Eastman, Crystal

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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Crystal Eastman was a leading American writer, labor lawyer, and activist for WOMEN'S RIGHTS and for civil liberties. During her life she worked to improve working conditions for U.S. laborers, helped establish the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU), and lobbied for the enactment

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of the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT. In many of her exploits she partnered with her younger brother Max. Max Eastman gained fame as a Marxist writer and journalist who later rejected SOCIALISM and became a supporter of the virulently anti-communist senator, JOSEPH MCCARTHY. In contrast, Crystal Eastman was a consistent supporter of socialist politics, the suffragist movement, and feminism throughout her life.

Eastman was born on June 25, 1881, in Glenora, New York, to Samuel Eastman and Annis Ford Eastman. Both her parents were ordained church ministers and ardent believers in women's rights, beliefs that Eastman absorbed. In a 1927 autobiographical essay written for Nation magazine, Eastman talked about her father's support of her mother's goal of becoming a minister and his support of Crystal when she decided to study law. He even supported the rebellious Crystal when she led her teenage friends in revolt against the wearing of skirts and stockings as part of the swimming attire of proper young ladies. Her father knew that he would not want to wear a skirt and stockings when he went swimming, she wrote, so he could see why his daughter would not want to either. Eastman also credited her mother with encouraging Crystal and her two brothers to be independent thinkers and to advocate for the causes that were most important to them.

Eastman graduated from Vassar College in 1903 and earned a master's degree in sociology from Columbia University in 1904. She attended New York City School of Law where she graduated second in her class in 1907. Until 1911, Eastman lived in a Greenwich Village commune that included her brother Max.

Paul Kellogg, social work advocate and editor of a publication called Charities and the Commons, hired the young attorney as part of a team charged with investigating conditions among steel workers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The resulting survey, published between 1909 and 1914, was a groundbreaking six-volume study that was the first to combine the collection of scientific data with management techniques. Eastman's portion of the survey, a report titled Work Accidents and the Law, was published in 1910...

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