Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Early Years
1975 Baxandall on Elizabet Gurley Flynn, execerpted from an introduction to a volume of EGF’s writings that the American Institute for Marxist Studies refused to print,. Flynn as depicted by Baxandall is the perfect offspring of the marriage of feminism and socialist. She first gained acclaim, as a youngster who advocated for the enfranchisement of women in her school’s oratory contest, and rose to public acclaim as a teen defender of the rights of workers. Baxandall describes her as a “class conscious feminist child prodigy.” Like feminists of the 1970s, Flynn drew her radicalism from her lived experiences, “her family, her poverty, and her encounters with anarchists and socialists” so that by high school she was plowing through Engels and Bebel, still in the 1970s the foundational texts for socialist women, as well as Wollstonecraft. While still a minor, Flynn joined the new union, the I.W.W. and was elected a delegate to the convention, and made speeches on behalf of the union, for which she received her first wages. Despite her commitment to the I.W.W., Flynn took on their bifurcated notion of womanhood, described by Baxandall as “women like their mothers, and bad women who fleeced them on payday.” Flynn struggled to change this attitude, even as she hewed to the party line that class divided precluded alliances along the lines of sex “the ‘wueen of the parlor’ has no interest in common with the ‘maid of the kitchen’.”
At 17, Flynn quit school and went to work as an organizer for the I.W.W. , where she quickly met and married a miner. Despite her marriage, Flynn carried on her independent political life, and within a few years, the marriage ended. Flynn returned to her parents’ home with her one surviving child in tow, and resumed her labor work as soon as the child weaned. Flynn paid particular attention to the plight of female workers and workingmen’s wives, providing a gendered analysis of their class-based oppression. This, combined with her activism, turned Flynn into something of a role model.