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Crystal Eastman: Old Fashioned Radical Feminist

[ photo: Crystal Eastman ]

Old Fashioned Radical Feminist

You hear about Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and Emma Goldman and Jane Addams—but you don't hear a whole lot about Crystal Eastman, Vassar class of 1903. According to Houghton Mifflin's online Reader's Companion to American History, Eastman "disappeared from history for fifty years," despite the fact that she wrote pioneering legislation (the first worker's compensation law) and created enduring political organizations.

Six feet tall and athletic, Eastman graduated from Vassar in '03, got her M.A. in sociology from Columbia in '04, and graduated second in the class of 1907 at New York University Law School. A socialist, antimilitarist, pacifist, and feminist, Eastman cofounded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, which became the National Woman's Party in 1913; organized the First Feminist Congress in 1919; coauthored the Equal Rights Amendment introduced in 1923; founded the National Woman's Peace Party during World War I, which was renamed the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1921, and is the oldest women's peace organization still in existence; worked with Emma Goldman to promote birth control and legalize prostitution; was the executive director of the American Union against Militarism; and cofounded the National Civil Liberties Bureau, the predecessor to the American Civil Liberties Union, to protect conscientious objectors and "to maintain something over here that will be worth coming back to when the weary war is over."

Eastman died of nephritis at age 48. Her obituary in the Nation, written by Freda Kirchwey, said that "when she spoke to people—whether it was to a small committee or a swarming crowd—hearts beat faster. She was for thousands a symbol of what the free woman might be."

Houghton Mifflin, Reader's Companion to American History, "Crystal Eastman," by Blanche Wiesen Cook