Monday, January 28, 2013

Crystal Eastman, 2: Taken Too Soon


      Crystal Eastman was “a natural leader,” recalled Roger Baldwin, a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), with whom she had many differences.
      She was also “outspoken (often tactless), determined, charming, beautiful and courageous.”
Crystal left her mark on the series of organizations she helped to start with her diligent attention to detail.

The Wisconsin Suffrage Campaign 
      Crystal Eastman’s 1911 marriage to insurance agent Wallace Benedict and the move to Milwaukee opened opportunities. Unable to find work in Milwaukee with a law firm as a labor lawyer or with the state government in Madison were disappointments. The women in the Wisconsin suffrage movement recruited her for their cause. 
Between 1896 and 1910 no state had extended the vote to women, but in 1911 California suffragists won the right to vote. Buoyed by that victory, campaigns were launched in 1912 in six states: Arizona, Kansas, Oregon, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. Women’s suffrage would score a victory in three states: Arizona, Kansas and Oregon. Despite Crystal’s vigorous campaign, it was defeated in Wisconsin by an opposition heavily financed by brewery interests determined to protect the male bastion of the corner saloon.

Congressional Union
      On January 2, 1913, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and Crystal Eastman launched a new movement from a basement room in Washington, D.C. Their organization differed from traditional suffrage groups in that it sought a federal amendment rather than taking a state-by-state approach.
Eastman and Lucy Burns approached the National Women’s Suffrage Association and persuaded it to adopt the new group. Reconstituted as the Congressional Union, it organized dozens of demonstrations in which many women were arrested and jailed.

The American Union Against Militarism
      The work of the women’s suffrage movement was transformed in August 1914 when war broke out in Europe. Crystal and Max Eastman met with leaders of social reform like Lillian Wald in December 1915 to create the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM). Crystal Eastman was named executive secretary.
Its purpose was to lobby Congress and to organize massive letter-writing campaigns. Widespread public acceptance of the AUAM should come as no surprise; Germans made up the largest immigrant group in the U.S.
      Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with restrictions and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors.
      A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director. On Jan. 20, 1920, the NCLB became the ACLU with Roger Baldwin, Norman Thomas and Crystal Eastman as founders.

Crystal Marries Again
      Crystal married British poet and antiwar activist Walter Fuller in 1916. The New York Times for Nov. 14, 1916, reported that the marriage took place “some time ago.” It also reported that she had obtained a divorce from Wallace Benedict “last winter.” The following year she invited Roger Baldwin, then a St. Louis social worker, to manage the AUAM office while she took a brief maternity leave. A son, Jeffrey, was born on March 19, 1917. 
      Roger Baldwin later remembered Walter Fuller as "extremely witty and totally pacifist and worked hard to make Crystal laugh--and, you know, Crystal loved to laugh."      
      When The Masses was forced to stop publication in 1917 by suspension of its second-class mailing privileges, the November-December issue effectively became the final issue. Crystal and Max immediately made plans for a successor. The first issue of The Liberator appeared in March 1918. Max readily admitted that Crystal “really ran” The Liberator.
      With the conclusion of the war, she resumed her women's suffrage activities and organized the First Feminist Congress in 1919. After the successful approval of the 19th Amendment in 1920, Crystal Eastman continued to work for women's rights. She was one of the four authors of the unsuccessful 1923 Equal Rights Amendment. 
     Walter Fuller had moved to London in 1922 to seek work. For the next five years Crystal and their two children traveled back and forth between the U.S. and England. She described their peculiar lifestyle in a magazine article in the December 1923 issue of Cosmopolitan with the title “Marriage Under Two Roofs.” In it she told readers the unusual arrangement had saved the marriage.
      In 1927, she returned to New York intending to stay permanently and eager to work in health insurance. Her husband was to join her when their finances permitted. Instead of his arrival, however, a cablegram came less than a month later told her of his sudden death of a stroke.Within ten months Crystal, too, would be dead, at the age of 47.
      The body she often referred to as “this good-for-nothing body of mine” gave out and succumbed to kidney failure. Crystal Eastman died at the home of her older brother, Dr. Ford Eastman, in Erie, Penn., on July 28, 1928.
      “All over the world there are women and men who will feel touched with loss, who will look on a world that seems more sober, more subdued,” wrote Editor Freda Kirchwey in her tribute in the liberal weekly The Nation.
      “In her short life Crystal Eastman brushed against many other lives, and wherever she moved she carried with her the breath of courage and a contagious belief in the coming triumph of freedom and decent human relations.
      “Force poured from her strong body and her rich voice, and people followed where she led. She was to thousands of young women and young men a symbol of what the free woman might be."
      Her death left her two children, son, Jeffrey, 11, and daughter, Annis, 7, parentless. Although Max Eastman was close to Crystal, he was disinclined to raise his sister’s orphaned children. Instead of taking them in, he selfishly found a foster home for them.
      Aversion to children was a pattern with Max. After he left his first wife, Ida Rauh, in 1912, it was twelve years before he visited his only child, Daniel. The boy grew up never really knowing his father and never forgave him for deserting him.
      Daniel Eastman married twice, but both marriages failed. By the age of 29, he had already unsuccessfully tried four different careers. At the age of 44, a troubled and recovering alcoholic, Daniel Eastman earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University. He became a practicing psychologist, and ultimately an alcoholic. At the time of his death in 1969, he had given up being a therapist and was writing a book 
     Fortunately, Crystal's children found loving parents in Henry Goddard Leach, editor of the intellectual and literary magazine Forum and president of the American-Scandinavian Foundation, and his wife, Agnes Brown Leach, who took them in.
      On October 7, 2000, Crystal Eastman became one of that year's 19 new women inductees into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Headquartered at Seneca Falls, N.Y., midway between Rochester and Syracuse, Seneca Falls was the birthplace of the women's rights movement in 1848.
      She joined such other previously inducted heroines as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks. Although there have been many biographies about the pioneering feminists of America, no one has essayed a biography of the remarkable woman who was Crystal Eastman.

      Born on March 19, 1917, Crystal’s son, Jeffrey Eastman Fuller, had an interesting life, albeit a short one like his mother’s. He graduated from Harvard in 1938 with a major in Slavic languages and history.
      Drafted in January 1941, he wound up in the military police, followed by a stint at an infantry regimental headquarters. After attending officer candidate school, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in October 1942 and served as aide de camp to Major General D.H. Connolly, commanding general of the Persian Gulf Command. Fuller traveled extensively with the general and served as Russian and French interpreter for him. In May 1943 Fuller became liaison officer and civilian personnel officer in Qazvin, Iran, working closely with the Russian command.
       Recalled to the U.S. in October 1944 for training in military government and civil affairs in preparation for the occupation of Japan, he was tapped by "Gen. William J. ("Wild Bill") Donovan's Office of Strategic Services ( OSS) in May 1945 and worked as a field operative in Berlin and Central Europe. Fuller was discharged from the Army in June 1946 with the rank of major, and remained in the Army Reserve. We can only wonder what Crystal would have said about his impressive military career.
      He joined the staff of the ACLU in 1948 and served until 1966. Jeffrey Eastman Fuller died of a heart attack on February 24, 1970, at the age of 53.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Comments: Post a Comment | Postscripts Homepage

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?