by Dr. Edward Allan Brawley
Professor Emeritus, Arizona State Univerity
Copyright ©2011. All rights reserved by the author.
In New York City, in the Spring of 1905, it appeared as if fairy tales could really come true for even the poorest and most humble young women toiling in the City’s factories and sweatshops when it was announced to an astonished public that a young Jewish immigrant from Poland was to marry a member of one of the wealthiest Christian families in America. As Stephen Birmingham notes in The Rest of Us, “the American reading public was treated to banner headlines detailing what was billed as a real-life ‘Cinderella Story.’”[i] Departing from its usually iron-clad policy of relegating the coverage of engagements to the society page, The New York Times, on April 5, trumpeted the news of this particular match in a front-page story under the headline: J.G. PHELPS STOKES TO WED YOUNG JEWESS.”[ii] Clearly, for The Times and its readers, this was no run-of-the-mill betrothal.
While the press could provide only the sketchiest detail about Rose Pastor, the bride-to-be – her religion, Eastern European origin, and modest means was about the sum total of what could be reported – there was no shortage of information concerning the prospective bride-groom. J. G. Phelps Stokes, or Graham, as he liked to be called “…was a member of one of New York City’s ‘great families,’” a designation that “was certified when the family headed by Anson Phelps Stokes was included in Ward McAllister’s ‘Four Hundred,’ the number that would comfortably fit into Mrs. William Astor’s ballroom. They were the cream of ‘society’; all others were the milk, not to speak of the curds and whey.”[iii] McAllister was a prominent New York lawyer who acquired a significant fortune through marriage and established himself as an influential judge of the relative social standing of America’s new aristocracy. In this role, he helped the newly rich, such as the Astors, discern who were the true “blue bloods” and who were not.[iv]
The Phelps Stokes family was undoubtedly among the “blue bloods,” being able to trace their lineage back to Colonial times. They had been listed in New York’s Social Register from the time it had begun to be published and currently headed a long-established banking, mining and railroad dynasty. Graham himself was president or vice-president of several of these family businesses. With three Ivy League university degrees, including one in medicine, he had intended to engage in missionary work in Africa but was persuaded by his father to remain in the U. S. and devote his energies to the family’s businesses. As it happened, his duties were not so onerous as to preclude his engagement in missionary work among America’s own poor and dispossessed, including playing a leadership role in New York City’s Settlement Houses.
Although Rose was destined soon to become very well known to the cream of American society, prior to her marriage to Graham she would not have been included among Mrs. Astor’s guests. She was two years old when her mother and step-father fled with her from the Czarist pogroms occurring in the Jewish Pale of Settlement, initially settling in England where Rose attended elementary school, learned to speak flawless English with an interesting British accent, and developed a life-long love of learning. Ten years later, when she was twelve, her parents immigrated to America. Her step-father died very soon thereafter and, as the sole breadwinner for her mother and younger siblings, for the next twelve years, Rose worked as a cigar-wrapper in factories and sweatshops in Cleveland.
During this time, Rose devoted herself to self-education through constant reading. Wrapping cigars for fourteen hours a day was tedious work but practice makes perfect and soon “she discovered that she could sit at her worktable, rolling cigars with one hand, with a book in her lap, turning the pages with the other. Whenever her supervisor moved along the line, inspecting the girls’ work, Rose would tuck the book under her apron.”[v] Ironically, although her step-father’s death propelled Rose into the workforce at a very early age, his absence from her life freed her from the traditional strictures that an Orthodox Jewish father at that time would have felt obliged to observe; boys should study, while girls should prepare themselves for marriage.
Eventually, Rose began to expand her self-development activities by writing short items for newspapers and magazines. Some of her pieces began to be published and, quite unexpectedly, in 1903, she moved to New York City with her family to take up an appointment as a columnist and assistant editor of the English section of the Yiddish-language newspaper, the Tageblatt (Jewish Daily News). When Rose interviewed Graham, a resident of New York’s University Settlement and one of the leaders of the movement, for one of the stories her newspaper was covering – whether or not, as some leaders of the Jewish community feared, the Christian-run Settlement Houses were attempting to convert the Jewish immigrants who used their services -- they found that they had an irresistible mutual attraction, as well as an equally strong commitment to addressing the plight of society’s least favored members.
Graham began inviting Rose to tea and other social gatherings at “the exclusive clubhouse on the settlement’s top floor, and she was exposed to the heady talk that went on there.”[vi] As Rose would recall in her unfinished autobiography, “Both resident workers and guests were full of fine enthusiasms on the subject of the struggling poor. …they were the sources of my inspiration.”[vii] Rose leaves us in no doubt about how that inspiration manifested itself in her case. “The University Settlement was a seething center for the exchange of ideas; and contact with these schools of thought and these glowing advocates stirred most deeply in me the desire to serve my class--the countless millions who toil and live in poverty and wretchedness and insecurity.”[viii]
Rose’s exposure to the radical ideas expounded at the University Settlement was not what radicalized her, however. She had already journeyed a long way down that path before she met Graham. Her own direct experience of exploitation as a factory worker, being fired for her pro-union sympathies, and exposure to the left-wing views held by many members of the Eastern European immigrant communities where she had lived in London, Cleveland and New York, had all had an impact. Besides, on her own initiative, she had undertaken a “systematic study of sociology, especially as expounded in the books of the radicals’ favorite, Lester F. Ward, a wise, self-taught son of the poor.”[ix] Nevertheless, Rose’s radical inclinations were certainly reinforced and refined “by the battle of ideas that she witnessed--and gingerly took part in--on the settlement’s top floor. Here she began to meet the rich mix of people--not just the mix of rich people--that typified her associations to the end of her life.”[x]
Rose and Graham were married on Rose’s twenty-sixth birthday, July 18, 1905, at the Brick House, the Stokes country house in Noroton, Connecticut.
Rose Pastor Stokes soon demonstrated that she was more than just the wife of a well-to-do man. Her sparkling personality and, above all, her oratory, driven by a bright mind and golden tongue, enabled her to play an important role, especially before World War I, in political propaganda, in labor strikes and struggles, and in feminist campaigns such as the fight for suffrage and birth control. She did not hesitate to turn from Socialism to feminism and vice versa to further the cause of women’s rights. And in her limited free time she wrote plays, prose, and poems. Though she easily made the transition from underclass to upper class, she retained an allegiance to the working class under conditions that proved far from easy.”[xi]
Her personal attractiveness, youth, high-profile activism on behalf of the oppressed, and her unswerving adherence to principle made Rose a celebrity and her membership in the Stokes family gave her, for a time, the support to pursue the causes that were important to her. “Over the period 1905 to 1925 she was as famous as any woman in the world. She was more famous than her partners in struggle, including Emma Goldman, Helen Keller, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Margaret Sanger.”[xii]
Graham was also an attractive public figure who was fully capable of commanding the attention of an audience, having been “at various times…President of such firms as the Nevada Company, the Phelps Stokes Corporation, Austin Mining Company, and the Nevada Central Railroad Company and Vice-President of the State Bank of Nevada.”[xiii] In his public speaking engagements, especially after he had spoken from the same platform at the Cooper Union in New York City from which Abraham Lincoln had initiated his presidential campaign in 1860, Rose described Graham as resembling “the young Lincoln, without the beard.”[xiv]
After a honeymoon trip to Europe, which included a visit to Rose’s birthplace, the couple returned to their new home on Caritas Island on Long Island Sound. Both the island and the house that was built for them on it were gifts to the newlyweds from Graham’s mother. Rose provided the island’s name, Caritas, Latin for charity, and she and Graham were soon to be joined there by kindred spirits in the cause of radical social reform. “Within a year or so, the Scotts (Leroy and Miriam) moved to a small house on Caritas, as did William English Walling and his wife, Anna Strunsky, forming, if not a Socialist circle, a Socialist triangle on the island. ‘Thus,’ as one writer has pointed out, ‘three wealthy WASPs of impeccable social standing were living on a tiny New England island with their wives, all Jewish women born in Russia.’”[xv]
By this time, the Socialist Party of America, headed by such moderate leaders as Eugene Debs, Morris Hillquit and Victor Berger, had been in existence for about four years and, because of the aura of respectability they gave the Party, it soon began to develop a serious following beyond its working class origins. In his autobiography, Hillquit notes that, while early Socialism in America had had a few intellectuals sprinkled among its leaders, “after about 1905 the movement began to attract ever-growing numbers of men and women in literary and academic circles.”[xvi]
Hillquit recounts one especially noteworthy gathering that he attended in March 1906 that, in his view, was of historic significance for American Socialism. “It was organized by social reformer Robert Hunter, Graham’s brother-in-law, and lasted three days and three nights. Mr. Hunter was then a young man of twenty-eight years. He was a settlement worker imbued with radical views and had just written a book, Poverty, which had attracted some attention.”[xvii] Hunter co-hosted the gathering with Graham, Rose, and Graham’s sister, Helen, at the Phelps Stokes family home in Noroton, Connecticut. Twenty-five people active in social reform efforts were invited to spend three days discussing current social, economic and political issues. “The debate was lively and continuous, interrupted regularly by three meals a day and irregularly and fitfully by sleep. It covered a large range of subjects, with Socialism always in the background. All phases of the Socialist philosophy and methods were expounded, analyzed, attacked and defended.”[xviii]
Rose, who had only very recently married Graham, was described by Hillquit as “a Jewish factory worker of rare charm, who in the aristocratic surroundings of the Noroton ‘Brick House’ looked and acted more to the manner born than almost any other member of the assembly.”[xix] Testimonials like this to Rose’s charm, as well as her goodness and nobility, would continue throughout her life. However, her apparent comfort in the elevated social circles of the Stokes family had some limitations. For example: “in a well-intended but fatuous attempt to involve Rose in a socially acceptable form of charitable activity, her sister-in-law Ethel (Mrs. John Sherman Hoyt) took her to meetings of a flower club, which, Rose found, placed flower boxes in the windows of the poor and sent the no longer fresh bouquets of the rich to the poor in hospitals. Rose soon dropped out of the flower club.”[xx] She was convinced that good deeds and good intentions were insufficient and that “the evils of society stemmed from the system and could be remedied only by changing the system itself.”[xxi]
Shortly after the meeting that they had helped organize at the Stokes home in Noroton, Graham and Rose took a trip to Nevada to fulfill Graham’s responsibilities as President of mining and railroad companies there. A planned side-trip to San Francisco had to be cancelled because of the devastating earthquake and fire that occurred there on April 18, 1906.
They went to Pasadena instead and while there attended a May First meeting. The persuasive eloquence of the Socialist speaker, J. Stitt Wilson, gave them much to think about. On the way home to New York, Graham said to a pensive Rose, “What is it, Roselie -- Socialism?” He told her that if he stayed with the Municipal Ownership League he would be nominated for governor of New York State--but he chose Socialism with Rose. On August 1 they both applied for membership in the Socialist party and were promptly accepted.”[xxii]
Like others, Hillquit credits the growing “literature of exposure” of such muckraking journalists as Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Charles Edward Russell and Ray Stannard Baker for creating the foundation for the unprecedented reform spirit that imbued the first years of the last century. They placed a relentless spotlight on a wide array of social issues and presented a convincing case that social, economic and political change was urgently needed. “Thoroughly convinced of the evils, many thoughtful persons began to look for a remedy, and there was Socialism offering a ready and constructive program of radical change. …Socialism became a favorite topic of discussion among New York’s intelligentsia, and the intelligentsia were always strong on discussion.”[xxiii]
Rose and Graham were among the most active participants in the Intercollegiate Socialist Society’s speakers’ bureau which made prominent Socialists like them available to interested groups on college and university campuses around the country. Rose was especially popular as a platform speaker since “her working class experience imparted a passionate intensity to her Socialist views.”[xxiv] Accounts of these speaking engagements suggest that “people who came to hear this famous couple generally dozed peacefully through the husband’s prepared remarks only to be roused to spirited response by the extemporaneous eloquence of the wife.”[xxv] As one contemporary newspaper report stated, “‘Mrs. Stokes is one of the most eloquent women speakers in the world today. She is full of fire and enthusiasm.’”[xxvi] In addition to her platform performances, Rose enjoyed conversing with members of the audience afterwards. For his part, Graham had little or no interest in this type of interaction and would do his best to curtail it. “Years later she realized that ‘he loved the people in theory only; there was no personal warmth in him for them. Often I thought I detected a look of contempt as he looked upon some members of my class.’”[xxvii]
Despite her later reflections on Graham’s attitude towards members of the working class, during the early years of their marriage and their joint activities on behalf of the Socialist cause, Rose “regarded her husband as an informed and thoughtful representative of Socialist thought.”[xxviii] However, as she later recounted, she felt, “a sense of anger and indignation, born of experience, that her husband did not express.”[xxix] While Graham’s “writings and organizational activities reflected a reformist spirit of social uplift, not a determination to fundamentally reconstitute American society,” Rose was speaking and writing “as someone who believed that class was the basic point of division in society.”[xxx]
Among those writings that were beginning to elevate Rose to a leadership position in the Socialist movement, including being featured on the cover of the October 1907 issue of Socialist Women, was her 1906 article for the scholarly Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.[xxxi] This carried the title, “The Condition of Working Women from the Working Woman’s Standpoint” and established Rose’s credentials as something more than a mere propagandist for Socialism or the rather exotic partner of her millionaire Socialist husband. Rose argued that “much of the hardship of the working classes is consequent upon the fact that they are obliged not merely to support their own families, but to contribute, whether they will or not, to the support of other families which live in idle luxury upon the products of working people’s toil.”[xxxii] Such inequity and hardship led, inevitably, to “strikes and industrial disturbances, to ill-will, to class hatred, and to that craving for larger justice which underlies the Socialist program.”[xxxiii]
As a consequence of her growing stature as a recognized spokesperson for the Socialist cause, Rose was frequently approached by the press for comment on current developments in Labor or Socialist circles or to respond to the observations of other commentators. One such occasion led to a memorable headline in the New York Times. Responding to statements by President Theodore Roosevelt to the effect that Socialism was a theory based on divisiveness or class warfare, Rose was quoted as saying that “he is truly ignorant concerning the principles of the most vital questions of our day.” She went on to state that “if Mr. Roosevelt wished to abuse Socialism he must learn what Socialism is.” The article containing these quotes carried the headline “Calls Roosevelt Ignorant.”[xxxiv]
In the meantime, while Graham and those of like mind were attempting to make the case for moderation in advancing the Socialist cause, some of their comrades-in-arms, including Rose, were taking up the cause of the workers in more activist terms and, in some cases, allying themselves with the much more radical International Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies in popular parlance) against the Socialist Party moderates. There was never any doubt about Rose’s fervent commitment to doing whatever she could to bring about necessary social change. Despite having risen into the ranks of the wealthy and privileged through her marriage to Graham, she never faltered in her commitment to the working class. In other words, “she could not bring herself to be merely another American ‘success’ story.”[xxxv]
Rose’s marriage to Graham had certainly changed her social and economic circumstances, bringing immediate comfort and the promise of life-long security from want. However, since “a golden key opens any door,”[xxxvi] it also gave her social position and a platform for advancing the causes that she had embraced. At the time of their marriage, Rose “had told Graham that he would be coming to her world, not she to his. What ensued was an earnest attempt, ultimately disastrous, to synthesize both. But Rose’s commitment to the working class and the poor never flagged--and eventually returned her to their ranks.”[xxxvii]
In these early years of their marriage, both Graham and Rose devoted themselves to writing and speaking out on a variety of social issues, as well as engaging in related good works. For example, they were present at the founding meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.[xxxviii] While Rose did not become an active member, Graham continued to be a strong supporter during the first crucial years of the organization’s existence. In 1911, the promotional materials for the first issue of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis, included an endorsement by Graham.[xxxix]
During this period, the Stokeses were frequently the object of press attention and, when they were, Graham was invariably identified as “the millionaire Socialist” while Rose was referred to as the “wife of the millionaire Socialist.”[xl]
A 1910 New York Times interview with Graham Stokes provided a sense of his conception of the Socialist movement. As the newspaper frankly stated, the basic reason for the interview was the apprehension that Socialism had become a serious matter in the United States. The interviewer reported that it was likely the election results that year ‘would give us conservatives cold chills.’ What was there then to this movement? For an answer he would turn to ‘the most interesting Socialist in America,’ James Graham Phelps Stokes. What above all made Graham Stokes interesting was his marriage. The union was evidence of democracy in American life.[xli]
In this interview, Graham compared capitalist profits to “the unjust taxation imposed upon the American colonists by King George. He did not advocate recompense for past wrongs, but the robbery would now have to end.”[xlii]
While Graham and Rose were equally active in speaking out for the Socialist cause, it soon became apparent that Rose was much more inclined than Graham to become a direct participant in the struggle for workers’ rights, including engagement in a number of union organizing efforts and high-profile strikes and mass meetings. For example, in 1909, she threw her support behind the landmark strike by New York’s garment workers.
More than twenty thousand workers had walked out of hundreds of shops in Manhattan and Brooklyn. This strike was an occasion in which socialists, suffragists, and liberals from the Women’s Trade Union League were able to cooperate in support of the strikers. Rose spoke at several public gatherings to rally public support. This struggle, involving thousands in an industry-wide strike, resulted in victory, and she doubtless took satisfaction that she was involved in securing better working and living conditions for the garment workers.[xliii]
This strike and the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire that occurred two years later were pivotal events in the history of the labor movement in America, especially among workers in the clothing industry that employed large numbers of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.
Perhaps no single development galvanized Jewish immigrants for militant unionism and socialism more than the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911. The blaze, which killed more than 140 women, broke out in the nonunion shop on the top floors of the Asch Building off Washington Square in downtown Manhattan. The tragedy made a deep impression on laborers and non-laborers, alike, and touched lives far and wide. …The Yiddish press (reported) the harrowing details of locked doors, inadequate fire escapes, and burning bodies. Louis Waldman, a socialist labor lawyer, was an eyewitness. On his way home from the Cooper Union, where he was studying, Waldman ‘looked up at the burning building, saw girl after girl appear at the reddened windows, pause for a terrified moment, and then leap to the pavement below, to land as mangled, bloody pulp.’[xliv]
To Waldman and his friends in the Socialist and Labor movements, including Morris Hillquit and Rose Schneiderman, a leading force in the garment workers’ organizing efforts, this tragedy was not simply the result of an unfortunate accident, it was a direct consequence of the greed and exploitation that flowed from unrestrained capitalism. At the enormous and moving funeral for the victims of the fire and at the many mass meetings that followed, those in attendance heard rousing speeches from Hillquit, Schneiderman and others who delivered a compelling message about the need for a strong organized working class.[xlv]
The impact on the Labor and Socialist movements of the Triangle fire and the successful strikes and other union organizing efforts that followed cannot be overstated. “In less than five years, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, the Furriers, and the Millinery Workers unions had won contracts and a permanent footing. With their rise came a young and new leadership that was almost wholly Socialist in inclination; and the new unions became the financial backbone and chief organizational props of the Socialist Party.”[xlvi]
However, while working-class consciousness and solidarity were strong in these new unions, their leaders avoided raising the stakes in the struggle between Socialism and capitalism. On the contrary, it can be argued that “they pioneered virtually all the mechanisms for labor-management peace that exist in the field today.”[xlvii] Specifically, “Jewish unions committed to Socialism not only pioneered in labor-management cooperation, they also became laboratories for testing social welfare programs, like the forty-five-hour, five-day week, paid vacations, unemployment and health insurance, pensions, medical care, educational and recreational facilities, credit unions, and low-rent housing cooperatives.”[xlviii] In doing so, they accomplished what the IWW and their allies believed could not be done without violent revolutionary action. The IWW and the more militant members of the Socialist Party underestimated the resiliency of the major political parties who adopted, especially during the Progressive and New Deal Eras, many programs that were initially advocated by the Socialist and Labor movements.
These achievements did not occur without considerable pain and suffering. Ande Manners, in Poor Cousins, gives an amusing but nonetheless moving account of what that struggle was like for those at the forefront. It was fairly common for employers and other folks opposed to Socialist or union organizing activities to hire agitators to break up meetings or otherwise cause disturbances requiring police intervention. At one such gathering on the Lower East Side, the agitators had managed to create enough mayhem to justify calling in the forces of law and order. “One of their number reported to the police that the Socialists were rioting. The police bounded in, clubs swinging freely, whacking radical and nonradical alike. ‘But, Lieutenant,’ a nonradical complained indignantly, ‘I’m an anti-Socialist!!” ‘I don’t give a damn what kind of Socialist you are,’ the officer bellowed. ‘Break it up!’“[xlix]
While Graham and other moderate Socialists focused on political action, Rose and people of like mind were taking up the cause of working people in more direct confrontational ways. For example, she was an active participant in the long and bitter strike against the silk manufacturers in Patterson, New Jersey, in 1913, and she played a key role in another industrial conflict that would have serious personal consequences for her. This was the 1912 strike of the International Hotel Workers Union against New York City hotels and restaurants, including the Plaza, the Waldorf-Astoria, and Delmonico’s. This strike was backed by the IWW and, based on her strong belief in the working-class solidarity, Rose not only spoke at the mass gatherings of the strikers and their supporters, she “immersed herself in the actual organizational work of the strikers.”[l] As it happened, Graham had an uncle in New York City’s hotel industry, in the person of William Earl Dodge Stokes. “This very rich uncle…was the owner of the Ansonia Hotel, which occupies the entire Broadway block from 73rd to 74th streets. He was against the strike, he was against foreigners, and, for both those reasons, he was against Rose Stokes, his niece by marriage.”[li]
As Rose became more deeply committed and actively engaged with radical elements in the class struggle, other members of the extended Phelps Stokes family became increasingly distressed by Rose’s high-profile role in a number of activities that involved direct confrontations with the forces of law and order. One such incident occurred almost immediately after she became active in the birth control movement. In early 1916, Rose chaired a dinner and rally in support of Margaret Sanger just before Sanger’s trial for violating the Comstock Act that forbade the dissemination of birth control information. Shortly afterwards, she spoke at a rally at Carnegie Hall welcoming Emma Goldman back to the cause, after the latter served a jail term for breaking the same law.
At the Goldman rally, Rose did not limit herself to making speeches but offered the audience printed materials that described various birth control methods. “The crowd rushed to take the proffered information and a near riot ensued. Rose escaped unharmed and waited for the expected arrest for having incited disorder. But, perhaps because of the Stokeses’ elevated social position, there would be no arrest.”[lii] While Rose was distressed at the thought that her position in society probably saved her from the fate that Sanger, Goldman and others suffered for their convictions, the Stokes family was even more dismayed by the Carnegie Hall incident but for different reasons.
“Polite discourse, even for the purpose of articulating radical views, was one thing, but for the Stokeses the Carnegie Hall scene smacked of rowdyism. Anson Phelps Stokes wrote to Rose at some length, explaining his position that defiance of law and order was wrong. He hoped she would apologize for her defiance of the police and indicate she had been misquoted in the press. But Rose insisted she had done nothing that required apology or retraction.”[liii]
On the contrary, she stated that she felt a moral obligation to publicize, for women nationwide, the existence of effective methods of birth control. Furthermore, “she believed the Comstock Law was vicious and she wanted that point driven home by its enforcement in her case.”[liv]
The alliance of Rose with Goldman, even though the cause was birth control rather than revolution, would certainly not have sat well with the Stokes family or Rose’s more moderate comrades in the Socialist and Labor movements. As Sacher has observed, “no figure personified Jewish radicalism in the American mind as thoroughly as an impassioned, unrelenting dynamo of an anarchist, Emma Goldman.”[lv]
Already weakened by competition from the major parties that were pressing for progressive reforms, the Socialist Party would not recover from conflict over the Party’s opposition to America’s role in World War I, the Red Scare that followed, and the ascendance of Bolshevism.[lvi] Fink cites these three major events as having had a disorienting impact upon the psychic and political compasses of American Socialists from 1914 onwards:
First came the collapse of international Socialist solidarity in the face of nationalist war-mongering, a disillusionment most dramatically signaled in the August 1914 support for German war credits by SPD leadership in the Reichstag. The second shock emerged in the powerful U.S. mobilization around the war effort, initially resisted by most left-wing and progressive figures but championed after 1916 by the intellectual president, Woodrow Wilson, along with an intense appeal to patriotic service. Finally, and perhaps most critically, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 projected a new and provocative Socialist face, a militant mien that all but demanded total identification or adamant rejection.[lvii]
Shannon notes that “in the late summer of 1914, Americans were stunned when they read in their newspapers that war was beginning in Europe. One by one, European Nations declared war upon one another.”[lviii] In the face of these alarming events in Europe, American Socialists were as confused as everyone else. At Socialist Congress after Socialist Congress, the European Socialist Parties had pledged that they would never again fight their fellow workers in the capitalists’ wars. However, when war was declared, they not only failed to prevent it but actively supported their countries’ participation. Patriotism had trumped class solidarity.
Most members of the Socialist Party of America, including Debs, Hillquit and Berger from among the Party leadership, were firm in their opposition to the war but were at a loss to know what to do to stop it. Aside from speaking out against it, there was little to be done and, eventually, they concentrated their energies on campaigning against the entry of the United States into the conflict.[lix] This is, indeed, where the Socialist Party of America officially stood on the war issue. However, “a sizable minority of Socialists, mostly intellectuals, were for the allied cause from the beginning. They were not for war per se and they regretted the war had come; but they argued, now that it had come, it should be fought through to its conclusion and, they hoped, German militarism crushed. This group grew in size and its point of view became more pronounced as time went on.”[lx] Graham was among this group.
Rose changed her position several times, serving as honorary vice-chair of the Women’s Peace Party of New York until March 1917 when she resigned and added her signature to a pro-war manifesto that Graham drafted. Published in the New York Call on March 24, 1917, it vigorously attacked the Socialist Party’s opposition to the war and endorsed United States intervention which was, by that time, imminent. The essence of their position was that “‘to refuse to resist international crime is to be unworthy of the name Socialist. It is our present duty to the cause of internationalism to support our government in international law and order which are essential alike to Socialism and to civilization.’”[lxi] On April 6, 1917, at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, who had been re-elected only months earlier as the candidate who had kept America out of the war, the U.S. Congress passed a formal declaration of war.
Rose soon reversed her previous position, parting company with Graham on the war issue, and cast her lot with the Socialist Party majority. Graham, along with other leading intellectuals, left the Party and, in various ways, supported the war effort. As Draper was later to observe, the coming of the war and, in particular, the Socialist Party’s 1917 anti-war resolution, was disastrous for the Party. “It caused the pro-war group to desert the Socialist Party. The loss was much greater qualitatively than quantitatively. Among the bolters were some of the best-known Socialist propagandists.” These included such journalists and writers as Upton Sinclair, Charles Edward Russell and many others. “Most important, Socialist trade-union leaders were equally pro-war, though they departed more discreetly. At one blow, the war deprived the Party of those who had enabled it to make the greatest inroads among the middle class and the organized working class.”[lxii]
As Rose was whole-heartedly throwing in her lot with the anti-war Socialist Party majority, for his part, “Graham’s intransigent position on the war led him into a vindictive spirit, a harsh, brutal attitude towards those who did not agree with him.”[lxiii] For example, about the time he joined the National Guard, he wrote a letter to the Vice President and the Speaker of the House demanding an investigation into the supposedly treasonous actions of three U. S. Senators and three Congressmen. He further urged that if, upon investigation, “‘any are guilty, let the guilty be shot at once without an hour’s delay.’”[lxiv] Such intemperate attacks upon those considered to be insufficiently patriotic, even former colleagues in the Socialist Party, were not uncommon. For example, “A.M. Simons accused Victor Berger of accepting subsidies from German agents to slant his Milwaukee Leader in favor of Germany.”[lxv]
Once the war was well and truly underway, such nationalistic fervor became even more heated and irrational. Public antipathy was not only directed at German-born Americans and those with German-sounding names but also towards Socialists of all stripes on account of their supposed lack of patriotism. “Socialists everywhere had difficulty renting halls for their meetings, had their meetings broken up by local police, encountered physical violence at the hands of patriotic vigilantes, and suffered economic discrimination from anti-Socialist employers.”[lxvi]
Socialists had no recourse in law against mob action, for the law itself was being amended so as seriously to restrict Socialist action. …The Espionage Act, which became law on June 15, 1917, granted the Federal Government the power to censor newspapers and ban them from the mails, and made obstruction of the draft or enlistment service punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and twenty years’ imprisonment. Additional powers of censorship were given in the Trading-with-the-Enemy Act of October 6, 1917, and the amendment of the Espionage Act of May 16, 1918, sometimes called the Sedition Act, made even attempting to obstruct the draft a felony. Socialists were frequently to run afoul of these laws.”[lxvii]
For example, in the summer of 1917, the Socialist publication Appeal to Reason was still speaking out vigorously against the war. In its June 7th issue, it was charging corporate interests with pressuring the Federal Government to loosen immigration restrictions in order to ease the purported shortage of labor caused by the war effort. They accused the big corporations of trying to use the war emergency to stab organized labor in the back. “There could be nothing more infamous than this cold-blooded, calculating proposal of Big Business to rob the workers of their rights in home industry while they are being forced to fight abroad. It is just such tactics as this that make patriotism seem a farce to the workingman upon whom war falls as an unmixed evil and an unmitigated blow.”[lxviii] The article continued to hammer home the message that working people were being doubly victimized by the machinations of corporate interests.
Before 1917 was over, the Appeal to Reason was no longer publishing. It was not alone. “By the end of the war, under constant harassment from federal agents, dozens of Socialist newspapers--the Party’s primary method of building and leading its membership--had been banned from the mails and driven out of business.”[lxix] While this was going on, the popular press was continuing to stir up public support for the war, making it clear that dissent was unpatriotic, dangerous and needed to be suppressed.
Not only were the Party’s instruments of organization and communication under attack; those individuals, whether leaders or rank-and-file members, who spoke out against the war faced the wrath of their fellow-citizens and their government. Rose, along with Kate Richards O’Hare, Victor Berger, Bill Haywood, and Eugene Debs, were only the most notable of the Socialist leaders arrested, convicted and in some cases, imprisoned under the newly enacted laws. In all, over two thousand Socialists were prosecuted by the Federal Government for sedition.[lxx]
In Rose’s case, her problems with the law flowed from comments she made while on a speaking tour of the Midwest in early 1918. Rose’s about-face on the war issue, compounded with the escalation of her commitment to the radical Left, not only damaged her marriage but also incited the anger and increased the malevolence of her old nemesis, Graham’s uncle, William Earl Dodge Stokes, whom she had antagonized by her role in the hotel worker’s strike. “Uncle Will” Stokes, a fervent patriot, “became a volunteer informant to government investigative agencies and caused a surveillance of Rose’s activities that culminated in her trial under the so-called Espionage Act.”[lxxi]
In a talk to a women’s club in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 18, 1918, Rose made clear her opposition to the war and linked its cause to the profiteering motives of the capitalists. In case there was any question about what she had meant, she wrote a follow-up letter of clarification to the editor the Kansas City Star, stating that: “No government which is for the profiteers can also be for the people, and I am for the people, while the government is for the profiteers.”[lxxii] Before the week was out, Federal agents had arrested Rose and charged her with violating the Espionage Act. Graham posted bail for her but did not return to Kansas City to be with her during the trial two months later.
The principal government witnesses at the trial included members of the women’s club who had listened to Rose’s two-hour speech. Among the statements she was reported to have made, the following were the most incriminating:
American soldiers were not in the war ‘to save the world for democracy,’ but to save the loans extended to the Allies by J.P. Morgan, and that if we were ‘sincere’ in our professed democratic crusade, we would have entered the conflagration when the ‘neutrality of Belgium had been violated’ or when the Lusitania had been torpedoed. Stokes had also said that she was sorry that she had written a patriotic poem after witnessing young American boys marching on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and that when they came home from the trenches on the Western front, this country would be plunged into revolution. She had praised the Bolsheviks, argued that the work of the Red Cross was ‘mere war camouflage,’ and spoke well of Emma Goldman.[lxxiii]
At the conclusion of the two-day trial, Rose was found guilty of all three charges which, in essence, stated that she “intended to make false statements in order to interfere with the success of American military forces, to cause refusal of duty, and to obstruct the enlistment or recruitment services of the United States.”[lxxiv] She was given a ten-year prison sentence. Despite serious doubts about the legitimacy of the charges, verdict, and length of sentence voiced publicly in the U.S. Congress and among senior Wilson administration officials, “President Wilson wrote to Attorney General Thomas Gregory that the Stokes verdict was ‘very just’ and asked whether it would be possible to indict the managing editor of the Kansas City Star for having printed her letter in the newspaper.”[lxxv] As Birmingham notes, “it began to seem as though the first Jewish woman in the Social Register, who may also have been the first Communist in the Social Register, might also be one of the first Social Register listees to go to jail.” [lxxvi]
In Rose’s case, and as others were to learn, “Wilsonian rhetoric about global freedom had been accompanied by willingness to extinguish constitutional liberty at home.”[lxxvii] Fortunately for Rose, her conviction was overturned on appeal in January 1920 and a new trial was ordered. By the time this was scheduled, Wilson was out of office, the war was over, and the new Harding administration had little interest in prosecuting Rose again. The charges against her were, therefore, vacated.
Others were not so fortunate. While Rose’s case was under appeal, Debs was charged with ten violations of the Espionage Act for his outspoken denunciation of the war. In a show of solidarity and personal support, Rose attended his trial in Cleveland. In his address to the jury, Debs decried the harsh prison sentences that had just been handed down to Rose and others, noting that they had devoted their lives to alleviating the suffering of the poor and afflicted. Rather than imprisoning them, an enlightened society would give them “places of honor and citizens would revere them for their works and call them blessed.”[lxxviii]
Like Rose, Debs was sentenced to ten years in prison. Unlike her, he would have to serve his sentence. He was not alone in this regard. Following a five-month mass trial that was going on at the same time as the Debs trial, 101 members of the IWW were convicted of conspiracy to obstruct the war. “15 received sentences of twenty years; 33 got ten years; and fines totaling more than $2.5 million were levied. Most of the convicted Wobblies spent many years in prison.”[lxxix]
At least at first, Debs, Hillquit and Berger had applauded the 1917 developments in Russia. They would subsequently change their minds when the Bolsheviks decreed, with the founding of the Third International in 1919, immediate world-wide revolution and the subservience of all national revolutionary movements to the Russian Communist Party. However, before the Socialist Party became hopelessly divided by the alarming actions of the Bolsheviks, with one faction, including Rose, breaking away to form the American Communist Party, a number of other events had taken place in the United States, as a result of popular alarm and government action, which would weaken the Party beyond remedy.
A sweep by hundreds of police and special agents on November 8, acting for the Lusk Committee, had resulted in the apprehension of a thousand persons in New York City and the confiscation of tons of publications and records. Most of those arrested were soon released, but some 75 were indicted on various charges. Many of them were aliens who were added to a federal roundup of ‘Russians’ and were among 249 deportees aboard the former troop transport Buford, which became known as the Soviet Ark, and were carried off to Soviet Russia, without ‘due process,’ sailing on December 21, 1919. Emma Goldman and (her partner) Alexander Berkman were among these deportees. Ultimately, three thousand more faced deportation.[lxxx]
These events were followed, almost immediately, by the equally draconian “Palmer Raids.” The newly-appointed U.S. Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, ordered the arrest and indictment of over five thousand suspected “Reds” who were rounded up by federal agents in coordinated raids all across the country on January 1st and 2nd, 1920. Of the thousands who were arrested and indicted, only about three hundred were convicted and an even smaller number served their full sentences. However, “the drastic roundup and the tensions and cost of numerous defense cases were devastating acts of intimidation and enforced a two-year period of illegality on the Communist Parties.”[lxxxi]
While membership of the ‘illegal’ Communist Parties declined dramatically during this period, the hard-core leadership, including Rose, remained firm in their commitment to the Communist cause. She subsequently “served as a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Workers Party, the legal extension of the Communist Party that had been driven underground by the Red Scare” and attended “the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, held in Moscow during November-December 1922.”[lxxxii]
By this time, Rose’s marriage to Graham had been damaged beyond repair. Both admitted the obvious but they could not agree on the solution. Desertion or adultery by either party were the only grounds for divorce at that time and neither party was willing to be guilty of such an accusation, since it was probably not true. Furthermore, in Graham’s case, such an accusation, let alone an admission, would have destroyed his reputation and place in society. Consequently, Rose became the willing or unwilling sacrificial lamb to the failed marriage and Graham’s face-saving. As the climate in their home had become increasingly chilly, Rose had sought refuge in the apartment of a friend, V. J. Jerome, Socialist magazine writer and editor. This gave Graham the grounds he needed – cohabitation and presumed adultery – to sue Rose successfully for divorce in 1925.
…despite its eventual dissolution, the Pastor-Stokes marriage lent an aura of fabulous romance to the halls of the University Settlement. For years afterwards, to all the yearning sweatshop girls who came there to study English, letter writing, dancing, parliamentary procedure, gymnastics, the works of Emerson and Tolstoy, art history, and other areas of self-improvement, the legend of a poor Jewish girl from the East Side who ‘caught’ a handsome socialite millionaire socialist – who was also a doctor – proved that at such institutions anything was possible.[lxxxiii]
Displaying the innocence (some would say naivity) that characterized many of her actions during her lifetime, Rose did not contest or even negotiate the terms of her divorce, ending up with no financial settlement and the last decade of her life lived out in severely impoverished circumstances. She died of breast cancer at age 53 in 1933 while undergoing an experimental treatment in Germany – a trip which was underwritten by the fundraising efforts of her former comrades-in-arms on the Left. Her life course can be viewed as inspirational, naïve, or salutary, depending on your point of view. What is beyond doubt is her unswerving commitment, regardless of what life had in store for her, to the improvement of the lot of ordinary working people.
[i] Stephen Birmingham, The Rest of Us: The Rise of America’s Eastern European Jews (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984), p. 50.
[iii] Arthur Zipser and Pearl Zipser, Fire and Grace; The Life of Rose Pastor Stokes (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1989) p.27.
[iv] Ward McAllister, Society As I Found It (New York: Arno Press, 1890).
[v] Birmingham, The Rest of Us, p. 52.
[vi] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 31.
[vii] Herbert Shapiro and David L. Sterling, eds., "I Belong To The Working Class:" The Unfinished Autobiography of Rose Pastor Stokes (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992), p. 95.
[ix] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 31.
[xi] Ibid., p. xii.
[xii] Ibid., p. xi.
[xiii] Ibid., p. 30.
[xiv] Ibid., p. 40.
[xv] Ibid., p. 51.
[xvi] Morris Hillquit, Loose Leaves From a Busy Life (New York: Macmillan, 1934), p. 55.
[xviii] Ibid., p. 58.
[xix] Ibid., p. 57.
[xx] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 46.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 37.
[xxii] Ibid., p. 46.
[xxiii] Hillquit, Loose Leaves from a Busy Life, p. 56.
[xxiv] Herbert Shapiro and David L. Sterling, eds., "I Belong To The Working Class:" The Unfinished Autobiography of Rose Pastor Stokes (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992), p. xxiii.
[xxv] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 55.
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 83.
[xxviii] Shapiro and Sterling, I Belong to the Working Class, p. xxiii.
[xxix] Ibid., p. xx.
[xxx] Ibid., pp. xviii-ix.
[xxxi] Rose H. Phelps Stokes, “The Condition of Working Women from the Working Woman's Point of View,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 27 (1906): 627-637.
[xxxii] Ibid., p. 166.
[xxxiv] New York Times, “Calls Roosevelt Ignorant,” July 15, 1908.
[xxxv] Shapiro and Sterling, "I Belong To The Working Class,:" p. x.
[xxxvi] Janet Gleeson, Millionaire: The Philanderer, Gambler and Duelist Who Invented Modern Finance (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), p. 146.
[xxxvii] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 42.
[xxxviii] Ibid., p. 75.
[xxxix] Ibid., p. 76.
[xl] Ibid., p. 64.
[xli] Shapiro and Sterling, I Belong to the Working Class, p. xxiv.
[xliii] Ibid., p. xxv.
[xliv] Gerald Sorin, A Time for Building: The Third Migration, 1880-1920. Vol. III of The Jewish People in America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp. 129-130.
[xlv] Ibid., p. 130.
[xlvi] Daniel Bell, Marxian Socialism in the United States (Princeton, NJ: PrincetonUniversity Press, 1967), p. 310.
[xlvii] Sorin, A Time for Building, p. 135.
[xlviii] Ibid., p. 130.
[xlix] Ande Manners, Poor Cousins (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972), p. 295.
[l] Shapiro and Sterling, I Belong to the Working Class, p. xxvi.
[li] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 90.
[lii] Shapiro and Sterling, I Belong to the Working Class, pp. xxviii-xxix.
[liii] Ibid., p. xxix.
[lv] Howard M. Sacher, A History of the Jews in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), p. 296.
[lvi] John H. M. Laslett and Seymour M. Lipset, Failure of a Dream? Essays in the History of American Socialism (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974), p. ix.
[lvii] Leon Fink, Progressive Intellectuals and the Dilemmas of Democratic Commitment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 135-136.
[lviii] David A. Shannon, The Socialist Party of America: A History (Chicago, IL: Quadrangle Books, 1967), p. 81.
[lix] Ibid., pp. 85-86.
[lx] Ibid., p. 83.
[lxi] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 167.
[lxii] Theodore Draper, The Roots of American Communism (New York: Viking Press, 1957), p. 93.
[lxiii] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 172.
[lxiv] Ibid., p. 171.
[lxvi] Shannon, The Socialist Party of America, p. 109.
[lxvii] Ibid., pp. 109-110.
[lxviii] Appeal to Reason, “Will Asiatics Take the Jobs of Conscripted Americans?” June 7, 1917, p. 4.
[lxix] James Weinstein, The Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003), p. 71.
[lxx] Henry W. Laidler, “Present Status of Socialism in America,” Socialist Review 8 (December 1919), p. 35.
[lxxi] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 176.
[lxxii] Shapiro and Sterling, I Belong to the Working Class, p. xxii.
[lxxiii] Ibid., p. xxxiii.
[lxxiv] Ibid., pp. xxxii-xxxiii.
[lxxv] Ibid., p. xxxvii.
[lxxvi] Birmingham, The Rest of Us, p. 128.
[lxxvii] Shapiro and Sterling, I Belong to the Working Class, p. xxxviii.
[lxxviii] Ibid., p. xxxix.
[lxxix] Zipser and Zipser, Fire and Grace, p. 190.
[lxxx] Ibid., p. 214.
[lxxxi] Ibid., p. 215.
[lxxxii] Shapiro and Sterling, I Belong to the Working Class, p. xli.
[lxxxiii] Manners, Poor Cousins, p. 141.