinary range of American and international personalities, including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, Mabel Dodge, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Roger Baldwin, Felix Frankfurter and Mary Heaton Vorse, Nikita Khruschev and Ché Guevarra. A passionate woman who believed in the then-radical notion of “free love,” she had a long affair with Carlo Tresca, the colorful Italian anarchist murdered in New York City in 1943.

After more than a decade of research and writing, Helen C. Camp has produced the first full-length biography of the most notable American radical of the twentieth century. Based on Flynn’s personal papers and writings, memoirs of her friends and colleagues, personal interviews, Flynn’s FBI file and trial transcripts, and other important unpublished materials in a wide range of historical repositories, Iron in Her Soul is an exhaustively researched, yet dramatic and readable account of a remarkable life.

Photographs / notes / bibliography / index / 396 pages (1995)

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Weight N/A
Dimensions 6 x 9 in