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Beyond the Rebel Girl: women, Wobblies, respectability, and the law in the Pacific Northwest, 1905-1924

Resource type
Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
This thesis is a study of men and women associated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in the states of Oregon and Washington, from the time of the union’s founding in 1905, to the release of a large group of political prisoners in 1924. IWW membership in this region has long been characterized as single, male, itinerant laborers, usually working in lumber or agriculture, and historians have generally focused on the perspective of this group of men. There were, however, women and men with wives and children who were active members of the organization, especially in the cities of Portland, Spokane, Everett, and Seattle. IWW halls in these cities often functioned as community centers, with family friendly events and entertainment. Women were drawn to the IWW for its radical vision and inclusionary policies, but also for its birth control advocacy and emphasis on freedom of choice in marriage. The IWW also offered women an avenue for activism that did not focus primarily on the fight for suffrage. While female Wobblies (as members of the organization were known) were not against women having the right to vote, they believed that organization in the workplace was the only way to true emancipation. Local law enforcement and vigilante groups often targeted members of the IWW, and women were no exception. During legal proceedings women were questioned about their personal lives and moral values, regardless of their charge. Judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, and city officials challenged their status as respectable women because they were associated with the IWW. Female Wobblies responded by rejecting their characterization as non-respectable women, and by providing their own definition of respectability, which included standing up for ones fellow workers and fighting for what was right. During World War I and its aftermath, continual raids on Wobbly halls and massive arrests of members took a toll on the organization and the radical community in which it functioned, and many of the women in this study ceased to be active members.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Leier, Mark
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