Thursday March 6, 2014
Excerpts from Chapter IV of Footnote to Folly by Mary Heaton Vorse:
That winter the snow never stopped falling.There was a great deal of unemployment. The bread line, by the Vienna Bakery on Broadway near Grace Church, grew longer nightly. The city was full of shelterless men.This first meeting of the Labor Defense Conference was interrupted by news of the arrests of 200 unemployed men at St Alphonsus' Catholic Church. The defense of these men, then, became the first case of the LDC. Vorse continues:
Everybody was talking about unemployment at the Authors' Club dinner on the 14th of February, to which the Wilbur Daniel Steeles and ourselves lurched and rolled in an old-fashioned two-horse hack, cars being unable to get through the drifts. Rupert Hughes and Thomas Wells, the editor of Harper's, were among those at our table, and Mary Austin took us home.
We talked, too, of the Labor Defense Conference which had had a preliminary meeting at our house the night before. This had been organized at the suggestion of Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Carlo Tresca. Haywood believed in working with all kinds of people sympathetic to labor. Lincoln Steffens, Fremont Older, John Fitch, and Paul Kennedy were among the others at that first meeting.
It was organized "for the purpose of securing justice for the workers in the courts and to stimulate an intelligent demand for the truthful representation of the cause of labor in the press."
As I look through the minutes of the various meetings and committees, it shows a strangely assorted group which did not think it odd to have Sam Lewisohn, Mabel Dodge, Amos Pinchot, on the same committee with Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, a Christian Socialist and an I.W.W.
On March 4th, there was a blizzard. This was the night of the first general meeting, which was held at our house. The minutes stated:A meeting of individuals interested in the working class movement was held at No. 13 West 11th Street for the purpose of organizing the International Workers' Defense Conference. The purpose of the organization as stated is to provide legal aid to men and women arrested in connection with the class struggle, whether it be in strikes or demonstrations; to affiliate with similar organizations in the several cities of the United States in order that more effective work may be done; to affiliate with similar organizations in other countries and to stimulate the organization of defenses in countries where they do not already exist.The conference was organized with William D. Haywood as general secretary, Joseph O'Brien as recording secretary, and Jessie Ashley as treasurer. With her delicate and distinguished face, she was strange member of the I.W. W. Already of middle age, a woman of wealth, a lawyer, Jessie Ashley had gone over to the workers and joined their organization. She had a clear, fearless mind which permitted no middle course. While liberals of all shades co-operated, the actual officers and those who did the work were workers, or those who, like Joe O'Brien and Jessie Ashley, were identified with them.
These so-called church raids were part of an unemployed movement led by the I.W.W. The shifting mass of unemployed workers was run by a Committee of Ten, the ablest of the group. This committee consulted daily with Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. These young workers wanted to get under the skin of the comfortable people. They wanted to say to society, "We are skilled workmen thrown out of jobs through no fault of our own. What are you going to do about us?" They had thought of putting the sheltering of the homeless up to the churches.SOURCE
We had been down to West Street to the unemployed headquarters with Gurley Flynn. Haywood had been too ill to go downtown so the committee met him at our house from the time of the arrests. The headquarters of the unemployed moved from Wast Street to Eleventh.
From March 4th, the little brick house with its prim Victorian furniture was full of unemployed boys. They took over our house and our lives and made us part of their movement....
We always kept a wash boiler of spaghetti on the stove and boiled ham and a roast of beef for sandwiches for anyone who came in...
A plain-clothes man would be leaning over the areaway, peering in at the uncurtained windows. For by now, because of Haywood and the other I.W.W.s being there so often, the house was constantly watched by detectives, which seemed to us the last insane touch of a crazy household....
I noticed after a while that there were always two I.W.W. boys reading in the upstairs sitting room and another boy downstairs. Different boys sat there at different times but always there were two or three boys reading. Finally I asked Frank Hamilton [one of the leaders] what they were doing.
"Oh," he said, "those are your guards! You and Joe leave the collection money around so, and all sorts of Wobblies are going through the house all the time, so we just had some of our fellows look after you." We never missed so much as an overshoe. During this time I was called out often late at night to get boys out of jail. Once I was delayed long after the baby's evening feeding. When I got back, the house was filled with his angry roars. The I.W.W. boys were pacing up and down with anxiety and one of them threw at me as I came in, "It's a wonder you wouldn't be home sometimes in time to feed your baby," and I, dashing up the stairs, called back at him with bitterness, "It's a wonder you boys wouldn't sometimes keep out of Jail!"
What went on within both Joe and myself that winter was a sort of welding process. What had begun in Lawrence was here being hammered into shape. The unemployed would never again be a faceless, nameless crowd to us. We had seen it broken down into its component parts of human beings....
Only now there was difference in the intensity of our preoccupation. In Lawrence we had, after all, been only spectators. We had been on the outside. Now suddenly we were on the inside, part of the movement, with responsibility for these men. We would never again be spectators....
A Footnote To Folly
Reminiscences of Mary Heaton Vorse
Excerpts from Chapter IV: "The Unemployed-1914"
(This book is out of print, and near as I can tell, the copyright is no longer in effect. If this turns out to be incorrect, and, if there is too much quoted from the book, I will remove this diary.)
See also: a 1935 review of Footnote to Folly
Photo: New York City's Unemployed 1914
I'm Going Down That Road Feeling Bad - Woody Guthrie