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Crystal Eastman

1881-1928, lawyer, antimilitarist, feminist, socialist, and journalist. Eastman has been one of the United States' most neglected leaders. Although she wrote pioneering legislation and created long-lasting political organizations, she disappeared from history for fifty years.

Known for her vigorous spirit and splendid oratory, Eastman sought to extend the contours of women's power and achievements beyond all "preconceived ideas of what was fit or proper or possible." Six feet tall and athletic, she graduated from Vassar in 1903, received an M.A. in sociology from Columbia in 1904, and was second in the class of 1907 at New York University Law School.

Social work pioneer and journal editor Paul Kellogg offered Eastman her first job, investigating labor conditions for the Pittsburgh Survey sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation. Her report, Work Accidents and the Law (1910), became a classic (reprinted in 1970) and resulted in the first workers' compensation law, which she drafted while serving on a New York State commission. She never considered workers' compensation a substitute for safe working conditions, however, and continued to campaign for occupational safety and health while working as an investigating attorney for the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations during Woodrow Wilson's presidency.

During a brief marriage, Eastman lived in Milwaukee and managed the unsuccessful 1912 Wisconsin suffrage battle. The experience further radicalized her. When she returned east in 1913 she joined Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and others in founding the militant Congressional Union, which became the National Woman's party. After women won the vote, Eastman and three others wrote the Equal Rights Amendment introduced in 1923. One of the few socialists to endorse the era, she warned that protective legislation for women would mean only discrimination against women. Eastman claimed that one could assess the importance of the era by the intensity of the opposition to it, but she felt that "this is a fight worth fighting even if it takes ten years."

During World War I Eastman poured her vast energies into the peace movement. She founded the Woman's Peace party and was president of the New York branch. Renamed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1921, it remains the oldest extant women's peace organization. Eastman also became executive director of the American Union against Militarism, which lobbied against America's entrance into the European war and more successfully against war with Mexico in 1916, sought to remove profiteering from arms manufacturing, and campaigned against conscription and imperial adventures. When the United States entered World War I, Eastman organized the National Civil Liberties Bureau to protect conscientious objectors: "To maintain something over here that will be worth coming back to when the weary war is over." Though never appropriately credited as a founder of the organization, which became the American Civil Liberties Union, she was the attorney in charge.

Eastman had married British poet and antiwar activist Walter Fuller in 1916 with whom she had two children, and worked with him until the end of the war, when he returned to England to find work.

After the war, Eastman organized the First Feminist Congress in 1919; co-owned and edited a radical journal of politics, art, and literature, The Liberator, with her brother Max; and commuted between London, to be with her husband, and New York, where she was blacklisted and thus rendered unemployable during the red scare of 1919-1921. During the 1920s her only paid work was as a columnist for feminist journals, notably Equal Rights and Time and Tide. Until her death in 1928, Crystal Eastman worked for world peace, economic security, and feminism. Aware that "life was a big battle for the complete feminist," she was nevertheless convinced that the complete feminist would someday achieve total victory.

Blanche Wiesen Cook, ed., Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution (1978).

Blanche Wiesen Cook

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