Anna Strunsky

Anna Strunsky

Anna Strunsky, the daughter of Elias Strunsky, a successful businessman, was born in Russia on 21st March, 1879. Her mother, Anna Horowitz Strunsky, had married her husband when she was only sixteen-years-old. Anna later recalled: "The only recollection of Russia for me was of a long village street and barefoot children and rambling hovels. I remembered myself a little child standing in a patch of sunlight and poking my fingers into a wall and finding it soft as sand."

In 1885 the Strunsky family emigrated to the United States. They lived in New York City until moving to San Francisco in 1894. During her last year in high school, Anna joined the Socialist Labor Party (SLP). She later recalled: "You are born a socialist. You are born with music, or poetry or painting or science. You can't really become a socialist unless you're born that way." Her father, who had inspired her interest in politics, disagreed with her decision - "not because he grudged me to a great cause, but because he felt there was something amiss with the cause with which I had become infatuated."

Strunsky was a talented orator and in 1896 The San Francisco Examiner described her as the "Girl Socialist of San Francisco". James Boylan, the author of Revolutionary Lives (1998), has argued: "The fascinated reporter found in her face the 'beauty of intelligence' rather than prettiness and noted her 'pleading, sorrowful voice'. He referred to her as Russian by birth but clearly identified her as Jewish with references to 'Oriental' aspects of her appearance."

San Francisco Examiner (3rd October, 1897)
San Francisco Examiner (3rd October, 1897)

Strunsky became a student at Stanford University and in December 1899 met the young writer, Jack London. She later recalled: "Objectively, I confronted a young man of about twenty-two, and saw a pale face illumined by large, blue eyes fringed with dark lashes, and a beautiful mouth which, opening in its ready laugh, revealed an absence of front teeth, adding to the boyishness of his appearance. The brow, the nose, the contour of the cheeks, the massive throat, were Greek. His form gave an impression of grace and athletic strength, though he was a little under the American, or rather Californian, average in height. He was dressed in gray, and was wearing the soft white shirt and collar which he had already adopted."

They became very close and in 1903 they wrote a joint novel, The Kempton-Wace Letters (1903). Norma Fain Pratt argues that the "book is devoted to a debate on the nature of love in which the woman correspondent, Dane Kempton, defines the ideals of love as romantic, while the man, Herbert Wace, contends love is essentially biological."

Anna met Emma Goldman during this period. Goldman later wrote: "Anna and I became great friends. She had been suspended from Leland Stanford University because she had received a male visitor in her room instead of in the parlour. I told Anna of my life in Vienna and of the men students with whom we used to drink tea, smoke, and discuss all through the night. Anna thought that the American woman would establish her right to liberty and privacy, once she secured the vote. I did not agree with her."

After the 1905 Russian Revolution she established a branch of the Friends of Russian Freedom in San Francisco. During this period she met William English Walling, the wealthy member of the American Socialist Party. Walling was very attracted towards Strunsky but told a friend that her relationship with London meant that he was unable to marry her. "Anna has been living with a man for six or seven years. I couldn't love her."

Walling visited Paris in 1905. While in the city he met sixteen-year-old, Anna Berthe Grunspan, a recent arrival from Russia. He asked her if she was an "Hebrew". When she said she was, he replied that he was "very fond of Hebrew ladies". According to his biographer, James Boylan: "She recently had left school to become a shop girl. She lived with her family in quarters so humble that, she recalled later, she tried to keep Walling from paying a call. He began to see her several times a week, then every night. They entered a sexual liaison that, in his account, began within a few days... Her persuaded her to quit her job, assuring her that he would give her money equivalent to her pay." Walling took her on holiday to Germany. In order to get a room in a hotel in Berlin he was forced to claim that Anna was his wife. She later claimed that she assumed that they now were engaged to be married.

After William English Walling returned to the United States he resumed his relationship with Strunsky. After arriving in St. Petersburg to witness the impact of the 1905 Russian Revolution, he sent her a telegram inviting her and her sister Rose, to join him. "He (Walling) met us at the train, dressed in a big Russian coat and an astrakhan cap. I kissed him." Strunsky was excited by the revolutionary atmosphere of the city. "On the streets, they were selling pamphlets, the covers of which were decorated with the portraits of Karl Marx, Bakunin, Kropotkin. In the windows of book shops were displayed photographs of Sophi Perovski, who was executed for taking part in the assassination of Alexander II; of Vera Zassulich, the first to commit a deed of violence for political reasons in modern Russia; of Vera Figner, whose resurrection from the Fortress of Schlusselburg had just taken place... More astounding... were the cartoons which appeared several times a day were bought as quickly as they could be had - cartoons portraying the Czar swimming in a sea of blood, mice gnawing away the foundation of the throne... Was I dreaming? Free press, free speech, free assemblage in Russia."

On 26th January, 1906, Walling wrote to his parents about the woman he intended to marry: "She is considered by Mr. Brett the manager of Macmillans as nothing less than a genius in her work as a writer. She is the most known speaker on the Coast. She is loved, sometimes too much, by everybody that knows her - literary men, Settlement people, Socialists. All my friends know her. She is young (26) and very healthy and strong... Of course she is a Jewess and her name is Anna Strunsky (but I hope to improve that - at least in private life - but we haven't spoken much of such things).

Strunsky wrote to her father: "We are in the city where you have spent so many happy and so many bitter years... I found Russia in the same hour that I found love. It was fated. Russia had stood for quite other things, but the man I love and who loves me, so tenderly, dear, as tenderly as mother, and as deeply has open vistas before me and changed the face of things forever." She confided in her diary: "Henceforth I am no longer alone. I am more afraid of this than a sick child alone in the dark."

Walling and Strunsky married in Paris in 1906. The San Francisco Call newspaper carried the headline: "Girl Socialist Wins Millionaire". Another newspaper had the headline: "Socialism Finds Bride for a Rich Yankee in Russia". The Chicago American compared their marriage to those of James Phelps Stokes and Rose Pastor and Leroy Scott and Miriam Finn, two rich men who married left-wing Jewish immigrants.

Walling wrote to his father-in-law: "Anna and I begin to see our lives together in a clearer light. We are talking of our love as much as ever but we begin to speak of our lives too now. This means some very great changes on the part of both. Neither of our lives followed ordinary channels and the adjustment means a great deal. Often it is the woman that does most of the adjusting. With us it is not so. Anna is a personality and a personage in her work and the beautiful and noble influence she must have on the world means as much to me as it does to her". Their first child, born in 1908, died when only five days old. The following year Anna had a miscarriage. Over the next few years Anna Walling gave birth to four children, Rosamond, Anna, Georgia, and William Hayden English.

In August, 1908, Anna and her husband witnessed the Springfield Riot in Illinois, where a white mob attacked local African Americans. During the riot two were lynched, six killed, a nd over 2,000 African Americans were forced to leave the city. In an article entitled, The Race War in the North , that he wrote for the The Independent about the riot, Walling complained that "a large part of the white population" in the area were waging "permanent warfare with the Negro race". Walling argued that they only way to reduce this conflict was "to treat the Negro on a plane of absolute political and social equality".

William English Walling and Anna Strunsky
William English Walling and Anna Strunsky

Mary Ovington, a journalist working for the New York Evening Post, responded to the article by writing to William English Walling and at a meeting in New York they decided to form the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). The first meeting of the NAACP was held on 12th February, 1909. Early members included Josephine Ruffin, Mary Talbert, Mary Church Terrell, Inez Milholland, Jane Addams, George Henry White, William Du Bois, Charles Edward Russell, John Dewey, Charles Darrow, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, Fanny Garrison Villard, Oswald Garrison Villard and Ida Wells-Barnett.

Anna Berthe Grunspan moved to New York City and on 21st February, 1911, the New York Times reported: "Anna Bertha Grunspan, a Russian girl, who spent most of her life in Paris, told a Supreme Court jury before Justice Giegerich yesterday the story on which she hopes to recover $100,000 for breach of promise from William English Walling, the wealthy Socialist and husband of Anna Strunsky Walling, a settlement worker and writer on Russian politics. Walling denies that he ever promised to marry Miss Grunspan, who now lives at 245 East Thirtieth Street."

Miss Grunspan told the court: "He told me that I was the sweetest and dearest woman on earth and that he ought to know, because he had been all over the world. He said I would make him the happiest man in the world if I would marry him. He said he was rich and that it was criminal for me to work when he had so much money." On 29th July, 1905, in the company of her parents "put a new ring, with a design of three leaves and studded with two pearls and a diamond, on her finger".

The New York World reported that: "Mrs. Walling - Anna Strunsky, authoress and revolutionist - was present in court... Several hundred comrades, men and women, packed the big courtroom. At the recesses they formed excited groups and discussed the trial in many languages." Strunsky also gave evidence in the case. Her mother-in-law, Rosalind English Walling, later recalled: "I think Anna's corroboration of her husband's testimony was good, and she said just what she ought to have said."

The New York World (4th March, 1911)
The New York World (4th March, 1911)

During the trial Anna Berthe Grunspan attacked the behavior of Walling in the court: "Oh, that man, that man, I can't stand the way he's looking at me. His look goes right through me, and it's the nastiest kind of a look. It gives me the horrors. And then, too, the way he and that woman, his wife, chuckle and laugh together." Grunspan also complained about Strunsky smiling and laughing in court.

The all male jury found Walling not guilty. However, the trial did have an impact on his image. Fred R. Moore, the editor of the New York Age, wrote: "We hope that no colored man or woman will in the future disgrace our race by inviting Mr. Walling in their home or ask him to speak at any public meeting." There were also complaints by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and although he remained on the board he rarely attended meetings.

In 1912, their Max Eastman , became editor of the left-wing magazine, The Masses. Organised like a co-operative, artists and writers who contributed to the journal shared in its management. Walling and Strunsky joined the team as did Floyd Dell, John Reed, Crystal Eastman, Sherwood Anderson, Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair, Amy Lowell, Louise Bryant, John Sloan, Dorothy Day, Cornelia Barns, Alice Beach Winter, Art Young, Boardman Robinson, Robert Minor, K. R. Chamberlain, Stuart Davis, George Bellows and Maurice Becker. As well as writing for the magazine, Anna published the novel, Violette of Père Lachaise (1915).

William English Walling, like most of his friends, was totally against war. He argued that he supported "not only the ordinary Socialist opposition to all wars, but the taking of the most desperate means to prevent them". However, on the outbreak of the First World War he changed his mind on the subject as he agreed with H. G. Wells that the conflict would lead to a revolution against Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II. He wrote to Jack London in 1915: "I am an ultra-optimist about the war. I think it is altogether going to eclipse the French Revolution and have an infinitely greater result for good in all directions - before we are through with it... the everlasting smash of German civilization and all it stands for is worth almost any price."

Max Eastman, the editor of The Masses, disagreed with Walling and argued that the war had been caused by the imperialist competitive system. Eastman and journalists such as John Reed who reported the conflict for The Masses, argued that the USA should remain neutral. Most of those involved with the journal agreed with this view but there was a small minority, including Walling, John Spargo and Upton Sinclair, who wanted the USA to join the Allies against the Central Powers. When Walling failed to convince his fellow members he ceased to contribute to the journal.

Floyd Dell pointed out: "The Masses stood, according to the best of its bewildered lights, for peace, Socialism, and revolution; it told the truth, which just wasn't being done in America. William English Walling and other pro-Ally editors denounced us as pro-German and resigned. But new editors and contributors joined us. And most of the artists stayed with us; and the art-for-art's-sakers became among the most boldly propagandist of all." Walling also left the American Socialist Party because of its attitude towards the war.

Anna Strunsky disagreed with her husband over this issue of the First World War. Wheras he urged President Woodrow Wilson to join on the side of the allies, Strunsky joined the Women's Peace Party and argued for a negotiated peace. However, after the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II in 1917 she supported armed struggle to protect the gains of the revolution. Walling wrote to Strunsky in March, 1917: "Of course I think your proposal to attack in the back those who are giving up their lives for democracy, peace, and anti-militarism is criminal to the last degree. But the world is moving in spite of all you do to help the militarists and reactionaries. You are their accomplice and neither I nor mankind, nor the genuine idealists and revolutionaries of the world will ever forget or forgive what your kind has said and done in this great hour. If I fight it will be against the traitors to internationalism - I trust you will not be among them."

Strunsky replied: "A Revolutionist believes in the people and opposes the established order - my faith in the people and opposition to establishment law and order are deep and integral with my whole being. I am not a Junker because I not only give my consent to the rioters of the streets of Petrograd for what they did, but had I not you and our children I would not have hesitated, even at this distance to join them and fall by their side for a regenerated Russia. As it is, rich and wonderful as my life is with you and my children I do not at all feel that I belong wholly to myself and the time may come when I, the most passionate lover of life ever born, may go out to meet death for my Cause - as gallantly as any soldier ever did - but I will make sure that it is my Cause and not the Cause of my enemy... I have capitulated to your point of view about this War. What else can we do with the enemy at the door of the Russian Revolution but give him battle and rout him? Until the German people revolt we have to repel their advance upon freedom and democracy with the edge of the sword."

Anna Strunsky disagreed with her husband over this issue of the First World War and this created problems in their marriage. They also had arguments on the merits of the Russian Revolution. Whereas she was an enthusiastic supporter he was highly critical of the Bolsheviks. Walling had moved so far to the right he accused the Woodrow Wilson administration of being infected with bolshevism: "The evidence from public expressions of influential friends of Mr. Wilson is sufficient enough to make a book to prove the pro-Bolshevist tendencies of our government... I really believe that every revolutionary movement in Europe from the mild and revolutionary Socialism of Arthur Henderson to Bolshevism has been largely sustained by the Wilson appointees with the full knowledge of Mr. Wilson himself."

In 1932 William Walling filed for a Mexican divorce, but Anna refused to recognize the end of the marriage. She wrote to her son-in-law in November 1932: "English promised me he would come back when he left me. Eventually he will keep that promise... He has made mistakes and so have I, and for the most part each was the cause of the other's mistakes... Now we have come to an impasse, because I look upon my life with English as a collaboration. He cannot ask me to write the wrong ending to the book we have been writing all these years. All he can do is suspend publication - which is exactly what has happened."

On 27th September, 1933, Strunsky wrote in her diary: "I was wrong when I fell in love with him and began my life with him. I was never safe in his hands. He worked against me in the dark with my children, his mother, so passionately dear to me, my friends and family. He did worse - he worked against me in the dark with himself, in his own heart, for he never gave me a chance to explain, to defend myself."

Strunsky's old friend, Leonard D. Abbott, asked her to marry him. James Boylan, the author of Revolutionary Lives (1998), has pointed out: "She loved him (Abbott), she told herself, but she did not admit him to the status of lover. She remained always radical in public, Victorian and bourgeoisie in private."

William Walling died of pneumonia in Amsterdam on 12th September, 1936. On his bedside table was a new edition of Michel de Montaigne, with a passage marked: "Do not be afraid to die away from home, do not abandon travel when ill or old."

Anna Walling continued to be active in politics and was a member of the War Resisters League, the American League to Abolish Capital Punishment, the League for Industrial Democracy, and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.

Anna Strunsky Walling died in February 1964.

© John Simkin, May 2013

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Jack London, letter to Anna Strunsky (21st December 1899)

Somehow I am like a fish out of water. I take to conventionality uneasily, rebelliously. I am used to saying what I think, neither more nor less. Soft equivocation is no part of me. As had I spoken to a man who came out of nowhere, shared my bed and board for a night, and passed on, so did I speak to you. Life is very short. The melancholy of materialism can never be better expressed than by Fitzgerald's "O make haste." One should have no time to dally. And further, should you know me, understand this: I, too, was a dreamer, on a farm, nay, a California ranch. But early, at only nine, the hard hand of the world was laid upon me. It was never relaxed. It has left me sentiment, but destroyed sentimentalism. It has made me practical, so that I am known as harsh, stern, uncompromising. It has taught me that reason is mightier than imagination; that the scientific man is superior to the emotional man. It has also given me a truer and a deeper romance of things, an idealism which is an inner sanctuary and which must be resolutely throttled in dealing with my kind, but which yet remains within the Holy of Holies, like an oracle, to be cherished always but to be made manifest or be consulted not on every occasion I go to market. To do this latter would bring upon me the ridicule of my fellows and make me a failure; to sum up, simply the eternal fitness of things:

All of which goes to show that people are prone to misunderstand me. May I have the privilege of not so classing you?

Nay, I did not walk down the street after Hamilton - I ran. And I had a heavy overcoat, and I was very warm and breathless. The emotional man in me had his will, and I was ridiculous.

I shall be over Saturday night. If you draw back upon yourself, what have I left ? Take me this way : a stray guest, a bird of passage, splashing with salt-rimed wings through a brief moment of your life - a rude and blundering bird, used to large airs and great spaces, unaccustomed to the amenities of confined existence. An unwelcome visitor, to be tolerated only because of the sacred law of food and blanket.

(2) Jack London, letter to Anna Strunsky (15th March, 1900)

Regarding box... please remember that I have disclosed myself in my nakedness - all those vain efforts and passionate strivings are so many weaknesses of mine which I put into your possession. Why, the grammar is often frightful, and always bad, while artistically, the whole boxful is atrocious. Now don't say I am piling it on. If I did not realize and condemn those faults I would be unable to try to do better. But - why, I think in sending that box to you I did the bravest thing I ever did in my life.

Say, do you know I am getting nervous and soft as a woman. I've got to get out again and stretch my wings or I shall become a worthless wreck. I am getting timid, do you hear? Timid! It must stop. Enclosed letter I received to-day, and it brought a contrast to me of my then 'unfailing nerve' and my present nervousness and timidity. Return it, as I suppose I shall have to answer it some day.

(3) William English Walling, letter to Elias Strunsky (22nd April, 1906)

Anna and I begin to see our lives together in a clearer light. We are talking of our love as much as ever but we begin to speak of our lives too now. This means some very great changes on the part of both. Neither of our lives followed ordinary channels and the adjustment means a great deal. Often it is the woman that does most of the adjusting. With us it is not so. Anna is a personality and a personage in her work and the beautiful and noble influence she must have on the world means as much to me as it does to her. To-day for the first time I have even urged some of her work on her-though I know that must usually be left to her own conscience and inspiration. But I can, must and will help her. I am sufficiently differently constituted to do this and too sympathetic to utter a word that might hinder her in any way.

(4) Anna Strunsky, diary entry (12th September, 1916)

The last remark English made last night in bed was "Who ever got any service out of you?"

"What about my serving the babies day and night,"' I remonstrated and I might have added had I not followed my new plan of avoiding as much as possible personal conversation, even when it begins most pleasantly because lie always makes it end speedily in disaster - I might have added "I have served all my life unstintingly - when I taught English to foreigners for nothing all through my girlhood, when I sat up nights correcting other people's articles and stories, when I helped workingmen friends prepare for Regents exams, when I nursed momma, suffered because I was not allowed to do more for my motherless nieces; when in the Socialist Party, I did endless drudgery like being secretary of the Central Committee for over 2 years, and on other committees to which I gave my precious time - time for which my soul and my young fiery senses had other uses altogether. I have given, given, given and now in my babies I give a thousand fold more than ever." . . .

So this morning he refers to his leaving himself free to go or not to go to Boston. "I never tie myself up, it I can help it."

"That's splendid," I say to him. "I always tie myself up. I love freedom, but I have so many duties always."

"Well," he says deprecatingly, "You are like my father." I remonstrate. "I am anything but rigid in my plans; I have always broken my own appointments with myself, in order to keep the last least appointment with everybody. I lose my freedom through being so social, father through being so set on his own ways he tics himself up. I let others tie me up."

"You," says English, "are neither social nor individual. The one who possesses you gets nothing out of you, for you are tied up to the first person that comes along."

This is what I call a thought to cheer me on the way, to start the day upon.

(5) William English Walling, letter to Anna Strunsky (March, 1917)

Of course I think your proposal to attack in the back those who are giving up their lives for democracy, peace, and anti-militarism is criminal to the last degree. But the world is moving in spite of all you do to help the militarists and reactionaries. You are their accomplice and neither I nor mankind, nor the genuine idealists and revolutionaries of the world will ever forget or forgive what your kind has said and done in this great hour. If I fight it will be against the traitors to internationalism - I trust you will not be among them.

(6) Anna Strunsky, letter to William English Walling (21st March, 1917)

Not being a Junker you cannot turn me into one by saying so. It is as just to call my opposition to war Junkerism as it would be for me to say that because you do not always oppose war that you are cruel and blood-thirsty... by torturing and slaying people known to mankind!

You are not a militarist, and I am not a Junker.

A Revolutionist believes in the people and opposes the established order - my faith in the people and opposition to establishment law and order are deep and integral with my whole being. I am not a Junker because I not only give my consent to the rioters of the streets of Petrograd for what they did, but had I not you and our children I would not have hesitated, even at this distance to join them and fall by their side for a regenerated Russia. As it is, rich and wonderful as my life is with you and my children I do not at all feel that I belong wholly to myself and the time may come when I, the most passionate lover of life ever born, may go out to meet death for my Cause - as gallantly as any soldier ever did - but I will make sure that it is my Cause and not the Cause of my enemy.

Some day you will understand me as well as I understand you and then we will laugh together at our past sufferings. That is my day and night dream. It lies in your power to make it come true.

I have had a happy birthday.

I have capitulated to your point of view about this War. What else can we do with the enemy at the door of the Russian Revolution but give him battle and rout him? Until the German people revolt we have to repel their advance upon freedom and democracy with the edge of the sword....

I am forced to descend from my height "Above the Battle" freely to adopt new processes of thought and feeling altogether from those that have guided ine for two and a half years. But you cannot dream how it tortures me to have been weak and sick all day to consent to war! I do finally "vote the money and the men" but I do not expect to survive it. In a sense I have already failed to survive it - so much has fallen together in me and died since this morning when my new conception was borne in upon me.

Ever since Rosalind English was born I have seen everybody as a little baby shining on a pillow or on a mother's breast; I have had a mother's tenderness towards the world of men and women; I could always see everybody as they were born to be, not as they were. I feel as if this, my motherhood, were slain this morning when I read the papers and read of the German danger to Russia and when I vicariously flew to arms.... You are more fortunately constituted than I am. You are never divided against yourself. Whatever you think is right and best you have strength for.