'Cinderella of the Sweatshops' Calls Out Capitalism

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Twelfth in a series commemorating Women's History Month by spotlighting a significant speech or testimony delivered by a woman in the U.S. on this date.

When Rose Pastor Stokes stood up to speak at a high-society women’s dinner in Kansas City on March 17, 1918, no one was expecting sparks to fly. But that’s what happened when she denounced America’s economic system, praised revolutionary Russia, and rejected U.S. involvement in World War I.

A former sweatshop worker, Rose Pastor had married millionaire J.G. Phelps Stokes in 1905. The papers had fawned over her and called her “Cinderella of the sweatshops.” Now audience members were calling her a “traitor.” So did the U.S. government.

Stokes was charged criminally with encouraging “insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny and refusal of duty” in the country’s armed forces. Her conviction was eventually reversed on appeal — but Rose Pastor Stokes would go down in history as “The red, red Rose.”

“Make the World Safe for Capital”

By Rose Pastor Stokes

The Woman’s Dining Club, Baltimore Hotel, Kansas City, Mo.

Some of you may be disappointed in what you hear from me tonight. I doubt whether you will hear what you want to hear. I feel that I should tell you that the stand I took in regard to Socialism shortly after America’s entry into the war is not the stand I take today. I have returned to the views I formerly held. …

Surely there is not a capitalist or a well-informed person in the world today who believes that this war is being fought to make the world safe for democracy. It is being fought to make the world safe for capital, so that those who control the industrial machinery of England, France, America, Germany, Russia and Italy can dispose of the overproduction of the workers of those countries in lands less highly organized or not organized at all.

If America had entered the war for the ideal of democracy our armies would have gone to Europe when Belgium was ravished, or at least when the Lusitania went down. But no, we did not start to fight until our dollars were in danger. We had to fight or revise our top-heavy industrial system.

When Russia deposed its czar, we heard a great deal of handclapping from the world but what did you hear when the real revolution took place? Not commendation, at least. Russia is the threat against industrial serfdom and I have no doubt that there is a gentlemen’s agreement to bleed her to death and then, the capitalistic gentlemen of, shall we say, any countries, sit around the green table and parcel Russia and the rest of the world into economic spheres, which our workers must slave to maintain.

*** 

Source: Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1918, p. 13.

Dana Rubin is a speaker and consultant focused on women’s voice and speech. She’s the founder of Speaking While Female, the first-ever online collection of contemporary and historical speeches by women from across time and around the world. Dana recently gave a TEDx Talk on “Unlocking the Secret History of Women’s Speech,” and she’s working on an anthology of women’s speech. For more on how she helps organizations attract, retain and develop their women leaders, visit SpeakingWhileFemale.biz.



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