Home > Feminism/Women's Issues, Labor, Socialism/Communism > Meridel LeSueur (22 Feb 1900 – 14 Nov 1996)

Meridel LeSueur (22 Feb 1900 – 14 Nov 1996)

From Women Writers

For nearly a century Meridel LeSueur sang out in the traditions of radical feminists and was outspoken in her quest to take action and educate society. An author, poet, and activist, LeSueur spoke out against the oppressions and injustices that she saw inflicted on people.

LeSueur was born on February 22, 1900 in Murray Iowa. The daughter of a socialist lawyer and suffragist, Arthur and Marian LeSueur, they lived in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Minnesota. LeSueur, at a very young age was often brought along to socialist meetings by her parents and grandmother. They would attend meetings of the Wobblies, anarchists, and union organizations.

Influenced by her mother and grandmother, LeSueur at an early age began to write journals of what she had seen, recording what was going on, and what was said. During her twenties she transformed those journals into literary works that was found bold for her time. In her writings she wrote of women during the depression. She expresses how women were coming to learn of their own sexuality and how they held the key. She wrote of women working long hours under very poor conditions so that they could earn pitons in wages to help support their families. In the 1920s her life center on the Communist Party and the potentialities of the working class. While attending school in Chicago she lived in an anarchist commune with Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. The communist party did to some extent provide LeSueur with a political theory to explain the oppression of women. She took an active committed role in the party but still retained her freedom to be critical.

LeSueur wrote for labor and left wing journals such as The Daily Worker and Masses. She would write and champion for all women who were oppressed, working class and non working class alike. It was during this time with her involvement in the communist party that she met and married Harry Rice. He was a man with Marxist ideologies and she found his convictions alluring. Although they would have two daughters, Rachel and Debra, they would later divorce leaving LeSueur to raise her daughters alone.

In the 1920s after attempting a theatrical and movie career LeSueur began writing short stories. She wrote, Spring Story about a young girl coming of age, and the stirring of her sexuality, and the relationship between mother and daughter. In Wind she also depicts a young girl and of the internal conflicts she faces. One of her most successful writings was the Annunciation. This short story relates the thoughts and feelings of a pregnant woman.

She moved to Minneapolis and began walking the streets espousing the beliefs and writings of the Communist Party. Walking door-to-door delivering The Daily Worker she would express the need for women’s rights. She was in the vanguard of the modern defenders of women rights. Although she liked men she would not allow herself to be dominated by them. It was not until twenty years later that her involvement with the Communist Party would have its repercussions on LeSueur. It was a time that she called the ‘Dark Time.’

In 1934 LeSueur became an active participant in the Minneapolis Trucker’s Strike that left two dead and nearly fifty more injured by police in a massacre called Black Friday. Tending and sharing in the survival attempts of these women whose men were on strike she took to the streets with them in a massive march. She felt a communal sensibility, an awaking to the oppressions that these people were undergoing. She was a member of the Women’s Auxiliary, which feed and nursed the truckers and their families.

The 1930s saw her writings take on the theme of women in the depression. She wrote Women of the Breadlines and Women Are Hungry; in them she portrayed the poverty, the relentless monotony of their lives, and the endless sufferings endured while trying to survive. She wrote I Was Marching depicting her involvement in the Truckers Strike. She wrote for the International Women’s Day, Women Know a Lot of Things, that women should have the full opportunity for education, employment according to their individual abilities without discrimination because of sex, security for their livelihood to include the safeguarding motherhood and that they should have full political and civil rights. During the 1940s, a period she called the ‘Dark Time,’ she was targeted by Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American activities during their witch-hunts. Just as many as her comrades did, LeSueur refused to be bullied and stood her ground. Her books were banned and no one would publish any of her works for fear that they too would become targeted. LeSueur wasn’t against democracy, she wanted a democratic society but one that didn’t feed off the poor.

In the early 1970s there was a resurgent of interest in her republicated works. New feminist movements were beginning to take place, Equal Opportunity Employment, legalized abortions, maternity leave, became issues of the day with a much louder voice. LeSueur still stayed active in many of the grassroots movements throughout the states and the World. At the United Nations Conference on Women held in Nairobi in 1985 she gave lectures on how “Now is the time for a Global Future,” she believed that the deepest wounds of human anguish could now be healed. That we should not look out our front door but out our back door as well to make the necessary changes to transform our world.

LeSueur said that history is more than a collection of dates, elections and prominent men: history is the summation of life and the struggle of the everyday common people. She felt that she was more of a recorder of history than she was a writer. She believed that by recording what she saw and felt that she would bring awareness to a culture that showed little compassion. Her life paralleled some of the greatest technological and social upheavals that our culture has experienced. She believed that in this period of time that there was no longer any justification for the have’s and have not’s. “I have witnessed the greatest changes making possible the knowledge and use of physical resources of earth beyond what we have been able to experience or dread. There is no longer a need for oppressor and oppressed, the theft of labor and the enslaving of others, so that without the production of weapons and its vast outlay of money and energy and promise of destruction there are tools that can free us that speak of the integration of all humanity, of all history and all time. With modern technological developments we now have the ability to eliminate scarcity. That the conditions that we have now are but an artificial misery that has been inflicted upon us (LeSueur).”

It is through her eyes that we see our culture in sharp relief – our strengths and weaknesses; our genius and ignorance; our history and our future. She tells us that by allowing ourselves to have compassion we will have shared in the human experiences of human sufferings. Without compassion for those who are suffering we cannot bring about that Utopian society she felt was attainable.

Meridel LeSueur died in November 1996 at her home on the St. Croix River in Wisconsin.

Work Cited:

LeSueur, Meridel, “I’ll see you next time around”, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 1996

List of Works:

* The Girl, West End Press, 1978

* Song For My Time

* Harvest

* Rites of Ancient Ripening
, Vanilla Press, 1975

* Corn Village

* Crusaders

* North Star Country

* Salute to Spring
, International Publishers, 1940

* Ripening: Selected Work
, 1927 – 1980

* The Dread Road
, 1991Books for Children

Books for Children:

* The Mound Builders

* Conquistadores

* The River Road: A Story of Abraham Lincoln

* Sparrow Hawk

* Nancy Hanks of Wilderness Road

* Little Brother of the Wilderness: The Story of Johnny Appleseed

Further Reading:

* America: Song We Sang Without Knowing
, Schleuning, Neala, Little Red Hen Press, 1983

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