Crystal Eastman

Crystal Eastman

Crystal Eastman was born in Marlborough, Massachusetts, on 25th June, 1881. Both her parents, Samuel Eastman and Annis Ford, were church ministers. Her brother, Max Eastman, was born two years later. He later wrote: "She was beautiful and socially disarming, and yet inwardly a mighty girl, as we named her in the bosom of the family... The qualities in Crystal that I most rejoiced in were her ruthless sincerity and logic; the inexhaustible fountain of understanding love that made these qualities bearable; a supervening humor.. a gift of entering into the problems of other people as though she had no problems of her own - a veritable genius for friendship and wise counsel; and withal a passionate joy in the adventure of living her own life."

In 1889 her mother was one of the first women to be ordained as a minister. Crystal recalled: "When my mother preached we hated to miss it. There was never a moment of anxiety or concern; she had that secret of perfect platform ease which takes all strain out of the audience. Her voice was music; she spoke simply, without effort, almost without gestures, standing very still. And what she said seemed to come straight from her heart to yours. Her sermons grew out other own moral and spiritual struggles. For she had a stormy, troubled soul, capable of black cruelty and then again of the deepest generosities. She was humble, honest, striving, always beginning again to try to be good."

Crystal Eastman graduated from Vassar College in 1903. She also obtained a degree in sociology at Columbia University (1904) and at New York City University Law School (1907). Claude McKay met her during this period: "The moment I saw her and heard her voice I liked Crystal Eastman. I think she was the most beautiful white woman I ever knew. She was of the heavy or solid type of female, and her beauty was not so much other features... but in her magnificent presence. Her form was something after the pattern of a splendid draft horse and she had a way of holding her head like a large bird poised m a listening attitude."

Eastman settled in Greenwich Village and joined a community of feminists that included Inez Milholland, Mary Heaton Vorse, Doris Stevens, Susan Glaspell, Neith Boyce, Madeleine Doty, and Ida Rauth. In 1907 Paul U. Kellogg, editor of the social work magazine, Charities and the Commons, hired her to investigate labour conditions for the Russell Sage Foundation's Pittsburgh Survey. Over the next year Eastman carried out the first in-depth sociological investigation of industrial accidents ever undertaken. Other members of the team included Lewis Hine, Elizabeth Beardsley Butler, John R. Commons, John A. Fitch and Joseph Stella.

In June 1909 Charles E. Hughes, the Governor of New York, appointed Eastman to become the first woman member of the Employer's Liability Commission. In this role she drafted New York State's first worker's compensation law and in 1910 she published her book Work Accidents and the Law.

Eastman married Wallace Benedict in 1911. The couple moved to Milwaukee but the marriage was not a success and ended in divorce. Eastman reputation as a political campaigner grew and in 1913 she became investigating attorney for the U.S.Commission on Industrial Relations. Later that year Eastman was a delegate to the Seventh Congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Budapest. During the conference Eastman met Aletta Jacobs (Holland), Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (England) and Rosika Schwimmer (Hungary).

In 1913 Eastman joined with Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Mabel Vernon, Olympia Brown, Mary Ritter Beard, Belle LaFollette, Doris Stevens, Helen Keller, Maria Montessori and Dorothy Day to form the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage (CUWS) and attempted to introduce the militant methods used by the Women's Social and Political Union in Britain. This included organizing huge demonstrations and the daily picketing of the White House. Over the next couple of years the police arrested nearly 500 women for loitering and 168 were jailed for "obstructing traffic".

As a pacifist Eastman was a strong opponent of the First World War. Soon after the outbreak of the conflict Eastman, Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, Paul U. Kellogg and Oswald Garrison Villard established the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM). Wald became the AUAM's president and Eastman its executive director. Over the next couple of years the AUAM lobbied against America's possible involvement in the war. It also campaigned against conscription, the arms trade and American imperialism in Latin America and the Caribbean.

On the 10th January, 1915, Eastman joined over 3,000 women at a meeting in the ballroom of the New Willard Hotel in Washington and formed the Woman's Peace Party. Jane Addams was elected chairman and other women involved in the organization included Mary McDowell, Florence Kelley, Alice Hamilton, Anna Howard Shaw, Belle La Follette, Fanny Garrison Villard, Emily Balch, Jeanette Rankin, Lillian Wald, Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Mary Heaton Vorse, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Carrie Chapman Catt, Freda Kirchwey, Emily Bach, and Sophonisba Breckinridge.

In 1916, Eastman married British poet and fellow anti-war activist, Walter Fuller. In the same year, she invited her friend Roger Baldwin to run the American Union Against Militarism office while she took a brief leave to give birth to her first child. The following year Eastman joined Baldwin, Norman Thomas, Albert DeSilver and Clarence Darrow to establish the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB).

Crystal worked with her brother, Max Eastman, on the radical journal The Masses. After it was closed down by the authorities because of its opposition to American involvement in the First World War, they joined with Art Young and Floyd Dell to establish the The Liberator. In the first edition it was stated: "The Liberator will be owned and published by its editors, who will be free in its pages to say what they truly think. It will fight in the struggle of labor. It will fight for the ownership and control of industry by the workers, and will present vivid and accurate news of the labor and socialist movements in all parts of the world." The journal published information about socialist movements throughout the world and was the first to break the news that the Allies had invaded Russia.

After the war Woodrow Wilson appointed A. Mitchell Palmer as his attorney general. Worried by the revolution that had taken place in Russia, Palmer became convinced that Communist agents were planning to overthrow the American government. Palmer recruited John Edgar Hoover as his special assistant and together they used the Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) to launch a campaign against radicals and left-wing organizations.

A. Mitchell Palmer claimed that Communist agents from Russia were planning to overthrow the American government. On 7th November, 1919, the second anniversary of the Russian Revolution, over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested in what became known as the Palmer Raids. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects were held without trial for a long time. The vast majority were eventually released but Emma Goldman and 247 other people, were deported to Russia.

In January, 1920, another 6,000 were arrested and held without trial. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects, many of them members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), continued to be held without trial. When Palmer announced that the communist revolution was likely to take place on 1st May, mass panic took place. In New York, five elected Socialists were expelled from the legislature.

Concerned by these events Eastman joined with Roger Baldwin, Norman Thomas, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, Lillian Wald, Felix Frankfurter, Oswald Garrison Villard, Paul Kellogg, Clarence Darrow, John Dewey, Charles Beard, Abraham Muste, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Upton Sinclair to form the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACTU's main concern was to defend the civil rights that were guaranteed in state and federal constitutions. This included:

(1) First Amendment rights: These include freedom of speech, association and assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, including the strict separation between church and state.

(2) Equal protection of the law: The right to equal treatment regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, age, physical handicap, or other such classification.

(3) Due process of law: The right to be treated fairly when facing criminal charges or other serious accusations that can result in such penalties as loss of employment, exclusion from school, denial of housing, or cut-off of benefits.

(4) The right of privacy and autonomy which cannot be penetrated by the government or by other institutions, like employers, with substantial influence over the individual's rights.

In December 1920, Crystal Eastman wrote in The Liberator: "Many feminists are socialists, many are communists, not a few are active leaders in these movements. But the true feminist, no matter how far to the left she may be in the revolutionary movement, sees the woman's battle as distinct in its objects and different in its methods from the workers' battle for industrial freedom. She knows, of course, that the vast majority of women as well as men are without property, and are of necessity bread and butter slaves under a system of society which allows the very sources of life to be privately owned by a few, and she counts herself a loyal soldier in the working-class army that is marching to overthrow that system. But as a feminist she also knows that the whole of woman's slavery is not summed up in the profit system, nor her complete emancipation assured by the downfall of capitalism.

In 1922 The Liberator was taken over by Robert Minor and the Communist Party. Eastman now wrote for The Nation and Equal Rights, a journal established by Alice Paul. Blacklisted for her left-wing political opinions and unable to find work, Eastman and her husband Walter Fuller moved to London. While in England she worked fot the Daily Herald and Time and Tide, a feminist journal established by Lady Margaret Rhondda. She also took part in the campaign to get votes for women on the same terms as men.

Walter Fuller died of a stroke in September 1927. Eastman returned home but was in poor health and died of a brain hemorrhage on 8th July, 1928. An obituary by Freda Kirchwey in The Nation pointed out that: "In her short life Crystal Eastman brushed against many other lives, and wherever she moved she carried with her the breath of courage and a contagious belief in the coming triumph of freedom and decent human relations. These were her religion. Her strength, her beauty, her vitality and enthusiasm, her rich and compelling personality - these she threw with reckless vigor into every cause that promised a finer life to the world." As another friend wrote at the time: "She was for thousands a symbol of what the free woman might be."

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Crystal Eastman wrote about her childhood in an article in The Nation (16th March, 1927)

When my mother preached we hated to miss it. There was never a moment of anxiety or concern; she had that secret of perfect platform ease which takes all strain out of the audience. Her voice was music; she spoke simply, without effort, almost without gestures, standing very still. And what she said seemed to come straight from her heart to yours. Her sermons grew out other own moral and spiritual struggles. For she had a stormy, troubled soul, capable of black cruelty and then again of the deepest generosities. She was humble, honest, striving, always beginning again to try to be good.

With all her other interests she was thoroughly domestic. We children loved her cooking as much as we loved her preaching. And she was all kinds of devoted mother, the kind that tucks you in at night and reads you a story, and the kind that drags you to the dentist to have your teeth straightened. But I must leave her now and try to fill out the picture. My father, too, played a large part in my life. He was a generous man, the kind of man that was a suffragist from the day he first heard of a woman who wanted to vote.

From the moment he knew that my mother wanted to preach, he helped and encouraged her. Without his coaching and without his local prestige, it is doubtful if she could have been ordained. And my father stood by me in the same way, from the time when I wanted to cut off my hair and go barefoot to the time when I began to study law. When I insisted that the boys must make their beds if I had to make mine, he stood by me. When I said that if there was dishwashing to be done they should take their turn, he stood by me. And when I declared that there was no such thing in our family as boys' work and girls' work, and that I must be allowed to do my share of wood-chopping and outdoor chores, he took me seriously and let me try.

Once when I was twelve and very tall, a deputation of ladies from her church called on my mother and gently suggested that my skirts ought to be longer. My mother, who was not without consciousness of the neighbors' opinions, thought she must do something. But my father said, "No, let her wear them short. She likes to run, and she can't run so well in long skirts

A few years later it was a question of bathing suits. In our summer community I was a ringleader in the rebellion against skirts and stockings for swimming. On one hot Sunday morning the other fathers waited on my father and asked him to use his influence with me. I don't know what he said to them but he never said a word to me. He was, I know, startled and embarrassed to see his only daughter in a man's bathing suit with bare brown legs for all the world to see. I think it shocked him to his dying day. But he himself had been a swimmer; he knew he would not want to swim in a skirt and stockings. Why then should I?

(2) Statement issued by the Crystal Eastman, Roger Baldwin and Norman Thomas for the Civil Liberties Bureau (2nd July 1917)

It is the tendency even of the most 'democratic' of governments embarked upon the most 'idealistic of wars' to sacrifice everything for complete military efficiency. To combat this tendency where it threatens free speech, free press, freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience - the essentials of liberty and the heritage of all past wars worth fighting - that is the first function of the AUAM today. To maintain something over here that will be worth coming back to when the weary war is over.

(3) Crystal Eastman, Birth Control Review (January, 1918)

Whether other feminists would agree with me that the economic is the fundamental aspect of feminism, I don't know. But on this we are surely agreed, that Birth Control is an elementary essential in all aspects of feminism. Whether we are the special followers of Alice Paul, or Ruth Law, or Ellen Key, or Olive Schreiner, we must all be followers of Margaret Sanger. Feminists are not nuns. That should be established. We want to love and to be loved, and most of us want children, one or two at least. But we want our love to be joyous and free - not clouded with ignorance and fear. And we want our children to be deliberately, eagerly called into being, when we are at our best, not crowded upon us in times of poverty and weakness. We want this precious sex knowledge not just for ourselves, the conscious feminists; we want it for all the millions of unconscious feminists that swarm the earth, - we want it for all women.

(4) The Liberator, editorial, introductory issue (March 1918)

Never was the moment more auspicious to issue a great magazine of liberty. With the Russian people in the lead, the world is entering upon the experiment of industrial and real democracy. Inspired by Russia, the German people are muttering a revolt that will go farther than its dearest advocates among the Allies dream. The working people of France, of Italy, of England, too, are determined that the end of autocracy in Germany shall be the end of wage-slavery at home. America has extended her hand to the Russians. She will follow in their path. The world is in the rapids. The possibilities of change in this day are beyond all imagination. We must unite our hands and voices to make the end of this war the beginning of an age of freedom and happiness for mankind undreamed by those whose 'minds comprehend only political and military events. With this ideal The Liberator comes into being on Lincoln's Birthday February 12, 1918.

The Liberator will be owned and published by its editors, who will be free in its pages to say what they truly think. It will fight in the struggle of labor. It will fight for the ownership and control of industry by the workers, and will present vivid and accurate news of the labor and socialist movements in all parts of the world.

It will advocate the opening of the land to the people, and urge the immediate taking over by the people of railroads, mines, telegraph and telephone systems, and all public utilities.

It will stand for the complete independence of women - politi- cal, social and economic - and an enrichment of the existence of mankind.

It will stand for a revolution in the whole spirit and method of dealing with crime.

It will join all wise men in trying to substitute for our rigid scholastic kind of educational system one which has a vivid relation to life.

It will assert the social and political equality of the black and white races, oppose every kind of racial discrimination, and conduct a remorseless publicity campaign against lynch law.

It will oppose laws preventing the spread of scientific knowledge about birth control.

(5) Crystal Eastman, The Liberator (December, 1920)

Many feminists are socialists, many are communists, not a few are active leaders in these movements. But the true feminist, no matter how far to the left she may be in the revolutionary movement, sees the woman's battle as distinct in its objects and different in its methods from the workers' battle for industrial freedom. She knows, of course, that the vast majority of women as well as men are without property, and are of necessity bread and butter slaves under a system of society which allows the very sources of life to be privately owned by a few, and she counts herself a loyal soldier in the working-class army that is marching to overthrow that system. But as a feminist she also knows that the whole of woman's slavery is not summed up in the profit system, nor her complete emancipation assured by the downfall of capitalism.

Woman's freedom, in the feminist sense, can be fought for and conceivably won before the gates open into industrial democracy. On the other hand, woman's freedom, in the feminist sense, is not inherent in the communist ideal. All feminists are familiar with the revolutionary leader who "can't see" the woman's movement. "What's the matter with the women? My wife's all right," he says. And his wife, one usually finds, is raising his children in a Bronx flat or a dreary suburb, to which he returns occasionally for food and sleep when all possible excitement and stimulus have been wrung from the fight. If we should graduate into communism tomorrow this man's attitude to his wife would not be changed. The proletarian dictatorship may or may not free women. We must begin now to enlighten the future dictators.

(6) Crystal Eastman, Short Hair and Short Skirts, unpublished article (c. 1920)

I am old enough to remember the time when women wore long skirts that touched the ground on all sides and trailed in the back. If you younger women don't believe it, look at some old photos of your mothers and aunts in the nineties. A disgusting costume you will say - yes, and you are right.

But we women don't have to worry any more about wearing long skirts. Not all the propaganda of the cleverest dressmakers in Paris could bring back into general use a street costume with a long trailing skirt. The very thought of it makes us laugh. It would be like trying to stop us from smoking cigarettes.

The truth of the matter is that whenever a style comes in that is comfortable, clean and not unbecoming, and that is a step in the direction of freedom, it comes to stay, because women are moving all the time in the direction of freedom. When the short skirt "came in" women - especially younger women - were quick to see that it was comfortable, hygienic and becoming and they saw too, some of them perhaps unconsciously, that it was a step in the direction of freedom; for it gave women a freer use of their legs than they had known for hundreds of years. Incidentally, it gave them back the use of the left hand which in the days of trailing skirts had always to be used for holding the ugly things up out of the dust and dirt.

How does this apply to the fashion of short hair? Does it fall into the category of styles that are bound to last? It is certainly comfortable and clean, but is it really beautiful? For beauty and freedom must go hand in hand if they are to live. Here I confess opinions differ.

For my part, I believe that a girl's hair, whether it is naturally curly or just thick and healthy, is more beautiful short, with the ends free and visible, than it is with the ends always tucked up out of sight in a wad on the head. And for the rest of us, those who have what may be described as just ordinary heads of hair, it seems to me that it is easier to achieve success with it short than long.

So much for cleanliness, comfort and beauty. But surely the best thing about bobbed hair is the new sense of freedom it brings to the wearer. What the short skirt has done for women's legs, short hair is doing for their heads. And outside of musical comedy, a woman's head is ever more important than her legs.

(7) Crystal Eastman, Now We Can Begin (December, 1920)

The problem of women's freedom is how to arrange the world so that women can be human beings, with a chance to exercise their infinitely varied gifts in infinitely ways, instead of being destined by the accident of their sex to one field of activity - housework and child-raising. And second, if and when they choose housework and child-raising to have that occupation recognized by the world as work, requiring a definite economic reward and not merely entitling the performer to be dependent on some man. I can agree that women will never be great until they achieve a certain emotional freedom, a strong healthy egotism, and some unpersonal source of joy - that is this inner sense we cannot make women free by changing her economic status.

(8) Max Eastman, Love and Revolution (1965)

My sister Crystal Eastman was the initiator and magnetizing director of that effort (the campaign against the First World War). She was beautiful and socially disarming, and yet inwardly a "mighty girl", as we named her in the bosom of the family. She was mighty enough, it now seems, to have played perhaps a critical role in shaping the course of North American history. For she organized and directed - and in fact to all intents and purposes, she was - the American Union Against Militarism.

The qualities in Crystal that I most rejoiced in were her ruthless sincerity and logic; the inexhaustible fountain of understanding love that made these qualities bearable; a supervening humor which kept that "belief in the coming triumph of freedom and decent human relations" from becoming fanatical; a gift of entering into the problems of other people as though she had no problems of her own - a veritable genius for friendship and wise counsel; and withal a passionate joy in the adventure of living her own life.

(9) Claude McKay, A Long Way From Home (1935)

The moment I saw her and heard her voice I liked Crystal Eastman. I think she was the most beautiful white woman I ever knew. She was of the heavy or solid type of female, and her beauty was not so much other features . . . but in her magnificent presence. Her form was something after the pattern of a splendid draft horse and she had a way of holding her head like a large bird poised m a listening attitude.

(10) Crystal Eastman, Daily Herald (May 1925)

In all countries where women have won the vote Suffragists tend to separate into two distinct groups so far as their public activities go: there are the humanitarians who devote themselves to securing those measures of general human betterment for which enlightened women have always stood, and there are the feminists, who, as long as any inequality exists between men and women, regard it as the chief object of organised women to remove it.

Already in the United States the line is clearly drawn, and the two groups are organised. There is the Woman's Party, which exists solely "to remove all forms of the subjection of women," and the League of Women Voters, which takes up child welfare, education, social hygiene, international co-operation to prevent war, etc., as well as uniform laws concerning women.

Elsewhere the same division will inevitably take place; women who have worked side by side to win the vote will divide according to whether their interests are mainly humanitarian or mainly feminist. Sometimes the two groups find themselves directly antagonistic, as for instance in the matter of special labour restrictions for women.

The feminists oppose such restrictions, when they apply to women and not to men, as an unwarranted interference with woman's freedom and as a serious handicap in competition with men. The humanitarians defend them as a necessary protection to motherhood and the race.

A lively debate on this subject took place at the recent International Congress of Women at Rome, in connection with the resolution that "no special regulations for women's work, different from regulations for men, should be imposed contrary to the wishes of the women concerned."

(11) Freda Kirchwey, The Nation (8th August, 1928)

Crystal Eastman is dead. And all over the world there are women and men who will feel touched with loss, who will look on a world that seems more sober, more subdued. In her short life Crystal Eastman brushed against many other lives, and wherever she moved she carried with her the breath of courage and a contagious belief in the coming triumph of freedom and decent human relations. These were her religion. She preached it in many places and in many forms. In the struggle for woman's suffrage and for equality between men and women; in her work for peace and the rule of reason among peoples; in the fight for social justice and human liberty - as feminist, pacifist, socialist - she fought for her faith. Her strength, her beauty, her vitality and enthusiasm, her rich and compelling personality - these she threw with reckless vigor into every cause that promised a finer life to the world. She spent herself wholly, and died - too young.

Crystal Eastman was a great leader. Those who knew her, know these words are nor too strong. When she spoke to people - whether it was to a small committee or a swarming crowd - hearts beat faster and nerves tightened as she talked. She was simple, direct, dramatic. Force poured from her strong body and her rich voice, and people followed where she led. Her vitality overflowed into thousands of other feebler spirits and made them, for the moment at least, into the likeness of herself. In her personal as in her public life her enthusiasm and strength were spent without thought; she had no pride or sense of her own power. Her capacity for warm and generous friendships seemed unlimited.

She believed in absolute equality. She would have abolished, along with the legal discriminations against women, all the laws which favored them. This included every form of protection whether in the form of property, or alimony, or support by a husband, or industrial safeguards. One may question the social wisdom of her position, but no one could doubt its courage or sincerity. She saw in the light other faith a world in which men and women worked and played and loved as equals; nothing less than this would satisfy her.