In the above photograph, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn is captured addressing striking silk workers in Paterson, New Jersey in June 1913. Flynn was a labor leader and suffragist. She was also an organizer in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Born into a radical, working-class family (her father was a socialist and her mother was a feminist), Flynn became invested in the plight of the working-class population at a young age. She became an organizer in the IWW in 1908 and was known for her rousing and commanding speeches. “I will devote my life to the wage earner. My sole aim in life is to do all in my power to right the wrongs and lighten the burdens of the laboring class,” 19-year-old Flynn vowed.
The IWW was an interesting organization as it went very much against the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Formed in 1905, it’s goal was to created “One Big Union.” Meaning, the IWW wanted workers from industrial unions to form, literally, “One Big Union” whereas the AFL organized workers into specialized trade unions that often left out unskilled workers. The makeup of the IWW leaned towards young immigrants (opposite of the majority of the AFL). Additionally, they extended membership to just about anyone regardless of their sex, race and creed. For the turn of the century, this was quite radical. The IWW was very direct with their opinions and, at time, supported resistance or sabotage.
Around the time the photograph was taken, Flynn was traveling along the East Coast rallying textile workers. During these couple of years, she was arrested and released 10 different times. A few years later, Flynn helped create the American Civil Liberties Union (the ACLU is still around today). In 1937, she joined the American branch of the Communist Party – this move got her kicked out of the ACLU. However, when World War II occurred, Flynn actively supported President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his 1944 campaign and not any of the Communist candidates. Four years later, she and other Communist Party leaders were arrested for being in violation of the Smith Act for advocating a violent overthrow of the government. She was found guilty and spent two years in prison. On September 5, 1964, Flynn died while visiting the Soviet Union. She was 74 years old.