A great democracy has got to be progressive, or it will soon cease to be great or a democracy."

- Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

08 March 2012

"Women & the Socialist Party" by Mari Jo Buhle (from 1970)

In honor of Women's History Day, this informative and obscure article from a defunct journal--originally created through the "Radicals in the Professions" section of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)--is being placed online to help educate people about the problems of using other institutions to advance women's rights. 
For more information, please click the link below, or check Mari Jo Buhle's book about women and the Socialist Party of America. Also, while this article is about the old Socialist Party, thousands of Woman's Christian Temperance Union supported WCTU head Frances Willard in calling for "Christian Socialism"; Buhle discusses "Christian Socialism" in her book, as to more recent scholarship about Frances Willard and Christian Socialism.

http://library.brown.edu/cds/catalog/catalog.php?verb=render&id=1124974634437734&colid=20 


RADICAL AMERICA 75 ¢-
Vol. IV, 4F2 February, 1970



Women & the Socialist Party

By Mari Jo Buhle

The   basic  problems facing women  under   capitalism  have  met  with little  qualitative  change.  The   mechanical  innovations of  a  century of technological progress, while  lightening the  burdens of household  drudg­ery, have  contributed to  the reification, or  'professionalization', of wo­man's role   as  housewife. Modern   capitalism  staved  off the disintegra­tion  of  the family, a horror predicted by the first  generations who grap­pled  with  the  implications of  the  transformation of  American economy after the  Civil  War. The family remained as a vestige of economic pro­duction   of  a  by-gone  era, but through  certain technical and social rami­fications,  the  family as the  basic   social unit  of American society lin­gered,  perpetuated  with   new  rationales  for   woman's strapping  to the institution.  The   protest  of   women   against  the  oppression  inherent in such  a  system are  transhistorical, but  the contradictions become  most explicit  during periods of  intense social crisis,  such  as the linkage  of the  women's rights  movement   with  ante-bellum reform.* Similarly, as the  Progressive Era   marked  the  first  social confrontation with modern corporate capitalism, tensions heightened   as  institutions outgrew their usefulness in  industrial society. Women took active roles in the  various reform   movements of   the  turn  of  the  century, from  agitation for  fac­tory   safety   legislation, pure  food  laws,   Temperance, and  conservation to   their    long-standing demand  for   the  right   to  the ballot. The entry of masses of  women  and  girls into  industrial labor  once  more  dramatized the  inequalities; as  they  saw  the  possibility of their economic  indepen­dence, the  standards which  demanded   their  submission seemed to have lost    their    justification.   The   most   outspoken protest  against  the ir­rationality  which  defined  their  inferior position  took form  in the  wave of Feminism, which  sought   to  shatter  the  myths  of  the  Victorian  Woman. The  strengths of  these activities and beliefs were  combined  in the most radical  sector of  the  women's struggle, a group of women who believed not  only   in   the   necessity  of  absolute equality  but also  of the ultimate abolition of capitalism.

Socialist  women   in  the  Progressive Era   reacted to  the tensions in much  the  same way  as radical women today  react: they demanded day­ care  centers,  discarded bourgeois clothes fashions, kept  their  maiden names or   joined  them  to  their  husbands' with a hyphen, and sometimes rejected  marriage  entirely to  carry on  a career in a social movement. But  the  historical  situation which  faced   them  implied a different set  of relationships.  The   Socialist  Party   itself   occupied a  unique  position in the  reform  movements of  American society. It  was  the only party  that allowed   women's  parricipation, and  before  1912 it could  be said  to have carried  within   and   around   it the  bulk of  all  progressive forces in the nation. Therefore,  the  party   naturally  provided the women with the or­ganizational experience and expertise which they could  utilize in all their political activities.

Within  the Socialist Party the women's interests and functions varied greatly.  Especially  during   the  party's  early  years,  prominent women were    socialists  foremost  and   interested  in  the  Woman  Question only secondarily, if  at   all.  The   famed   labor   agitator  Mother  Jones, her younger    counterpart   Elizabeth  Gurley   Flynn,   popularizer of  Marxian ideas May  Wood Simons  and  several outstanding public  lecturers were notable  examples. Thousands of lesser-known women served in auxiliaries in   every   part  of  the  country   and  provided   organizational aid  while  re­ linquishing political decision-making and participation to their   husbands. Always   present  but  increasingly numerous  were   the  women  of a third type,  militant socialists who insisted that  the struggle for  sexual  equality was  as important as their   agitation for  the socialist cause, indeed,  was an essential part  of it.

Like  the  women's liberation activists of today,  the  militant  socialist women  emanated from  several political sources. Some, like  the tremendously   popular   public  speaker  Kate Richards O'Hare, had long been ac­tive   in   the   party's  agitational work  and  increasingly  came  to see  the necessity  of  a   self-conscious  women's  movement. Others  took  their struggle  for   women's liberation  into  the  socialist  movement. In many cases their lives were  shaped and transformed by their  political activities within   the   party.  Josephine Conger-Kaneko devoted   her  life's work  to the  publication of  the  only  mass-circulation  radical women's magazine in  American history, known for  most  of its seven-year span as the  Pro­gressive Woman. Margaret  Sanger, who  later  became  the leader of the world-wide Birth   Control movement, had her  political beginnings  in the socialist movement  and press. For  many  prominent woman socialists, marriage  became   a   burden  which  had  to  be  cast  off. The first  woman elected to the party's ruling national executive committee, Lena Morrow Lewis,   revealed in  1911  that  due to her  lecturing she  had not for  fifteen years spent   more than  a  week in one town. By 1912,  she was embroiled in  a   National   Office   scandal  for   her   relationship  with the  (married) National Secretary, J. Mahlon  Barnes. Although  a  prestigious  touring speaker, she  was savagely attacked in much of the socialist press, above all  in  the  Christian Socialist. Like  many of her  sister-comrades,  Lena Morrow  Lewis   had  tied  her  personal fate  to her  political beliefs.

In  the   study  that  follows, two  principle categories of socialist  women  have  been  brought   together chronologically. First,  there were  the women who formed themselves into autonomous, socialist-oriented groups. The Socialist Party was forced to recognize these separate organizations because  it  feared  they  would  be  drained off  into reformist movements and  would  subsequently  expose   the  party's failure to  stand  as the  vanguard  of all  progressive social movements. The suffrage movement  which supported  thousands  of   semi-radical  women was  correctly deemed   a particular  threat to  the  integrity and  leadership of  socialists. Second, there were   women  within  the party who were  reacting to the insurgency of  the  spontaneous women's groups. They often  played  a mediating role organizationally successful,  between  the autonomous women's organizations  and  the party structure. For  a brief  period, between 1908 and 1912, the  aspirations of  the  two  categories of  women  were  complemented by their  shared  functions within  the party's framework. But as the tensions within   the   socialist  movement, after  1912   and   during  the war,  grew greater, the  question of  primary goals   was  tragically sharpened. Ulti­mately  the  women  parted ranks. While  the diehard socialists  stayed on to   fight   internal party   battles, the  majority of  militant women  left  the Socialist  Party  and   sought   for   a   new organizational form  which they were never  to find.


I. BEGINNINGS, 1901-1907

At   the  founding  convention of  the  Socialist  Party of America, eight women  served as regularly-elected delegates. The one hundred seventeen men   who  attended the  historic unity  meeting of  1901 took little note of the  women  and  extended no special privileges, while the women partici­ pated   with  the  usual   vigor  of socialist agitators, reflecting past  experi­ ences  in  party  work   which  set   them  off  from  other members of their sex.  The   female  delegates  were  active in  formulating the policies of the  new  organization, but  their  influence was  and  would remain that of individuals, neither representatives  of  women  as a  group   nor of other women in the Socialist Party. The convention itself  offered only a formal declaration  demanding 'equal  civil and  political rights for  men and wo­men'. Yet,  the  future proponents of  sex  equality within  the  Party would look  back  to  this  minor   motion  as an initial stimulus to women's rights in the  Party framework.(1)

The women,  who sensed a special need for a social organization com­ patible with  their  husbands' political aspirations, organized themselves in   social  clubs   and   discussion  groups  on   the  periphery of the party. Their    associations greatly resembled non-socialist women's literary societies and church groups and drew  membership from among  the wives of   regular  party   members. The  women,  rarely  dues-paying members of   the  Socialist  Party,  provided an  auxiliary or   supplement to regular party activities while  giving  formal homage  - albeit abstractly - to the great  struggle  for   Socialism  among  the  working   peoples of the world.

The   most   impressive  display of  energy  in  women's activities cen­ tered  around the  Socialist fund-raising  bazaars, where  the women  han­ dled  entertainment, served the ice  cream, and made  the craft items sold for   Party   benefit. Occasionally   the  meeting of  a  party  local  would be devoted   to a special 'Women's Night'  with a low-level political program. The  few women concerned with politics in an on-going fashion  expressed themselves outside the  male-dominated  meetings of  the  local, sharing the  methods of  their   non-socialist 'woman's rights' sisters, described by  a   male   member as 'pink   tea-party  propaganda; nice little ladylike salon  meetings and  scented  notes  to legislators begging their  votes'. (2) But  the  majority of socialist wives  clung  to the traditional woman's role of providing a social auxiliary and  served the party  as they  thought  them­ selves  best   able.  Perhaps  their  most   autnomous  activity  was  taking charge of  the  children's  education in  the  Socialist Sunday Schools. For the most  aggressive women  not directly agitating for  socialism, the days of   temperance  agitation  were   not  far   behind,  and  their concerns con­tinued  to focus  on essentially ethical questions.

As   the   Socialist  Party  began   to  organize locals across the  United States,  wives  usually followed   the  example of  women  in New York  and San   Francisco,  setting themselves apart  in  small auxiliaries of a few comrades.  By  1904,   the   party  membership  had  grown  in three years from    scarcely four   thousand  to  over   twenty  thousand. Such success  in recruiting was not reflected by a proportionate increase of women  mem­ bers in  the  regular  party apparatus. At the national convention of 1904, the  number of  women  delegates had  not  increased, and there remained neither  acknowledgement of  women's special  needs   nor  any  particular stress upon  reaching them  and  enrolling them   into  the party. The only self-conscious activity of  women  at  the convention was that of the Ger­man  Women's Socialist  Club,  which  extended   an  invitation to the dele­ gates to attend a reception prepared for  them at  the Trade Union Hall.(3)

Yet despite the  party's official disregard, the growth  of the socialist movement and  women's rights  agitation had  a combined effect  upon the more independent-minded socialist  wives  and  single women.  While the regular delegates met  in convention, a small group held several sessions in  a  separate hall for  the purpose of organizing a Woman's National  So­cialist Union. The  impetus for   this  move came  from  the California wo­men,  the most  forward sector of the women's socialist battle and of suf­frage agitation. Among women of the 'less-informed' locals the idea of a woman's national movement remained unpopular  at  the time  and resulted in the  Union's lack of influence outside of California.

Between   1904  and  1905  the  Woman's National  Socialist Union move­ ment  proved  only  precocious, for  separate women's branchesof the  party sprang  up  spontaneously across   the  country, in  every  major  city  and in the rural areas like  Kansas and Colorado where  the party  was growing most   rapidly.  As   the   feminist  movement   and  above  all  its suffragist component began  to reach beyond the middle class to a rapidly increasing body  of   working    class women,  male   socialists began  to recognize the social implications of masses of women entering into  social and poliucal activities. And  if the Socialist Party was to speak for  the most  progres­sive   forces in  the nation.  it could  not easilv stand  aside as women,  con­scious of   their  new  political and  economic roles,  were  organized  into non-socialist reform  movements. Most  embarrassing  personally, per­ haps,  was  the  continual lack  of  interest the party  members' own wives displayed toward  the party  organization and function, Thus  the reassess­ment  which  marked the  period  indicated a development of intent  among Socialists toward the neglected questions of women s liberty.

In  defense of  this   belated   realization, the  men  repeatedly referred to   the  nominal   plank  in  the  1901  constitution as evidence of their pre­ vision  and  idealism in  the  struggle for  'perfect equality of women  with men   in   political  and   social matters'.  One  Socialist  man commented,
'All  of  us  believe that  this  is one of the proudest features the Socialist Party  has  in  its program,' but  admitted afterward  that  'when  we come to   practice,  we  are  not  always in  accord with this  highly respectable principle of  ours.' The  men  searched out  their  own contributions to the indifference of their wives. Since  the women were  burdened by household cares  which prevented them from   thinking  of  the  questions of the day, the   men   concluded  that   the  great responsibility was  on the part  of the husbands  to   converse  with  them,   to  encourage their  wives  to study  at home,   so  that   the  typical plight  of  an  intelligent woman  discussing her husband's socialism  should   not  be  repeated: 'In  the  six  years in which my  husband  has  been  a  socialist,' one  wife related, 'he  has a good deal of   the  time been  interested in  the  local   and  in public  meetings; and he has  never  yet asked me  to attend any of them  with him!' (4)

The   active  women   in  the  party complained similarly  of the apathy shown   by  the   majority of  wives  toward   political questions. The  wives were   even  accused of  willfully discouraging their   husbands' devotion  to his local or committee work. The women agitators pleaded, 'If we cannot lead   the   columns  in   the   battle   for  rights, let  us be good followers. If we  cannot   teach  our   men,  we  can  learn fromthem, we can  cheer their efforts, we can  give them  God.' (5) The role assigned to party wives  con­ tinued   to  reflect  socially orthodox attitudes toward  family  life;  the wo­ man  was at  the  side  of her  Socialist husband  to offer   him 'courage of his sp\rit' in  the  struggles ahead. Socialism was  man's struggle and women were   to   be  educated primarily  because an  uneducated woman  was as­ sumed   to  be a naturally conservative influence. Since  woman's suffrage, moreover, was  considered  inevitable, the  Party  had a responsibility to educate  at   least  its  members wives   not  to  follow  their intuitions and vote  against Socialism. Thus  the emphasis, while  more real than  before, seemed  to  remain  primarily  negative, to prevent advanced women from being  siphoned off into  reform groups and ordinary wives  from  dragging their socialist  husbands into inactivity.

But   the  separate  socialist  women's organizations on  the  fringes of the  Party  continued to  grow  and were  greatly aided  by the foundation of the  Socialist  Woman,  in  July  1907,  which  was  both a popular  magazine and  a  coordinator of  news  from  the various women's branches. Serving as a  sounding   board  for  national activities, the Socialist Woman made  it clear to  male   Socialists that  women engaged  in their separate branches were  not  only   housewives in  search for   an  education in socialism but in  many  cases  articulate  spokesmen of  woman's rights who seemed to draw   most   heavily   from   a  volatile Feminism. These latter women,  es­ pecially, saw  hope  for   the  future in the Socialist Party but believed the nominal   'equal rights' plank  was  insufficient 'so long as the rights stay in  the  program in cold,  printed words and do not••• manifest themselves in   real  pulsating life.' (6)  A   woman,   they   declared, could  never  gain freedom  and  equality as  long  as  she  was satisfied in being in the 'dish­ washing contingency',  even  to the Socialist Party. Holding that,  even  un­der  Socialism, women  could  not be free until they  had developed the power of  freedom  within   themselves, the  organizers stressed the significance of  separate  women's clubs. The women  identified equally  with Socialism and  with  sex  equality, recognizing their  'special  needs' and combining the  appeal for   immediate  suffrage demands with the promise of Socialism. Still   they  remained  indifferent to their  role in the structure of the Socialist Party. As the editor of the Socialist Women, Josephine C. Kaneko, wrote:

We have  said, half-heartedly, that  women  would come  to  our  locals in  these dreary places. But  they  haven't cared to come  in any  great extent, any  more than  the  men  would  have cared to meet  in the wo­men's parlors. It  has  been  plainly   a  discrimination in favor  of one sex  above  another. But it has alw.ays seemed a matter of expediency.
As   we   have  chosen   our   meeting places  in  favor  of men,  we have also   directed our  speeches and our  published matter  to mankind. His wrongs  and   his   needs   have   filled  our   mouths   and our  newspaper columns, with  the  exceptional moment   when  we have  given publicity to  the  oppression and  needs  of women. This, too, has  seemed a mat­ ter   of   expediency;  we   have   always  had   male   audiences and male readers,  and   naturally  have   made   our   principal  appeal to them••. But that  belonged  to the cruder days of our  movement. (7)


II. THE  WOMAN'S NATIONAL COMMITTEE

In   1907  at  the  International Congress of  Socialists at Stuttgart, the woman  contingency  met  separately and urged  a world-wide coordination of women's activities. The demands for  equal  suffrage in many European countries drew  from a more advanced and militant movemenr  than  in the United   States, and  the  strength of  the  women's influence was shown  in the  International's  inclusion of  a  special woman's rights plank  in their constitution. Socialist parties  throughout the  world  were urged  to make definite provisions  for   women  in  their platforms and to work  more ex­ plicitly in  every way  in  support of  he suffrage movement. Confronting the   difficulty  of   their  locals easily assimilating  these principles into their  programs,  the  American delegates realized  that  sincere efforts would  have  to  be  made  among  the majority of male  members, who gave only  pious  expression to the abstract commitment to the emancipation of women.    But   the  most   candid   Socialists admitted that   until  special or­ ganization of  women  became more  than  theoretical,  more than a reso­lution   in  favor   of  equal  suffrage, the  men in the locals would not regard it  very  seriously.

In   February  of   1908,   the   Party's  neglect   of   its women  became a vital topic  of  discussion,  noteworthy because one of the most  respected male    spokesmen  publicly   shamed  the   organization  for   its  failure to appeal to  the  sister comrades. John Spargo, writing in the leading theo­ retical  journal, the International Socialist Review,  chided  the male  mem­ bers for   their  indifference. The women,  he declared, had taken  matters into  their own hands,  had correctly chosen their own methods, and despite his  personal urging  to remain in the party  and fight  for  recognition from the  inside, had  formed their   own  separate organizations. Spargo  urged the  Party to  pay  more serious  attention to women's stake in the move­ ment; to  provide for   full  cooperation and  support, he proposed the es­ tablishment within  the  party of a National  Committee of Women devoted to specialized propaganda among their sex. (8)
During   the months  prior to the  National  Convention  in May 1908,  both the party  and the  women's organizations voiced their opinions on Spargo's proposition. Spargo  apparently represented  a small minority among. the men    the  majority of whom resented both  Feminism and its implicauons and  efused to acknowledge the  women's branches as a potential strength for   the  socialist  movement. For  those  women who identified themselves more  with  their own  organizations than  with  the  party, the creation of a  Woman's Committee seemed  only  possible if it existed as an autono­mous   branch. Under  favorable  conditions, they  thought it  better to have the  men  and  women work  together in every phase  of the socialist move­ment    But  they  felt   the  masses of  women  were  still  backward, at least as any line  of social progress was concerned and especially in the matter   of socialism, and  that  it had proved  difficult  to induce them in any appreciable  numbers to  attend   the  sexually  mixed  locals, much less to join  them.  These   women  conceived of their  separate organizations as a kind of  preparatory  school  for  women  to  learn about  themselves, their history, and  the tradition of their  sex. They  believed  that  unless the men in  the  locals were  particularly  aggressive in their  sympathies with the
'woman   question', they  would  be  most   unresponsive to  the majority of
women  who  were   seeking the  first  steps in a socialist  education. As to the   locals  where   the   men  were  openly   hostile   to any type of woman's organization, the  women  felt  they  had no choice  but to go their  own way. To  them,  it  seemed a meaningless request to work  in the Socialist Par­ty  -- an  ideal, perhaps, but  not  something actually workable  under  the existing circumstances. Even  in  such  places as New York  City, where women's  organizations had  a  relatively long  history and  were far  ad­vanced   beyond  an  early  educational stage, the  New York  Women's  Con­ference in  the  spring of  1908  provoked  only ridicule from  the majority of male  comrades. (9)

Even  among  those  few women who were  active  in the Socialist Party, the  proposal of a special Woman's  Committee did not meet  a consensus. But  the   strongest  sentiment  was   conveyed  in  terms of hard  realism. Such  women  viewed  the whole question of the party's attitude toward  the woman's   movement   as purely   academic.  As  one   able   spokeswoman wrote: 'It   makes  very  little difference whether  we approve of a separate organization or Socialist women or  not. We have one --a real, live  revo­lutionary movement, writing its own literature, managing  its own news­papers, planning  its own campaign.' Since  these  organizations were  com­posed   largely of  women  who    were  not members of the Socialist Party, the  party   could  have  no jurisdiction if the clubs  did not wish to affiliate. The women who held dual  memberships in women's clubs  nd in the par­ ty saw  the only logical  solution as the creation of a special National  Com­mittee composed  of  women  to do needed propaganda work; they opposed the   party's creating a  separate  organization which  would only conflict with the functions of those groups already in existence. Such a move would divide  the  ranks whereas the  main  goal,  they  held, should  be the attrac­tion  of   women  to  the  goals  of  socialism, and only secondarily into the Socialist  Party. (10)

Since  Spargo's proposal had  been made into a formal resolution, the National   Convention  of  May  1908 attracted many women to Chicago.  But the  majority of women seemed determined to settle their  own problems. Responding   to  a  call  from   the  Chicago  women's groups, they gathered for   discussion  during the  week  prior  to  the  convention. The first joint meeting of  the  Woman's  Branch  and the Socialist Woman's  League, both Chicago  organizations, was  held  on  May 12 for  the purpose of effecting a   national  organization  of  Socialist  women.  The  women  agreed that  it was   expedient  to  follow  the  California  example of  1904 and to attempt some   sort of  coordination among  the numerous women's clubs. The fol­ lowing  day 85 women assembled to discuss the proposition for  a national organization. The  first  question on  the agenda  dealt  with the role  of the Socialist Party  toward  women.  They  decided   to  place  a demand  before the  men at  the National  Convention  to adopt a resolution favoring special agitation for  woman's suffrage.  Unless  the  party  officially came  out  in favor   of  women's rights,  any  cooperation  with  it  would be beyond dis­ cussion.  The   central  question of  this  meeting was  coordinating their activities.  Mrs.  Wilshire of  Appeal  to  Reason   said   that many women had  written  her  requesting some  plan of action. After  some  deliberation on  how to  approach the study of socialism, she aided  in the organization of  the  National   Progressive League,  which had then thirty-two branches and over  300 paid  members in different partsof the  country. It was,  Mrs. Wilshire claimed, the  only  national organization of women in the  United States  and   she   urged   the  women  of  the  other clubs  to join with her.  A few  of  the  women  were   willing  to  join the  WNPL, but the rest were  di­ vided  over the  choice  of  joining  a  new separate organization or  allying with  the  regular  Socialist locals. Arriving at  no conclusion, the women voted to  form   a  committee to  study  the  matter  more thoroughly and to report  back  to them  later in the week. The substance of the committee's report favored a new federation of socialist women's clubs, recommend­ing  that  each  club  already in existence appoint  a member as correspon­dent to a committee set  up in Chicago  for  that  purpose. (11)                

During   the  next  week,  the  National  Convention  of the Socialist Party at  last came   to  grips with  the woman question. Even those  male  mem­ bers who  were absolutely opposed to  women's organizations  followed the  lead  of the Stuttgart Congress and endorsed the equal  suffrage plank, making   it  clear at  the  same time  that  their decision was based  on their loyalty   to  the  International rather  than  on the  strength of the feminists in  their ranks.  The   women   delegates, who  numbered  nineteen at this convention, debated  the  issue of the National  Woman's Committee reso­ lution. The  Socialist  Party  majority report provided for  a special com­ mittee of  five,   devoted   to  work  or  organization among  women and sup­ ported with  sufficient funds  to maintain a woman   organizer in the field, to   be   supervised  by  the   national party. But  even among  these women delegates there was  room   for  a minority report which asked that  'great care•••  be  taken  not to discriminate between  men and women or  take  any steps  which   would  result in  a  waste  of  energy and perhaps a separate woman's movement.' After  a brief  debate, the majority report was adopt­ ed  by  the  convention and  the first Woman's  Committee was  elected with May Wood Simons as chairman. (12)
For   many   socialist  women   this   historical  event   went  by, not un­noticed, but  without  practical effect. The tensions between  the women's clubs and  the  male-dominated locals continued   to reinforce their   basic assumption that   under   then-current  conditions women's interests  were not  and   could   not  be  identified with  those  of men. During  the summer months  of  1908,  the  women's branches were   still searching for  a central organization, a  special federation to  furnish  information, arrange national conventions, and  increase  socialist  propaganda among  working women and  housewives. They felt  that  women all over  the country wanted to learn organization, learn socialism, and learn economics; they wanted to   be  part   of  the  movement, and  they  didn't want 'to  be bossed and put into the  background by a lot of men still moved  by instinctive capitalistic impulses of  domination.' (13)  The growing  wave of suffrage agitation in­ creased their   vigor   to  spread the propaganda of socialism among  those women   who  were    just  awakening to  a  new  political consciousness. As the  National   Women's Committee  became   a  functioning entity, the wo­ men   in  the  various organizations were  provided with  pamphlets, leaf­ lets,  reading lists -- the  tools   they  wanted  for  education that a funded organization  could   afford.  The   Federation of  Socialist  Women  Clubs, which   finally    adopted   a  constitution  and   by-laws  in  September  1908, promised this   service. But  in  effect, this   Chicago-based organization, although   corresponding  with   local   women's  clubs   across  the  nation, was   a   paper   organizatio:l.  Without   the   Socialist  Party  behind it,  the Federatio:l  was   incapable  of  even   raising  money.  On  the other hand, the   Nfltional   Woman's Committee, although   provided  with  only  enough money   from   the  Party  treasury  to  staff  a  field  organizer, was able  to work  through   party   channels to  raise enough  money  to  keep the rest of the  committee functioning.  It  organized benefits  through  the locals  and tapped   the  wealthy  members for  special contributions. The  New York local, for  example,  was fortunate to receive a gift from  Louise Kneeland of $1000, earmarked for  the women's fund.

By early  1909, even  those  women who once feared official ties  with the  party  were  urgning  their  sisters to join. One enthusiastic organizer wrote  from  Indiana,  'The  woman no longer  alta  alone at the meetings... Now it   is a  matter  of  comment  if  there  be no women at the Socialist propaganda   meeting and  the  men agitators print on their  bills: 'Women Especially Invited!

From  across the  country,  women were  reporting substantial increases of  women  members attending  the local meetings. It  was  estimated that  in  Chicago  and  Kansas  the numbers  of women in the  party  increased ten  times within the year.  'Everywhere that special attention   has  been  given  the  matter like results can be shown,' a mem­ber  reported.(14)                                                                            

As the women became an increasingly important sector of the Socialist Party  organization, the ordinarily minor question of finances exemplified the  internal tension.  Traditionally  the  women members, assumed to be wives  of  Socialists, were allowed to pay one-third of the regular amount of  dues.  Apparently   the  male members, somewhat resentful of women's strong stance  on equality, found the provision  in the National Constitution somewhat  inconsistent with  the  women's  ideologicalgoal. Proposing  an amendment   to  the dues provision, the men urged the raising of women's allotment but  keeping  it less than the men's share. The women, in turn, reacted to  this  amendment  as a distinction that suggested  patronage, an objectionable 'half-rate  for   children'.  The  resolution  adopted  by the Woman's  National Committee condemned 'its implied  inferiority and sub­ serviance  (which)  smacks of  that  old  chivalry which has ever  granted to  women  these  petty  privileges and withheld  from  them equal respon­ sibility  with  men.' (15) On  the  local  level,  however, the  financial  mat­ ters were   not  settled so  ideally.  An organizer from Seattle  described her  'bitter experience':

After  the  election  of  the  national committee on woman's  work, we hastened   to    go  before   our   local  and put ourselves right  by ask:l.ng the  local  to  make  all  women members of a committee of the whole to  further  the  woman's   work. At this  time  only a very few women belonged  to   the local,  and a large  proportion  of these are women who became  interested in Socialism  by attending  the club.

Recently  we opened headquarters, which we kept open in the after­ noons,   had  a  woman in  attendance   to  sell  literature and to discuss the  social  question  with any who might drop in, and we were planning to extend  our  literature work, when lo and behold! the local woke up to   the  fact  that  the  women were really handling some  money, a part of  their  own dues,  and  spending  it  as  they thought best! This would never  do, of  course, since  in  this respect even a Socialist  man still has  a  capitalist  mind, and still  thinks the purse  strings belong to the male  sex.  Consequently  our  10 cents  per  month  was cut off, and as an equivalent  we were offered  our room rent  free! Well, the Woman's Club has taken a vacation..•  (16)

The  Woman's  National  Committee  defined  its  duties in this way: 'to make  intelligent Socialists and Suffragists of women and to secure their active   membership  in  the  Socialist   Party', and  proceeded  to use its most   active   organizers across the  country  in  setting   up various  sub­ committees  within  the  women's  locals. Accepting  the  general recom­ mendations of  the   1908  convention,   they  utilized  their  resources for special  propaganda and  education among  women, planning  detailed prescriptions for  efficient organization.  The  most  popular   method for  attracting  women   proved   to   be  agitation  for   suffrage, with the party's own  'Votes  for   Women'   campaign,  Although   other  committees  were planned  for   the  locals, such as membership, literature, children's edu­cation, and music committees, the current appeal of suffrage became such a  powerful   issue that  many members of the party  as a whole,  especially male   members,  accused  the  women  of  favoring the  sex  struggle over the  class struggle, But  the women were  out to prove  the Socialist Party had  risen to  champion woman's cause,  bringing the declaration for  enfranchisement  from   the   party   platform  to  real  life, One of the  most popular   features of  the  Committee's diverse program was one  that  they succeeded  in   making   into   a   national, coordinated affair,  Through  the party    presses  across  the   country,  the   women   announced   the fourth Sunday  of  February as 'Woman's Day',  Socialists throughout the country held  demonstrations in  favor   of  woman  suffrage on February 23, 1909, and   the   event   was   met   with   such   enthusiasm  that  it continued as an annual   'Anticipation  Day'   for   economic and  political freedom for  wo­men, celebrated in the United States and Europe. 07)

Within   a   year   of  its  inception, the   Woman's   National  Committee proved   itself   capable of  functioning as  a  national coordinating service, providing  the  women  in  the  distant locals with  literature, propaganda, and  definite programs  for  organizing, They managed  to  win the support of   the   more   prominent  men   in  the  Party, even  Eugene  Debs with his characteristic   sentimental glorifications of  woman   and   motherhood. Special   sections of  the  party's  press, its newspapers, international and internal  bulletins,  and   magazines, were  devoted  to  the  Woman Ques­ tion,  In  1910 the  National  Woman's Committee was  incorporated into the party    constitution and  made  a  permanent part   of  the bureaucracy. But despite its ability to  win  respect from  the party, the Committee's suc­cess would  ultimately  be  measured not  by  its popular  appeal but by its practical results.



III. THE  WOMAN  QUESTION

The   Socialist  women   were   confident   that  no one  in the party  could fail   to   be   impressed with  the  rise of  their  organizations as a distinct form   within  the  movement, At  the  1910  convention, the Woman's Com­mittee reported that  new  women's branches  had  been  set  up in 156 lo­ cals across  the   country and  that  five  states had organized state-wide women's  committees.  Their    success  was   symbolized  by  the  election of   the   first  woman,   Lena   Morrow   Lewis,    to  the  National  Executive Board,  and  they  'rejoiced' that.  her  election was  due sole.ly to her  out­ standing agitational ability. Thus  themselves impressed, the women de­ manded  more autonomy   within  the  party   and were  given a party-funded correspondent to  assist the  enlarged seven-member  executive staff• of the  National   Woman's Committee. For  the first time, the women §ained floor   space in the national  office  in Chicago,  and a special Women s De­ partment  was  created for   their   clerical necessities, The  women dele­ gates to  the  National  Convention  also  displayed more  interest in the de­ bates  on  the  floor: they  were  elected to serve on most  of the important committees and expressed  themselves  unhesitatingly on questions ranging from  the new farm  platform to immigration.

Photo: Lena Morrow  Lewis



The  1910  Convention seemed a turning point  for  the socialist  women, and  offered  them  a  precedent for  future labors  within  the party. In the immediate  period   following,   they  showed  a  willingness to  forget their former  attacks upon  the  men's failure to live  up to the old  sex-equality platform; sometimes they  even  congratulated  their   male   comrades for casting aside traditional  prejudices against 'feminine politics'. (19) One socialist  woman  wrote: 'Let   us  hope that  this  example of a peaceful in­ telligent  mingling   of  the  sexes will  serve as a guide for  the future' of society. And they compared their  work with the futile  attempts of women in  other political parties,  They  praised  by contrast the Socialist Party and  urged   women  to take advantage of its  program of full economic, so­ cial, and  political freedom. Thus  by 1910,  the  women  had resolved the initial  problems of  organization. But the development of a positive pro­ gram,  based   no  longer    singly   on   the  prejudices against the 'inferior sex'  but  rather defined   by  their   unique  position   as Socialist women in practical, organizational terms, remained to be accomplished.

The previous emphasis on suffrage agitation was challenged by women who wished  to  extend  propaganda along more general socialist educational lines.  The   suffrage  question,  they   felt,   was  being  handled  adequately by  the women's reform organizations. The  Party, for  them,  had -' greater  responsibility to the working  woman and her special needs. This  question  of  priority  was  debated   extensively, and  although   no explicit con­ception   determined all   their   actions, many women rejected cooperation with   the   suffragists  for   broader social appeals,  Particularly  in those states where   women  already  had  the  ballot, the  Party could  point  to the negligible  effect   that   socialist   propaganda had  on  voting  results. Although  proclaiming  itself   the  vanguard of  all  progressive  movements in   the   United  States, the  Party claimed it  gained  no immediate political   benefits from   woman  suffrage, and  could  therefore stress the need for   less  transient issues to  build  a  socialist woman's movement. (20)

The limited advantages of suffrage agitation sharpened the contradic­ tions  for   those  women  who  believed   their tactics should  flow from fun­ damental socialist  theory,  Despite the class-conscious rhetoric of their agitation, it  seemed  to  appeal not to the women who most  needed  politi­cal  expression in  American  society  but  rather  to  the same class from which  the  reformist-suffragist  organizations drew  their membership -­ the   professional  women   and  middle-class  housewives. Special efforts to reach working  class women through suffrage propaganda did not achieve the   hoped-for results,   since the  majority of  women  who joined locals did  so  in  the  leisure time  a  working   girl  or  mother of a working  class family    could   ill   afford,    Propaganda  was   then   redirected  to appeals around a  more general oppression of  females, The tactics came  nomi­nally  from   a  general theory   that  had  been their inspiration through the early  days  of  the  struggle, what  they  called a  Materialist  Conception of   the   Woman's  Struggle',  which   the   Socialist  women  now integrated into  the emerging Feminism of the decade,

The  classic  writings that  most  influenced their thinking  were  Women Under   Socialism,  by  August   Bebel,  and  The  Origins of the Family, by Friedrich  Engels.  Taken  with  the  anthropological analyses  popular   at the   time, 'these   two   texts,  unimpeachable for  at  least most  American Socialists, provided   women  with  a view of history that  denied a biologi­ cally   determined role  for   their  sex.  Both  Bebel  and Engels depicted the   dawn  of   man   as an  era   of  cooperative struggle for  suvival, based upon  primitive matriarchical structures. The  exodus from  this  secular paradise had  at  once  created the  system of  private ownership and wo­ man's  bondage   within   it, Over   the  ages   the  burden  had fallen  hardest upon  her,  for  while  her  mate's dominant   attitude had been acquisition and personal control, she  had desperately attempted to conserve the fami­ ly  as best   she  could,  Capitalism, as in  so many other ways,  both ren­ dered the  burden  unendurable and created the preconditions for  its elimi­ nation  by  creating the  productive mechanization which potentially  would provide plenty  for  all. The  future civilization, like  that  in the dim past, would offer   general cooperation and  the  realization of  woman's desire to  be  an   equal   and   to   conserve  the  race as she  had through  the ages conserved the family.

The   special  appeal to  women  as women  brought   the socialists  into the   main   line  of  the  burgeoning Feminist  movement, and by 1913 they observed  that  younger   women  were   being  attracted to  radicalism pri­ marily  for   their  complete  sexual emancipation. The  Socialist  women tried to bridge the gap to the older agitation by arguing that  the  Feminist program consisted 'very largely in what Socialists have been demanding for   women  for   years and years', and  by pointing  out that only socialists understood  complete  freedom  to  be  unattainable short of  the common ownership  of   the  means of  production. As one  woman socialist wrote:

'The  Socialist  who  is  not  a  Feminist lacks breadth. The Feminist who is   not  a  Socialist is lacking   in  strategy.' Hence they  held that  whether women   possessed  the   ballot   or   not,   they  would  need to unite with all oppressed  groups for  a  better  society, and that  the Socialist movement would  ultimately  provide   women   the  courage to  be  in the forefront of the  final   battle   'fighting for   the destruction of masculine despotism and for  the  right  of womankind'. (21)


But  with  the  concurrent passing of the suffrage issue and the ebbing of   the   inertia  in  the   women's  socialist  movement, Feminism proved as  an   agitational  issue  to  be  unacceptable to  the bulk of the socialist movement. Although  the  militant  women  insisted that  Feminism  could not   be   limited  to  any  one  reform, the  men and mot'e orthodox social­ ist    womel'l   generally  offered  a   blanket   criticism  of   Feminism  and all the  implications of  agitation 'along sex lines'. Feminism, they  held, was middle  class, and socialist-feminists were  warned  that their activity could   swamp   the  party   with  non-wage  earning elements. While an oc­ casional middle-class woman  could  bring  along  her  vitality and intelli­ gence,   any   number   of  them,   it  was  thought,  were  bound to bring  their reformist  taints. Thus  even  a  mild  variety of Feminism, which clearly disavowed  free  love  and  the  destruction of  the family,  was feared  as a divider  of  the movement along sex lines, With all  the odds against  them, the  socialist-feminists failed  to  respond  successfully to this plea for a return to traditional socialist agitation  on all fronts, and a new wave of 'Male  egotism' was  evoked  which, according  to some women, was even more  objectionable than  the  male  attitudes dominating the party  before 1908.


CARTOON: "THE  BURDEN  LONG AGO CALLED 'WOMAN'S DUTY.'"


IV. THE DECLINING  YEARS, FROM  1912

During  this  period  there  were  growing  tensions  within the Socialist Party   which  had undercut  the development of an autonomous socialist women's   agitational  struggle  and  now worked  against  its  revival. By 1910, American  Socialism  had accomplished  basic  propaganda tasks  and
entered a  maturity, raising and sharpening internal differences that had been  previously   tolerated by nearly all concerned. Many Socialists long in  the  movement  publicly warned against  the influx of middle-class ele­ments  into the party  and the danger of encouraging agitation  which result­ed  in  the  enrollment of non-wage-earners. More important, an internal party   struggle culminating  in 1912 with the proscription of the advocacy of  sabotage  in party  ranks   had the  effect  of tightening party  discipline against  all  potentially  dissident elements. Finally,  the success of 'Con­ structive Socialist' locals, particularly the Milwaukee Social Democracy, provided  the 'lesson' of heavily concentrated agitation  and propagandiza­ tion  with a city involving all socialists in a single-minded task,  Cumula­ tively,  therefore, women's agitation  could have been seen to be divisive, disruptive and  destructive to  socialist energies. And without a body of important defenders within  the  ruling circles of the party, women's agi­tation  could   not  expect special treatment or  solicitation for  Its case.

In  retrospect, the  true high point of women's agitation within  the So­ cialist Party was the period around 1910 to 1912. Suffrage agitation died, for  socialist  purposes, as achievement loomed  closer and the major po­litical parties subsumed within  them the energies that had been previously tapped   by  socialist women.  There was  an  Indian  Summer for  socialist women  in  1912-1913, as the vigorous national campaign and the  residual effects  of   suffrage  agitation  swelled the  women s ranks from ten  per cent   to  fifteen   per   cent  of  the  Party membership. But by 1913  the ero­sive  effects of the changing  conditions could  already be seen.

The lack of an issue with the strength and popularity of suffrage, along with the  Party's internal betrayal of the  Woman Question, made  impossi­ ble  a  clear  program of  organizational activities and  stripped the agita­ tional   program to   Socialism alone   rather  than  feminism or suffrage. Even  by 1913, the inertia of the women's socialist  movement had slowed. The  National Committee was  no longer effective as a woman• s commit­ tee,   and   prominent female socialists  became increasingly  involved in ordinary  party work,  above  all  action   against  the coming war.

When in 1914 a proposal was made  at the Party Convention  to abolish the  Woman's National Committee, its  (female) Correspondent from  the  Party's  Wo­man  Department applauded  the prospective amendment. Though remain­ing  nominally  in existence, the Committee ceased to function in any  sig­nificant  way.(37)

The  most  ominous sign  was  the  death  of  Progressive Woman. Like other  Party publications, the  Woman  had never  been a solvent financial venture, and  from   1912 onward  the  Party  had subsidized its existence. But  aid  was at  best  partial, and at  no point  adequate to make  up the defi­cit   or   provide a  sound  financial basis for   the  magazine's expansion to its own expected circulation of 500,000.  The  Woman s Committee in 1914 sought   to  abandon  the  sinking ship,  and tne magazine was  salvaged only momentarily by its transformation into the  Coming  Nation,  a name  which its editor, Josephine Conger-Kaneko, derived from the enormously popular  Socialist paper of  the  1890s. By mid-1914, the socialist women  had no publication of  thelr own and more than ever were  forced to rely  upon the  mechanisms of a  Party decreasingly concerned for  the  welfare of an autonomous group of women.

During  the   declining years  of   women's activities  in  the Socialist Party, the  remarkable  example of  Margaret Sanger's struggle served to  typify  the  organizational obstacles  in  the path of prospective radical feminists.  Her   class  position, the   unusual   interests  and   ability she brought    to  her  work,   and  the  nature of  her  estrangement from the  so­cialist   movement further   indicated the  limits of  party flexibility, es­pecially on  questions of sexuality in practical organizational terms.(22)

Margaret  Sanger's  entry  into   the  Socialist  movement, like   that  of many   other  women,   came   through  her   husband's activity, in the  New York   Socialist  Party.   Frequently  mingling with  the  salon   crowd, she came to  associate a  socialist  perspective with  her  own ethical and  hu­ manitarian concerns. Although  her  anarchistic sentiments fostered an in­ tellectual attraction to 'individualistic' tendencies, the practical applica­tions   in   an   industrial  society  necessitated  for    her   an organlzatlonal framework which  she  sought in the  Socialist Party. She regularly attended   local  meetings with   her   husband,  but only   inadverdently did  she  be­ come  one   of   the   most    important  activists  in  the  movement. She  was asked  to  replace an  ailing speaker at  one  of the  local women's meetings. Although  she   had  never  given   a  public speech  before, she  accepted on the   condition  that   her   topic   be  of  her   own  choice. She  had little confidence about   her   understanding of  Marxian  theory  and  decided to  speak about   her  own   speciality, sex  education and  hygiene.

Margaret Sanger's  appearance and   her   introduction of the  topic  into public discussion  generated  enormous  enthusiasm  among women  in the local, who repeatedly expressed  their urgent needs for  more information. Soon  she   was  offering a  series of lectures, during which  so  many  ques­ tions were asked that  Anita  Block, editor of the  New York  Call's woman's page,  asked  Sanger  to  provide a  regular column for  publication. In this, her   first experience at  public writing, Margaret  Sanger planned a series under  the  general  title,  'What  Every Mother Shoald  Know',  to introduce the   'impersonality  of   Nature'  in   an   effort  to   break through parents' rigid  attitudes   toward sexual  development. After  several  weeks of its appearance,  the   title  of   her    sequal  column, "What   Every Girl Should Know",  was   followed  by  the   black-typed  notation 'NOTHING' By the or­der  of   the  post-office department'.  For   the  first  time, Margaret Sanger's work  had  been  publicly censored.


Margaret  Sanger's  writing for   the   Call   continued  sporadically   into wartime, and  even   the  censored article eventually appeared. But as she eagaged  in  practical  activities among working class women  in  New York and   in  such   projects as the  care of the  children of strikers in  Lawrence and   Paterson,  her  sympathies were drawn increasingly to the  direct ac­tionists and  syndicalists. She  continually tried  to  work  through the  So­cialist  Party to  disseminate birth control information among families of  workers but  met   with  constant frustration  from  the  lack  of  help  and the   frequent  scorn  she   received  from  the  reformist socialist leader­ship.

Meanwhile the  IWW's   Big  Bill   Haywood, a close personal friend, offered  her   contact with  industrial workers and  their wives. Finally, the attitude of  the  Socialists, that  birth control would  come with  the  victory of  Socialism  and   thus   was  of  negligible concern  before the  Revolution, returned her  toward her  original political inclination, anarchism.

In   the   spring  of   1914,   Margaret  Sanger  marked  both  her  political anarchism and   her   desire to  test  censorship laws by founding a  news­paper expressly  devoted to  women's liberation, the Woman Rebel. Across the   masthead  was  emblazoned 'No  Gods,  No Masters', and  inside a mix­ ture  of   rudimentary  sex   education and  anti-political articles,  such  as 'The  Importance of Assassination in History'. During the  Colorado min­ing   strike,  she   asked socialist  women   to  send   the  fiercely-repressed miners guns   rather than  sympathy, adding that' 'When 40,000  (socialist) women   cannot  follow   up  a  protest  by  action, then  truly it  would  appear that   they   have  something other  than   their 'chains to lose'.' The  Woman Rebel  never  reached   any   significant circulation,  and  since all issue.s were  banaed from  the   mails, it was   generally limited to a few  Eastern cities. After the   seventh issue,  Margaret Sanger  was  placed under  in­
dictment for   'lewdness'. Rather than  face trial  she   fled  to Europe.

A  vear earlier,  Margaret  Sanger's columns in the  Call  had opened a controversy within  the  Socialist Party, carried on in letters to the  paper, which    revealed  the   deep   differences  on  matters of  sexuality and  wo­ man's   place   p;enerally. (23)   As   Anita    Block    noted,   the  purpose of the column  was to 'turn the searchlight on all those rotten  spots  which those in power  today find  it  in  their   interest to keep dart••• and keep turning on  the  light  in one  way or  another  ever  stronger and more penetrating until  there is no part  of our  social   structure that will not be clean  and healthy  and  beautiful.'  Readers  appreciative  of  the  column  sent in a variety   of  intense   and  even   touching  responses. One  woman wrote of the loss  of her 'so-called innocence'  which caused her  husband to wrong­ fully  suspect   her  past  and nearly  to destroy  their  marriage. On reading the  column,  the  maligned  woman's   husband finally  came  to  understand the possibility of a 'natural' loss of virginity, thus ending his thoughtless persecution.

Another  woman,  sixty-six years old  and  mother  of eight,, wrote   that   she   learned   more   from   Margaret Sanger's articles than 'from   any  books or  even  from  my own life'. A male  machinist, perhaps more  typical  of  a  sympathetic socialist reader, wrote that such lessons were  important, for active  socialists could not be recruited from  a popu­lation  sick  with  venereal disease. Above all,  readers stressed the fact that  the  knowledge which Margaret Sanger  made available  was imply not accessible  elsewhere. Even  those   who  doubted  the  logic  of such material  in  the  Call  often  expressed their   gratitude for  her  serious and factual  presentations.

Readers unfriendly  to Margaret Sanger's views revealed quite another side   of  American  socialism.  The  most   usual  arguments against  her column   came   from   those   crude   materialists  who stressed  economic determinism.  Capitalism,  according  to  this  argument, was  the  cause of  prostitution,  and   indeed  all   of  the  'evils of the sex question'; only when  Socialism   arrived  would  a  healthy  society   come  into existence. A more  serious objection  was offered   to  the  very publication  of know­ ledge   of  venereal  disease,  reasoning  that  it   'placed  the demands of FEAR  and  DISTRUST in  the   minds  of  hundreds  of prospective wives and  mothers',  with  the  effect  upon impressionable female  readers of a  discouragement towards   marriage. One writer charged  that Margaret Sanger's  column   would  'produce a  panic  which would cause  women to lose   all   confidence   in  men  and  cuase   them  to withdraw their  capital (themselves)  from  the  marriage market.' Like other   critical corres­pondents,  the  writer felt  that  Margaret Sanger  scorned   the mental and spiritual  in  favor   of 'the  animal   being'.  Some  critics even openly ar­ gued for an 'eternal' inferior status of women. One writer who wondered whether   adequate   contraception  might  eradicate  'mother love and the exquisite   loyalty   of  the  eternal female', confessed his  hesitation  'be­fore   subscribing  to  a  practice  that   would  have  the least  tendency to destroy   the  spiritual qualities of  women. Undoubtedly as  an expedient for   the  individual.   (birth   control)  is  absolutely   moral, but when, as a fixed  social policy,  it  assumes an  influence  upon the social  conscious, its  morality is questionable.'

In  responding  to  Margaret  Sanger's  attackers,  Anita  Block  made clear   the  fundamental  objection  of  some socialists to 'What Every  Girl Should  Know':  Sanger   had  brought  the  issue  out  of the abstractions of idyllic  life  under  Socialism  and into the realities of women's  immediate struggle  for   full  equality.  The  editor  of  the  Call's women's  page as­ sumed  that  her   eaders, as socialists, were  more  intelligent than non­ Socialists and  would consequently   be logically   more  open  to the notion of  women's   special oppression.  But  the  obstacles  placed   in front  of Margaret Sanger's party  activity, and the failure of any decisive sector of  the  socialist organization to  move to  her defense,  revealed the con­ tradictory character of  the  socialists' radical sympathies. As a group, the  socialiets would more  than  any other  sector of the nation's popula­ tion  affirm   the  ultimate  equality  of  women and the viciousness of their exploitation   under    capitalism.   Indeed,  many   rank-and-file socialists could   articulate and  intelligently discuss the  radical theories of Engels and  Bebel. But  even  the advanced sectors, to say  nothing  of the party as a whole,  rejected any  notion of a special struggle for  women, as they  re­ jected   generally  the   special struggles of  blacks and  even of unskilled workers. In  retrospect, the  socialists•  position was  historically under­standable, for  they  viewed  the  coming of a socialist society as inevitable, smooth and  not  too  far distant. But the  situation in which radical theory seemingly  justified conservative  practice  must have  been  all the  more maddening for   men  and  women  who, like  Margaret Sanger, had come to expect the  socialist  movement to represent tbe full  liberating possibili­ties of  mankind.


Like   the   initial,  apparent  acceptance  by  the  mass of socialists of Margaret Sanger's  activities, the  solicitations of  the  party for  the  Wo­men's National Committee and for  the  Progressive Woman had been  de­ceptive. For   as Margaret Sanger was   judged by the  irritation and even immediate  danger  she  posed to  the  movement's internal  stability, the National  Committee  and  the  magazine were  judged  by  their results in recruiting females for   the  party rolls, and any figure less than  the  goal the  women   had  set   - for  50% of the  membership - was  bound to be ulti­mately disappointing.Of course, such  a figure was at  all odds  incredible: the  Socialist Party drew   predominately from the ranks of skilled work­ers, while  women  in  the  population as a whole were, with scattered ex­ceptions, unskilled workers. workers' wives, or middle and  upper  class housewives. Thus  women's oppression was  not generally felt  at  the point of   production,   and    their   needs  were  different  and   special. But the party, forced to extremes by internal disputes and the approaching world conflict, felt   the  necessity for   such   pragmatic yardsticks. and  by such measurement there could   be but one  result for  Margaret Sanger  and  the women  as a group.

Yet,  despite its rapid eclipse, the women's role within  the Socialist Party  was  not  a  negligible o:te.  At  its best, it  deeply  touched  the lives of   the  new  women  workers in  mass trades such  as garments. it  moved leading radical literary  figures such   as Floyd  Dell  and Max Eastman, and  it  concentrated  the  energies of  such  outstanding women reformers as  Margaret  Sanger and   Florence  Kelley. More   important, it left  an indelible impression on the American radical movement, offering an early lesson - better than  in  any American radical movement since - of what women  could  do to link  their sex-oppression with the general oppression of the  social system.

*Aileen   s.  Kraditor,  Means and   Ends   in  American  Absolutism, New York,  1969.


FOOTNOTES

1.  Proceedings of   the   National  Convention  of  the  Socialist  Party, 1912,  Appendix  I {Report of the  Woman's Department).

2.  John  Spargo,   Woman  and  the  Socialist  Movement', International Socialist Review VIII (February 1908), 449-455,

3.  Josephine   C.  Kaneko,    'The  Activity   of   Socialist   Women',  Tile
Socjalist Woman,  I (January 1908), 6,

4,  As   told  by  Liichi Kaneko,  'Where Is  Your   Wife?',  Soclallat  Wg­
maD, I (August 1907), 5.

5,  Anna  A,  Maley, 'Do   You Help, or Do You Hinder?', Socialist Wo­
man. I (October  1907), 5,

6,  Eleanor  Haynes, 'Socialist  Women  in the United  States', Socialist
Woman,  I (November 1907), 10,

7,  Josephine  c. Kaneko,  'Are the Interests of Men and  Women Iden­
tical?', Socialist Woman, I (May 1908), 5,

8,  Spargo, ..

9.  Josephine C. Kaneko,  'Separate Organizations', SocialiHt   Reyielf,
I  (April    1908),  5;  Theresa  Malldel, 'Woman   and  the Socialist Party', Sostalist Woman, II (July  1908), 7,

10.  Jessie Molle,   'The National   Convention   and  the  Woman's Move­ ment',  Imernatinnal  Soctal!st Reyiew,   VIII  (May  1908), 688-690; Luella R, Krehbiel, 'Woman  and Socialists', Socialist Woman, III (July  1908), 7,

11,   See   the  May  1908   issue of  Socialist  Woman  for  several articles reporting the various meetings in Chicago.

12,   Proceedings  of   the   National  Convention   of  the  Socialist Party, May 1908, 301-306,

13,  Ida   Crouch-Hasler,   'Women's  Organizations',  Socialist  Women,
II (September 1908), 11,

14,   Mary  Striclcland, 'What  the  New Year  Should Mean to Socialists', New  York   Call.  January 11,  1919; Mila  Tupper   Maynard, 'Woman    in the  Locals', New York  Call,  March 15,  1909,

15.  Resolutions adopted  by the  Woman's National Committee, reported in   the   Weekly   Bulletip  of  the  Socialist  Party,  Chicago, May 8, 1909,

16,  Mrs. Anna  Burgess, 'Propaganda Among  Women: the  Bitter Ex­
perience of the Socialist Women of Seattle', New York  Call. July  16,  1911,

17;   Wommt's  National   Committee report,  Weelcly Bulletin, Chicago, June  17,  1909; Hebe,  'Woman's Day,  New York  Call, January 2:', !'710;
Lena  Morrow Lewis, 'Woman's Day',  New York  Call. February 27, 1910,

18,  Mary   E, Marcy, 'Efficiency the  Text', New York  Call, May 8,
1910.

19.Theresa   Malldel,  'Woman,   and   the   National  Congress',   i.bj,g.,
May 29, 1910,

20,  The   Party  Convention   of   1910   debated   suffrage as a key  Party
question. For   the  highlights of the debate, see  The  Prolli'essive  Woman, June  1910,

21,  Anita   c. Block,  'New  York   Socialists Women's Conference', New
York  Call,  April 5, 1914; LouiseW,Kneeland,'Feminism and Socialism', New  Review,   II   (August   1914) 442;  Mary   White  Ovington,  'Socialism and  the  Feminist  Movement', New Rey.iew, II (March  1914), 146-147,

22.  Margaret  Sanger, Autobiography (New York: 1938) and My Fight
f2r  Birth Control (New York: 1931).

23,  For   typical articles  see   the Woman's Page of the  New York  Call,
December 1912  through  1913,

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