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Lena Morrow Lewis

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Lena Morrow Lewis
Lena Morrow Lewis.jpg
Lena Morrow Lewis (1892), Monmouth College Archives.
Born December 1868
Warren County, Illinois
Died 1950 (aged 81–82)
Alma mater Monmouth College
Known for Activist

Martha Lena Morrow Lewis (1868-1950), commonly known by her middle name Lena, was an American orator, political organizer, journalist, and newspaper editor. An activist in the prohibition, women's suffrage, and socialist movements, Lewis is best remembered as a top female leader of the Socialist Party of America during that organization's heyday in the first two decades of the 20th Century and as the first woman to serve on that organization's governing National Executive Committee.

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Early years

Martha Lena Morrow was born in December 1868 in rural Warren County, Illinois where she was raised.[1] She was the daughter of Rev. T. G. and Mary A. (Story) Morrow.[2] Her father was a Presbyterian minister.[3]

Morrow graduated from high school in Paxton, Illinois.[4] Following conclusion of her secondary education she enrolled in the Presbyterian-affiliated Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, from which she graduated in 1892.[3]

Early activism

Upon graduation from Monmouth College, Morrow began her activist career. However, her involvement changed focus as she set new priorities.

For her first involvement, Morrow took a post as a national lecturer for the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), remaining in that position until 1898.[4] During this period, she served as WCTUdistrict president in Illinois.[2]

In 1898, Morrow took up the cause of women's suffrage, working as an organizer for the suffrage movement until 1901. She began working in South Dakota, then in 1900 she moved to Oregon.[2] As a worker for women’s suffrage, Morrow became the first female activist to work with the powerful labor union movement of Chicago in an effort to enlist its aid in bringing the vote to women.[4]

Socialist Party lecturer

Lewis's travels on behalf of the Socialist Party took her as far north as Juneau, Alaska, as noted in this October 1914 election rally flyer.
Lewis's travels on behalf of the Socialist Party took her as far north as Juneau, Alaska, as noted in this October 1914 election rally flyer.
"Downtrodden women, just listen to this and take heart! You are in reality superior to man, and if you hadn't been you could never have survived all the centuries of servitude and persecution that have been put upon you."[5]

Morrow joined the Socialist Party of America (SPA) in 1902 and redirected her activism from women's suffrage to Socialism.[6] Lewis was attracted to Socialism's emphasis on fair working conditions. As she saw it, a man without a job was worse off than a woman without a ballot because a job was necessary for a livelihood. She chose California for her activism, working out of the San Francisco Bay Area.[6]

In 1903, Lena Morrow took the name Lewis by a short-lived marriage to fellow Socialist Party lecturer Arthur Morrow Lewis.[6] Her husband was born in England, studied for the ministry, and became a noted scholar.[7] The next year, 1903, she was arrested in San Francisco for speaking on the streets and spent a few hours in jail.[2]

Lena Morrow Lewis was indefatigable in promoting the Socialist party as a national organizer and lecturer from 1908-1914. During that time she spoke in every state except for Mississippi,[8] as well as headlining engagements in Canada and England.[2] Her venues included lumber camps and mining districts as well as auditoriums and halls.[2]

Lewis was a member of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. In 1905, she was elected to be a member the National Woman's Committee of the Socialist Party from California. She was the first and only woman member.[2] Lewis was later tapped for the American delegation to the 1910 International Socialist Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark.[2]

Although best known for her speaking, Lewis was a prolific writer. Over 200,000 copies of her pamphlet, "The Socialist Party and Woman Suffrage", were distributed.[9] She was a regular contributor to the Progressive Woman (originally the Socialist Woman).[10]

Middle-aged and divorced, Lewis was in the power structure of the Socialist Party and stood as one of its "outstanding lecturers and organizers". However, in 1910-11, Lewis became the target of scandal and calls for her resignation from the National Executive Committee because of her tryst with Socialist Party National Executive Secretary J. Mahlon Barnes. Although the scandal subsided, Lewis declined to run again and went to the Alaskan Territory as an organizer. There, she lived alone in a two-room cabin from 1913-1917. During her time in Juneau, Lewis taught, lectured, wrote, and campaigned.[11] She was the editor of the Sunday Morning Post in Juneau for over two years as well as serving as co-editor of the state's official organized labor newspaper, Alaska Labor News.[12]

Return to California

"Lena Morris Lewis is one of the noblest of women, as I have reason to know." Eugene V. Debs, 1922.[13]
Lena Morrow Lewis, from a 1912 publication.
Lena Morrow Lewis, from a 1912 publication.

The 1920s found Lewis in San Francisco, California, and still active in the Socialist Party. She was the SPA's nominee for Lieutenant Governor of California in 1926,[14] winning an impressive 56,000 votes in the race — more than 10,000 more than garnered by writer Upton Sinclair, the Socialist candidate for Governor.[12] Lewis was also the nominee of the California Socialists for United States Senate in 1928.[15]

Lewis was elected the State Secretary of the Socialist Party of California in 1925 and remained in that capacity until 1930, serving also during this time as editor of the Socialist Party newspaper Labor World.[8] She also maintained an active membership in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the League of Women Voters.[12]

In 1931, Lewis was elected to the governing National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of America.[12]

Lewis resigned from the Socialist Party in 1936 to join the Social Democratic Federation which separated from the SPA over ideological disagreements. She spent her last years organizing the library of the Rand School of Social Science that had been founded to teach socialism.[16]

Death and legacy

Lena Morrow Lewis died in 1950.[17] She was 81 years old at the time of her death.

Although she had been in the top leadership of the Socialist party for most of her life, she did not write her memoirs.[18] However, Lewis left many papers. They are housed at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives, located at New York University in New York City.[19] The Morrow collection consists of two linear feet of material in five archival boxes and has been microfilmed by the library for the use of scholars.[19] A small collection of photographs of Lewis with her contemporaries in the socialist movement is also housed at NYU.[20]


  1. ^ The Alaska Women's Hall of Fame, which inducted Lena Morrow Lewis as a member, indicates her year of birth was 1862. Scholar Mari Jo Buhle, an expert on the turn of the century women's movement, indicates that Lewis was born in December 1868, however — the date which is used here. See: Mari Jo Buhle, Women and American Socialism, 1870-1920. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1981; pg. 162.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h John W. Leonard, "Lena Morrow Lewis," in Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada. American Commonwealth Company, 1914; pg. 489.
  3. ^ a b Mari Jo Buhle, Women and American Socialism, 1870-1920. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1981; pg. 162.
  4. ^ a b c Solon DeLeon with Irma C. Hayssen and Grace Poole (eds.), The American Labor Who's Who. New York: Hanford Press, 1925; pg. 138.
  5. ^ Buhle, Women and American Socialism, pp. 164-165.
  6. ^ a b c Buhle, Women and American Socialism, pg. 163.
  7. ^ Margaret Collingwood Nowak, Two Who Were There: A Biography of Stanley Nowak. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University, 1989; pg. 53.
  8. ^ a b "Eminent Woman Will Speak Here," Bakersfield Californian, Feb. 4, 1933, pg. 7.
  9. ^ Nancy F. Cott, Women and Politics, Vol. 18, Part 1, K.G. Saur, 1992, pg. 381.
  10. ^ Tiffany K. Wayne, Women's Rights in the United States: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Issues, Events, and People. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2014; pg. 193.
  11. ^ Buhle, Women and American Socialism, pp. 165-166.
  12. ^ a b c d "Socialist to Give Address," San Bernardino County Sun, Aug. 11, 1931, pg. 13.
  13. ^ Ronald J. Leach, Karsner, Traubel, Debs and Trouble: Baltimore Authors Book 13 (AfterMath, 2012) EBook, no pagination.
  14. ^ "Sample Ballots List Candidates in 1926 Contests," Girdley [CA] Herald, vol. 49, no. 39 (Aug. 25, 1926), pg. 1.
  15. ^ "Johnson Wins Nomination for US Senate," Berkeley Daily Gazette, Aug. 29, 1928, pg. 1.
  16. ^ Buhle, Women and American Socialism, pp. 319, 326, fn. 2. See also: Tim Davenport "Social Democratic Federation," Early American Marxism website,
  17. ^ Buhle, Women and American Socialism, pg. 326, fn. 2.
  18. ^ Buhle, Women and American Socialism, pp. 166, 319.
  19. ^ a b "Guide to the Lena Morrow Lewis Papers, Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University, New York City. Retrieved October 18, 2015
  20. ^ "Guide to the Lena Morrow Lewis Photograph Collection", Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University, New York City.


  • The Socialist Party and Women Suffrage. Chicago: National Office of the Socialist Party, n.d. [1911].
  • "The Materialist Basis of Education", The Masses, March 1912.
  • Mission of the Social Democratic Federation. Washington, DC: Social Democratic Federation National Office, n.d. [c. 1936].

External links

This page was last edited on 6 August 2018, at 23:41
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