Crystal Eastman, 1881 – 1928
Crystal Eastman was born June 25, 1881 into a modest family in Glenora, New York. Her parents, both ordained ministers, held the unusual belief (for the time) in the education of girls as well as boys, and encouraged Crystal to think for herself from a young age. She took this advice to heart, graduating from Vassar College in 1903, and earning a master’s degree from Colombia in 1904, and a law degree from New York City School of Law in 1907.
Her first position was investigating the living and working conditions of steel workers in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Her report of those conditions led to her appointment to the Employers’ Liability Commission, (the first woman to join the commission), and was the basis for the draft of the first workman’s compensation law in New York State. Her brother was Max Eastman, editor of the newspaper the Masses, later renamed the Liberator.
Always concerned with securing equal rights for women, in 1913 Crystal joined with Alice Paul to form the Congressional Union to lobby for passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. In 1915, Eastman joined over three thousand women for a meeting in Washington, D.C., where they founded the Woman’s Peace Party, renamed in 1921 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. That organization, which exists to this day, supports disarmament, women’s rights and civil liberties.
In 1917, she helped to establish the National Civil Liberties Bureau, an organization that would later become the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU continues to work today in the defense of personal liberties, and to ensure the rights established in the Bill of Rights. After passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 she continued to work for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She died in 1928 at the age of 47 after a life spent working for woman suffrage, equal rights, civil liberties and world peace.
Happy Birthday, Crystal Eastman!