November 24, 1885: Anna Louise Strong

By • on October 18, 2012 5:57 pm

An undeniable icon in Seattle’s radical history, as well as that of the nation, Anna Louise Strong was born on the date in focus here in the uncannily-named Friend, Nebraska. She acquired many distinctions during her long life as a social justice activist, among them a Ph.D. in philosophy earned at the precocious age of 23.

Strong first arrived in Seattle in May 1914, when she brought to the city a national touring exhibit she’d organized to advocate for child welfare. She returned to live here a year later, and in 1916 she ran for, and was easily elected to, the Seattle School Board. When the board’s bureaucracy stifled her wishes to make the city’s public schools into venues for social service programs for underprivileged children, as well as neighborhood community centers, she soon turned to journalism as a source of personal and political fulfillment. Her experience covering the Everett Massacre for the New York Evening Post in November 1916 served as a catalyst for her transformation from a privileged young liberal to a passionate thirty-something radical.

Strong was also a public opponent of the United States’ entry in World War I in 1917, a stance that led to the loss of her school board seat in a recall election organized by the all-male remainder of the board. After the dual experience of her witness to the Everett Massacre and her ousting from the Seattle School Board, she became a prominent public advocate for workers’ rights, especially during the 1919 Seattle General Strike. Her coverage of the strike was arguably the greatest source of her fame, especially her editorial published in the Seattle Union Record on February 6, 1919, two days before the beginning of the strike. There she famously proclaimed:

“We are undertaking the most tremendous move ever made by LABOR in this country, a move which will lead — NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!”

During the 1920s, disappointed by the failure of the Seattle General Strike and other failures of the US labor movement in general, she turned her activist attentions to communism abroad, which led her to spend much of her later life in Russia and China in support of the respective revolutionary movements there. In 1958, at age 72, she finally settled in China, where she remained until her death in March 1970.

Sources: Murray Morgan, “Skid Road” (Viking Press, 1951; Ballantine Books, 1971; University of Washington Press, 1982); Roger Sale, “Seattle, Past to Present” (University of Washington Press, 1976); Anna Louise Strong, “I Change Worlds: The Remaking of an American” (H. Holt and Co., 1935; Seal Press, 1979); Tracy B. Strong and Helene Keysser, “Right in Her Soul: The Life of Anna Louise Strong” (Random House, 1983); HistoryLink.org.

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