• 400 pages
  • 16 halftones

Mary Heaton Vorse

The Life of an American Insurgent

Dee Garrison

The life of Mary Heaton Vorse (1874-1966) reads like a chronology of American radicalism in the first half of the twentieth century. The foremost pioneer of labor journalism in the U.S. and a prominent participant in the women’s universal suffrage movement, Vorse spent her life actively struggling for libertarian socialism, feminism, and world peace. Her friends and colleagues were among the most famous writers, artists, and intellectuals of the time. Her sizeable FBI file was maintained until she was eighty-two years old. And yet this is the first full-length biography of Mary Heaton Vorse.

"I love my golden wings and I want to fly right into the sun until they are all draggled and battered,’ wrote Vorse in 1896. A rebel at a young age, she fled her wealthy New England family and settled in Greenwich Village in the early 1900s. As an editor for The Masses, a charter member of the Liberal Club, the Provincetown Players, and the Heterodoxy Club, Vorse was intimately involved with the political, cultural, and feminist leaders of the Left. Widowed twice, she wrote magazine stories to support her three children and became, for several decades, one of the most popular writers of women’s fiction in the U.S. As a labor journalist and war correspondent, she traveled to Lenin’s Moscow and Hitler’s Germany; she participated in the Lawrence Textile Strike, the Great Steel Strike of 1919, and the uprisings in Gastonia and Bloody Harlan County. She reported the early struggles and rise of the CIO in the 1930s. Her commitment to feminism led to her presence at women’s rallies in Europe and America; her unique contribution to the journalism of her time was to give consistent attention to the special concerns of women and their role in the labor movement.

This compelling biography restores an important heroine to her place in American and feminist history.


"Vividly recreates the struggles and triumphs of a twentieth-century radical feminist.... a wonderful read." Ms. Magazine

"A wonderfully vivid, politically nuanced account of Vorse's life and world-from embattled union outposts to the bard-drinking, high-spirited Bohemians of Greenwich Village and Provincetown, which Vorse shared with such disparate luminaries as Big Bill Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Josephine Herbst, John DOS Passos, and Eugene O’Neill. But mostly I thank Ms. Garrison, as I am sure other readers of my generation will, for introducing me to Mary Heaton Vorse." Barbara Ehrenreich, The New York Times Book Review

"This excellent biography pays tribute to an exceptional woman. . Garrison’s thorough research and straightforward writing style provide a portrait of an important writer and activist who has been too long ignored." Booklist

"Dee Garrison has produced a work of great readability, vividness, warmth, compassion and vitality. Our understanding of many facets of the 20th century is enriched." Political Affairs

"A wonderful, warm and caring biography of an inspired journalist and champion of labor’s cause. Garrison brings Vorse back to us as both a cause and consequence of the exciting history of American protest in the first half of the twentieth century." Alice Kessler-Harris

"A vividly drawn picture of a heroic woman." Kirkus Reviews

"A superb, compellingly written biography. Vorse’s long life spanned the Victorian Era and the rise of feminism, cultural radicalism, and the labor movement in the early twentieth century. Garrison skillfully tells Vorse’s personal story within the context of the larger cultural happenings with which she was intimately involved. The weave of ‘personal’ and ‘political’ is just right."Joyce Antler, Brandeis University

About the Author(s)

Dee Garrison is Professor of History at Rutgers University.

In the Series

American Civilization

No longer active. The focus of American Civilization, edited by Allen F. Davis, is American cultural history. In keeping with the interdisciplinary work in this field, which characteristically brings together art history, literary history and theory, and material culture, the titles in this series cover diverse aspects of American experience—from attitudes toward death to twentieth-century design innovations to images of country life in art and letters to trade unions' reliance on religious discourse. The series has been a pioneer in presenting work that uses photographs as historical documents and from its inception has been firmly committed to women's studies. As the first university press series in the field, American Civilization provided the inspiration and the standard for much of the interdisciplinary work developing in the contemporary academy.