After the Civil War, as a reaction to the industrialization of the country’s economic landscape, working-class men mobilized to protest dangerous working conditions, low wages, and the constraints placed on their lives as a result of heightened income inequality. While white men dominate the historical narratives of labor activism, prominent women such as Mary G. Harris Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn compelled members of the working class to resist the current market structure by striking against their employers. Both Jones and Flynn traveled to labor strikes around the country to vocalize their support and garnered attention for their impassioned tones and radical messages. Despite their shared dedication to labor activism, Jones and Flynn promoted disparate views about the Industrial Workers of the World, the Socialist Party, and the role of women in the labor force.
As the scholarly work conducted on labor is gradually absorbed into the expanding historiography of capitalism and unions remain under constant threat, I think it is important to continue interpreting the speeches and texts produced by labor activists especially those erased from the historical narrative. Juxtaposing the works of Flynn and Jones raises important questions about how different generations within the labor movement addressed contemporary social movements, specifically women’s rights. Elizbeth Gurley Flynn who was born in 1890 and entered the labor scene in the mid-1900s adamantly supported women’s suffrage and birth control. Jones, who was born in the 1830s believed the suffrage movement obfuscated the ubiquity of the exploitation of workers by corporations. A side-by-side comparison also provides a platform to interpret the rhetorical differences between the two activists, and how Jones and Flynn expressed their incontrovertible dedication to the movement.
For the paper project, I am proposing to use text analysis to compare speeches and publications produced by Flynn and Jones throughout their respective careers in the organized labor movement. By running their published works and transcripts of their speeches through Voyant Tools I can determine where their rhetorical choices overlapped and what issues they fundamentally disagreed on. By contextualizing these records, I can analyze how different social movements and events that erupted during the early twentieth century influenced what they said and wrote. While conducting preliminary research I found speeches conducted by Jones and Flynn in 1912 and 1914, respectively. A possible setback I foresee with this project is the absence of any digitized form of Flynn’s early street speeches online, which makes sense since she presented most of them before she was an established labor activist. However, the University of Washington digitized the newspapers of the Industrial Workers of the World which include numerous articles written by Flynn. A compilation of speeches and writings of Jones exists in the form of a book published and digitized by the University of Pittsburg.