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.
3 Replies to “Print Project Proposal: Raising Hell”
Thanks for a great post, Leah! It sounds very fascinating and worthwhile for scholarship. Are there any recordings of Flynn’s early street speeches, or is there just no record at all? I think analyzing her papers will do the same justice to their words, and could bring you some fascinating findings.
From my preliminary research, I was not able to find any record of those speeches. Since they were soapbox speeches that she started giving at the age of sixteen it seems the chances that they were transcribed and preserved were minimal. I am hoping to find speeches or writings that Flynn and Jones gave or published on the same strike or ones of similar fashion. It will be really interesting to explore how much they evoke the role of women within the labor movement because of their disparate views on women’s suffrage.
This is a great topic and I think you are right to think that using text analysis on these figures speeches and writings are likely to surface some subtleties and nuances that suggest new avenues for thinking about their work over time.
It’s great that you are already thinking through the challenges that would emerge around getting your corpus together. For these kinds of projects getting the text you want to work with in a structured and organized fashion that will support analysis is often one of the major first challenges. So if you do this as your project you are going to want to focus on identifying your texts in the near term.
As you start getting those texts together you can then work iteratively with some of these analysis tools to explore what kinds of differences or trends start to emerge as you explore them. It sounds like you have a good handle on the secondary literature and historiography here to be able to contextualize and situate the work you would do. So it’s great that you have that background to bring into the work.