'The Rebel Girl'
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964)
“The union has been accused of pushing women to the front. This is not true. Rather, the women have not been kept in back in the union, and so they have naturally moved to the front.” — Elizabeth Gurley Flynn
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was born into an Irish nationalist family in Concord, NH. Influenced by her mother’s outspoken feminism, Flynn became active in socialist groups at a very young age, giving her first public speech when she was only 15 years old. Two years later, she spoke about free speech for the International Workers of the World (IWW).
That speech on behalf of the “Wobblies” got her expelled from high school. She soon was a full-time organizer for the IWW. Flynn had highly visible roles in the historically significant strikes of immigrant working women at textile mills in Lawrence, MA (1912), and Paterson, NJ (1913). Nearly half the workers in these mills were women; another 10-15 percent were children under the age of 18.
Flynn was driven by her concern for basic civil liberties, especially for immigrant working families. In 1920, she was among the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was a long-time member of the group’s national board.
In the 1930s, heart problems restricted Flynn’s activism. She moved to Portland, OR, where she stayed with Dr. Marie Equi, a member of the IWW and, like Flynn, an early proponent of birth control and other feminist causes.
In 1955 she told her own story in I Speak My Own Piece: Autobiography of the “Rebel Girl.” Flynn devotes several chapters to her days as an advocate for working women, including her role in the “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence.
The title refers to the song written years earlier in Flynn’s honor by fellow labor activist Joe Hill.
[Read more about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in ‘We Want Bread, And Roses, Too’: 1912 Textile Strike Put Women in the Line of Fire.]