Crystal Eastman (1881-1928)

Radical Feminist from Greenwich Village

Crystal Eastman was born in Marlborough, Mass. on June 25, 1881. She graduated from Vassar college Poughkeepsie, N.Y. in 1903 and moved to Greenwich Village that same year. She obtained a masters degree in sociology at Columbia University, NYC in 1904. In 1907 she graduated second in her class at NYC University Law School. She lived communally until 1911 with several friends and her younger brother Max. In 1909, Eastman urged her brother to organize the Men's League for Women's Sufferage. In 1910 Eastman married Wallace Benedict an outsider from Milwaukee who did not fit in among Crystal's friends. Eastman moved to Milwaukee and ran the women's sufferage campaign in Wisconsin in 1912. However, within two years she was bored with Wisconsin and her husband, so she left for New York. She was appointed to a federal commission on work accidents and compensation throughout 1913 and 1914. Eastman was a prominent writer, editor, socialist and co-founder of the Congressional Union for Woman Sufferage which was the predecessor of the National Woman's Party founded in 1913. In 1915 Eastman and Pethick-Lawrence help found the National Woman's Peace Party with Jane Addams as president. Jane Addams found Eastman to be too direct, and who represented "impulsive radicalism and casual sex." Greenwich Village women were in favor of birth control, took lovers and got divorced which was definitely not the norm during this era.

From 1917 to 1921 Eastman was the editor of the Liberator, a radical journal that matched Eastman's qualities. She was a radical feminist, pacifist and socialist that believed in " free love." In 1915 she wrote, " The Effect of Industrial Fatalities Upon the Home ", that spoke about how the deaths of husbands on the job left wives and children in poverty. Many companies hardly gave any money to the widows, and some companies gave nothing. She was the author of N.Y. state's first workman's compensation law in 1907 which became a model for other such law's throughout the U.S. She worked with Emma Goldman on the behalf of birth control, legalizing prostitution and free speech during war times. Eastman was part of the " New Women " of Greenwich Village that believed that women needed the majority of their support from each other. In 1916 Eastman divorced Benedict in order to marry Walter Fuller who was very political and equally intellectual. They had two children together, Geoffery their first and Annis their second. The " Red " scare of 1919 to 1921 made Jane Addams and Crystal Eastman, once the "nation's conscience", enemies of America. Themselves and all of their associates were labelled as "Reds"-dangerous and un-American. They came under surveillance from the newly formed FBI agency, their speeches were recorded and journals banned from the mail. Eastman and many other prominent women ended up being blacklisted. In 1919 Eastman organized the "First Feminist Congress" of the U.S. Her speech "Now We Can Begin" called for a bold new movement fired by a spirit of "human and intelligent self-interest." She felt that women must embark on a bold new crusade for their own freedom.

In 1922 Crystal's husband left for England for a better job and Eastman seemed distraught and felt abandoned, however she soon followed her husband to London. She spent her last years working on equal rights for women even though by this time her health was failing but she continued to write even if her spirits were low. She was unable to find work due to being blacklisted, and also spent the majority of her last years unemployed and in exile in England. She did however write for a column in Time and Tide, England's militant and feminist newspaper. In 1927 Eastman returned to the Village after the death of her second husband who died of a stroke. Within ten months Eastman herself was dead from Nephritis at the age of forty eight.

Those who knew Eastman considered her a great leader. She was the only woman member of the N.Y. State Employers Liability Commission as a secretary, and wrote "Work Accidents On The Job". She represented a powerful force behind the drafting of the early workmen's compensation laws. She was mourned by many and recognized as a great hearted woman. In her personal and public life her enthusiasm and streangth poured out of her with no thoughts of herself. She used her strength and personality to promote every cause to better the world, and in the process died too young.

Further Resources for Studying Crystal Eastman:

Eastman, Crystal, 1881-1928. Toward the great change. New York: Garland Pub., 1976.
Eastman, Crystal, 1881-1928. Crystal Eastman on women and revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Eastman, Crystal 1881-1928; Eastman, Max 1883-1969. The Liberator. New York: The Liberator Publishing Co., 1918-
Eastman, Crystal 1881-1928. Work accidents and the law. New York, Arno, 1969
Cook, Blanche Wiesen, "Radical Women of Greenwich Village," in Greenwich Village, eds. Rick Beard and Leslie Cohen Berlowitz. Newark: Rutgers University Press, 1993.
Sochen, June, The New Woman in Greenwich Village, 1910-1920. New York: Quadrangle Books, 1972.
Read J., Phyllis; Witlieb L., Bernard: The Book of Women's Firsts. New York Random House 1992.
Kerber K., Linda; Sherron DeHart, Jane: Women's America: Refocusing The Past. Oxford University Press 1995 4th Edition.

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Prepared by M.F. John-Baptiste, a student in Professor Catherine Lavender's History/Women's Studies 386 (Women in New York City, 1890-1940) course, The Department of History and The Program in Women's Studies, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York.

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Fall Semester 1998. Last modified: 15 December 1998.