Crystal Catherine Eastman (1881–1928)

Crystal Eastman Crystal Eastman and her father, in her garden in Croton. Courtesy of the Croton Historical Society.

Crystal Eastman was a lawyer, journalist, feminist and socialist. She was born in Marlborough, Massachusetts in 1881. Her parents were both Congregational Church clergy and were the pastors at a church near Elmira, New York. Her brother was Max Eastman, editor of THE MASSES.

She graduated from Vassar College in 1903, received an MA in Sociology from Columbia University in 1904 and graduated second in her class from New York University Law School in 1907.

Miss Eastman’s first job was to investigate labor conditions for the Pittsburgh Survey sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation. Her report “Work Accidents and the Law” became a classic and resulted in the adoption of the first workmen’s compensation statue in the United States. She worked as an investigating attorney for the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations during the Wilson administration.

She married Wallace Benedict and settled in Milwaukee. While there she managed an unsuccessful 1912 Wisconsin suffrage battle. Her marriage ended in divorce and she returned to New York where she helped to found the militant Congressional Union which eventually became the National Women’s Party. After the passage of the landmark 19th Amendment in 1920 which gave the right to vote to women, she and three others wrote the Equal Rights Amendment first introduced in 1923.

Eastman was a strong anti-militarist and was one of the founders of the Women’s Peace Party which is now the oldest women’s peace organization—The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She argued against America’s going to war against Mexico in 1916, campaigned against the draft, and lobbied against American participation in World War 1. When the U.S. entered the First World War she and Roger Baldwin and Norman Thomas organized the National Civil Liberties Bureau to protect conscientious objectors. This organization would become the A.C.L.U.

In 1916 she married Walter Fuller, an English editor and anti-war activist. They lived at 71 Mt. Airy Road and had two children, Jeffrey and Annis.

She was a contributor to THE MASSES and after it stopped publication in 1917 she and her brother Max co-owned and published The Liberator, a radical journal of politics, art and literature.

At the close of World War 1 her husband, Walter Fuller, returned to England to seek work. For the next several years Crystal and her family would live part of the time in England and the rest in New York where she was blacklisted and rendered unemployable during the red scare of 1919-1920. During the following years her only paid work was for the feminist journals Time and Tide and Equal Rights.

Suffering from painful nephritis for many years, Crystal Eastman died in 1928. In 2000 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.