‘Rose Pastor Stokes’ by Grace Hutchins from Working Woman. Vol. 4 No. 6. August, 1933.

Comrade Stokes around 1905.
‘Rose Pastor Stokes’ by Grace Hutchins from Working Woman. Vol. 4 No. 6. August, 1933.

CIGAR worker and artist, revolutionary fighter and leader this was Rose Pastor. For a period, as the wife of J.G. Phelps Stokes she knew the luxurious comfort of wealth only to renounce it when the imperialist war and the Russian Revolution drove her husband back into the capitalist fold. She became then more than ever a leader of her own class-the working class.

“I slipped into the world while my mother was on her knees scrubbing the floor.”

That is the way Rose herself tells of her birth in the story of her life.

Before coming, in the early 90s to the poverty of working-class America the Pastor family knew the old-world poverty first in Czarist Russia and then in England. Born in the Jewish settlement of Augustovo, Suvalki, Russia, July 18, 1979, Rose was only three years old when they moved to the working-class district of Whitechapel, London, in search of work. And the child remembered always how her mother went out on strike with the British workers.

Fifteen-year-old Rose, third from left in back row, with fellow Cleveland cigar workers.

Began Work at Eleven

As a slim child worker 11 years old with a shock of auburn-reddish hair and a musical voice, Rose began rolling cigars in a Cleveland factory. Because she was a fast worker the boss tolerated her singing workers’ songs in the sweat-shop and she led the others as they sang and rolled tobacco. For 11 years she worked in cigar factories, while her father, never very strong, peddled.

One day a Jimmie-Higgins worker of the Socialist Party in Cleveland handed her a pamphlet and she sat up late that night to read it. In her warm impulsive way, she was immediately stirred by the vision of a new society, in which the workers should at last be free and she became a Socialist.

Verses she wrote as a young girl were published by the Jewish Daily News of New York City and she came East to work on the paper. Later she used her pencil in drawings for the workers’ movement. It was while in the newspaper work that she met the millionaire social worker, Phelps Stokes, and they were married in 1905.

Leads Sweat-Shop Strike

Sweated girl workers in the New York dress industry were on strike in 1909-30,000 of them-and Rose Stokes threw herself into their strike with all her resources of energy and enthusiasm. She was active in the great Paterson strike of 1913 with the telegraph workers and the hotel workers in their strikes, and in a dozen other. Struggles of the period. A friend writes of her activity:

“During strikes she worked from morning till late at night; mapping out the strategy of the campaign–heartening the strikers’ morals-picketing, getting arrested and becoming one of the most effective agitators in the whole working-class movement.”

In the Socialist Party fog of the early war years, when such rightwing intellectuals as John Spargo, Phelps Stokes and William English Walling were supporting the imperialist war Rose Pastor did not at first see clearly. She was misled by the war propaganda, but only until the Russian Revolution in 1917 dispelled the mist for all true proletarians. Then she saw and acted.

With the wealthy Stokes family, Rose center left, Graham to her left. 1905.

Tours U.S. with Debs

Debs, Max Eastman, Stokes.

Touring the country with Gene Debs she spoke vigorously against the wall Street government and Its was profiteering. For a fiery article in the Kansas City Star she was indicted under the Espionage Act, the first American to be charged with war-time “sedition”; was convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment-a sentence that was never served.

“If Rose is guilty, I am guilty, Gene Debs said, and was himself imprisoned. Rose Pastor was an effective speaker, warm and stirring as. Revolutionary music. She had a speaker’s voice, rich and strong, that could fill Carnegie Hall without effort. And for the years following the World War, until she died, June 20, 1933, that voice was at the. service of the Communist International and its American section. Coming into touch with C.E. Ruthenberg and the left wingers who withdrew from the stagnating Socialist Party at the close of the war, she was elected to the first central committee of the Communist Party in the United States.

Pioneer Worker Among Negro Masses

She was the first comrade to be assigned to work among the Negro masses, and the tremendous advance in this during the past decade, since she began it, especially in the last two years, stirred her to wholehearted enthusiasm.

Although she already knew in December, 1929, that a growth was starting in her breast she took part in the anti-imperialist demonstration in New York City, and was struck on that breast by a policeman’s club as she went to the rescue of a boy comrade. A few weeks later she was operated on for cancer and again in April, 1933, in Frankfurt, Germany, where she died June 20. During that long illness she was writing the story of her 54 years memoirs to which Working Woman readers will look forward as a living proletarian record.

Carry on for a Soviet America

She was a comrade whom the workers loved-a true Communist. Working women are proud of this working-class fighter. Her courage finds expression and lives on in the women workers of today who struggle on the picket lines, brave policeman’s clubs and guns and tear gas, and march on toward final victory. She herself during her final illness expressed her hope of seeing this final victory:

“I must see a Soviet America. I will see the workers here rise to power and build their own world as they are doing in Soviet Russia –a world in which there will be no unemployment, hunger, insecurity, or war.”

The Working Woman, ‘A Paper for Working Women, Farm Women, and Working-Class Housewives,’ was first published monthly by the Communist Party USA Central Committee Women’s Department from 1929 to 1935, continuing until 1937. It was the first official English-language paper of a Socialist or Communist Party specifically for women (there had been many independent such papers). At first a newspaper and very much an exponent of ‘Third Period’ politics, it played particular attention to Black women, long invisible in the left press. In addition, the magazine covered home-life, women’s health and women’s history, trade union and unemployment struggles, Party activities, as well poems and short stories. The newspaper became a magazine in 1933, and in late 1935 it was folded into The Woman Today which sought to compete with bourgeois women’s magazines in the Popular Front era. The Woman today published until 1937. During its run editors included Isobel Walker Soule, Elinor Curtis, and Margaret Cowl among others.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/wt/Working-Woman-v4n6-OCR-aug-1933.pdf

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