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Seventy-two years ago

Updated: Aug 10, 2023


Yesterday, Linda and I visited the grave of Ella Reeve Bloor, who died today, August 10, in 1951, seventy-two years ago. The inscription on her lichen-covered grave reads:

ELLA REEVE BLOOR

JULY 8, 1862— AUGUST 10, 1951 BORN DURING THE WAR TO FREE THE SLAVES//SHE DIED REJOICING THAT HALF OF MANKIND WAS FREE./CALLED "MOTHER" BY COUNTLESS WORKERS, FARMERS, NEGRO AND WHITE/WHO WERE INSPIRED BY HER ELOQUENT VOICE/TO FIGHT FOR A BETTER WORLD./ SHE LEFT TO US HER CHILDREN/THE BUILDING OF A SOCIALIST AMERICA AND A WORLD AT PEACE.

A suffragist, labor organizer, socialist, investigative journalist, candidate for political office, and Communist Party leader, Ella Reeve "Mother" Bloor dedicated her life to improving the lives of the working class and securing equality for women. "Mother Bloor was in person as sweet and full of sunshine as could be yet she battled the capitalist tooth and nail for seventy years." wrote Langston Hughes, the celebrated black poet.

Ella Reeve Bloor's death was widely reported, including in The New York Times that rarely published women's obituaries ( left image). Her body lay in state in St. Nicholas Arena, New York City. Scores of people walked by her open casket, a scene that the artist Alice Neel captured in her 1951 painting, "Death of Mother Bloor." (left image). A reporter noted that "a scattering of FBI agents turned out tonight for a Communist wake and funeral service for "Mother Bloor," pioneer United States Red Leader." The presence of FBI agents and reference to a 'Red Leader' reflect the anti-communism hysteria and fear whipped up by politicians and the media that consumed America in the late 1940s-early 1950s known as the Second Red Scare. (The First Red Scare was from 1919-1920.)

Ella Reeve "Mother" Bloor marched in thousands of picket lines, helped organize and participate in countless strikes by women and men—weavers, miners, railroad workers, farmers, and poultry workers from New Jersey to the Dakotas. She was at the copper miners' strike at Calumet, Michigan, when someone, believed to be an ally of the mine management, falsely shouted "Fire" at the miners' Christmas party, setting off a stampede that left 14 adults and 59 children dead. "They laid out the little bodies in a row on the platform beneath the Christmas tree," she later wrote. She was in Ludlow, Colorado, where the Colorado National Guard, at the behest of the governor and company owned by the Rockefeller family, attacked a tent colony of striking coal miners and their families, killing approximately 21 people, including 13 children and a pregnant women.

By her own count, "Mother Bloor" was arrested 36 times on various charges such as “disturbing the peace," "disorderly conduct," "unlawful assembly". At the age of 73, she spent 21 days of a 30-day sentence in an Omaha, Nebraska jail for "inciting a riot" in Loup City. The "riot" happened when local citizens attacked women chicken pluckers during a demonstration organzed by Bloor. "The article, "Mother Bloor Happy" appeared in an Omaha newspaper two days after her release from jail. The caption was titled "MOTHER BLOOR" RETURNS TO WARS. (left image) Her name appears in a historic marker: The Loup City Riot, 1934. (right image, see text below)



Ella Reeve Bloor was twenty-five years younger than Mary Harris Jones, and I wondered if the two "Mothers" worked together. "Our paths crossed many times in the early 1900s in the Pennsylvania mining fields, and we are good friends . . . .She was an instinctive fighter against the capitalist class,"

Bloor wrote in her autobiography. In 1912, fifty-year-old Bloor heard that seventy-five-year old "Mother Jones" was sick and refusing assistance from male comrades. Bloor "found her in bed in a fever and wearing a coarse woolen undershirt. I got a new nightdress for her, made up the bed and got her something to eat . . . and wrote letters to her miners, letters that revealed how close she was to them.”


Ella Reeve had three husbands, but not one with

last name Bloor. That belonged to Richard Bloor, a young man half her age whom she had persuaded to accompanied her to investigate meat-packing facilities in Chicago. Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, a recently published expose of that industry, had asked her to go and corroborated his charges. "I realized that a woman could not do this job alone," she later explained. "I would be too conspicuous going about unescorted to saloons and other places where men gather and talk. . . . Upton thought it best to refer to us as Mr. and Mrs. Bloor and the name had clung to me ever since." Mostly as a single mother, Ella Bloor raised six children (2 other children died on the same day at a young age). She supported her family writing for various publications and working as a state organizer. She also wrote two children's books

Ella Reeve "Mother" Bloor is buried in Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey, the burial site of Walt Whitman, the legendary poet who had befriended her as a child during ferry boat rides. In her autobiography, Ella Reeve Bloor reflected, "Perhaps it was on the ferry-boat rides that the course of my life was determined, and that Whitman somehow transferred to me, without words, his own great longing to establish everywhere on earth 'the institution of the dear love of comrades.'"


Resources:

We Are Many: An Autobiography of Ella Reeve Bloor is an illuminating account of her intellectual evolution, activism, and connections with her family and people who influenced her. After Woody Guthrie read We Are Many, he was inspired to write two songs “Ludlow Massacre” and “Copper Miner Christmas,” also titled “1913 Massacre.”

Links below to: We are Many and Woody Guthrie singing Ludlow Massacre and 1913 Massacre



Text on The Loup City Riot, 1934 Historic Marker: "THE LOUP CITY RIOT. 1934 During the Depression low farm prices, accompanied/by dust storms and rough, created unrest among/farmers and workers in Sherman County and across/Nebraska. The Farm Holiday movement, which/encouraged farmers to withhold agricultural products from the market, was active. Representatives/ of left-wing political groups arrived to promote/their own programs for economic recovery. In Loup/City the People's Standard, edited by A. E. Brunsdon, endorsed local farmer and worker complaints./Violence erupted in Loud City on June 14, 1934, /after rumors spread that women poultry workers at the Fairmont Creamery plant might strike for/higher wages. Ella Reeve "Mother" Bloor of the /American Communist Party, and a group of/associates then in Nebraska, organized a demon-/stration of support on the courthouse lawn. A/ march from there to the creamery and back/culminated in a clash with local residents. The/resulting jail sentence and fines levied upon/ Mother Bloor and others in her group marked/the end of the attempt by the far left to/organize farmers and workers in Nebraska."


Citations:

'Mother Bloor,' 88, Crusader, is Dead," The New York Times, August 11, 1951, p. 9

Reporter's account from "Mother Bloor Funeral Held," The Baltimore Sun, August 15, 1951, p. 7.

"Mother Bloor Happy," Omaha, World-Herald, Oct. 18, 1935, p. 14.


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