So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography


The Rebel Girl: An Autobiography, My First Life (1906-1926) by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

The Rebel Girl is a memoir by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn of her early work as a Socialist labor organizer for the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). The first chapter tells of her life growing up in an Irish-American family. Her mother was an Irish nationalist and a feminist while her father was a Socialist. When she was 16 Elizabeth gave her first speech at a New York Socialist meeting on the rights of women.

She was so good at public speaking that it became her life's work, traveling all over the US while still a teenager. Mining towns in the Rockies and Minnesota, lumber camps in the Northwest, textiles strikes in Massachusetts and New Jersey are all places she went to help workers fight for safe working conditions and living wages.

Later on she talks of ideological struggles within the IWW leadership, her two marriages and raising a child, World War I, and the oppressive atmosphere in the US after the war against the Left. The Rebel Girl ends with the trial and appeals for the two Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.

The book was meant to be the first volume of her autobiography covering 1906 to 1924, her years before joining the Communist Party, and was first published in 1955. She died before she could complete the second volume which was to cover the 35 years she spent as a Communist.

Flynn is a great writer and tells her story of the early 20th century labor movement well. As a first person account, it is full of detail and personal perspective. At times I longed for a more objective account of some events for balance and this book has encouraged me to read further about the events described.

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