Thursday, October 29, 2009

Still missing....depending on where you look

Today the California Historical Society sent me a message concerning their store. I checked out their book list and was dismayed to find not one concerned women or women's activities in California. The society's journal, California History, has not been so exclusive, and in fact has published articles that have been on the forefront of the latest historical thinking. For example, the latest issue concerns three generation of women who contributed to the Spanish Revival movement in architecture. Several issues past explored the significant role of conservative women during the 1950s, an important reminder that women's history should include all varieties of political and feminist thought.

I look forward every time this excellent publication appears in my mail box, and read it through. Unfortunately, it is not something that will come before the purview of the average Californian, let alone one who wanders into the Society in San Francisco. I would love to be an editor at a publishing house right now and sign up people to fill the gap in the book shelves.

Meanwhile, another source that once available in local bookstores is The Californians. This magazine was well-designed for the general public, well-illustrated with historic photographs and artwork, well-referenced articles, and complete primary documents. Its demise years ago is still missed by those of us fascinated with state history, and notably that of its women's role.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Anna Strunsky Walling

Anna Strusky is well-known to those who are familiar with Jack London's life. They crossed paths at various socialist events during the turn of the 20th century. Born in Russia in 1877, Walling was 9 when her family emigrated to America, and 16 when it settled in San Francisco. She attended Stanford as one of its first female students, and assisted William James in some of his research. As a result of her socialist enthusiasm, one shared with older sister Rose, she did not remain at the university.

Intrigued by Strunsky's commitment and intellectuality, London invited her to collaborate on The Kempton-Wace Letters, published anonymously. The imaginary epistolary exchange concerns the existence of love, whether it is real and the basis for a strong marriage (Strunsky) or whether science should determine the selection of partners (London). London did marry on the basis of his wife Bess Maddern's solid potential as a progenitor of strong children. Two years into the marriage London and Strunsky fell in love, though she spurned him once she learned his wife was expecting a second child. He remained the great love of her life nonetheless.

Anna Strunsky's place in California history is thus not very significant, except as she represents one of many women of her time participating in the socialist movement of the Bay area. Had she remained in the state, instead of marrying William Walling and moving east, she would doubtless have played a larger role in California political movements. She also came from a Jewish family that grew in influence in San Francisco as a center for intellectual and political discussion.

James Boylan's Revolutionary Lives (University of Massachusetts Press) is the only book to date to explore Strunsky's socialism, which continued with her marriage to Walling. The couple spent two years in Russia, along with sister Rose, during a time of revolutionary outbreak, and were eventually jailed before being expelled from the country. They returned to New York to become key founders of the NAACP. Strunsky's promise as a writer and activist were squelched by the demands of her husband, who belittled her capabilities. They eventually parted ways when she remained a pacifist during WWI. As her children reached adulthood, she was once more active in political causes and writing. She died in 1964, survived by four children.

Sister Rose also moved to New York, settling in Greenwich Village. She became a noted translator of Russian works, notably those of Leon Trotsky. Rose married Louis Lorwin in 1920, and died in 1963.