Lesson Topic: The Personal Side of the Smith Act
Grade: High School
Class: American History
Approx. Class Time: 2 periods
Lesson Objective: The students will analyze a letter from Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to Mary Kaufman to illustrate the effects of the Smith Act on Americans accused of being Communists. After class discussion, students could also be assigned a position paper.
Materials Needed: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to Mary Kaufman, 15 July 1955 and "Elizabeth's Suggestions for the Letter." Class should research the Smith Act before reading documents. A short biographical treatment of Gurley Flynn can be found in Notable American Women (1980).
What is Gurley Flynn's reward for "fifty years of uninterrupted service to the American labor movement?"
Why were labor organizers frequently targeted by the Smith Act trials?
Has Flynn's time in jail lessened her dedication to the labor movement or to radical politics?
Position Paper: The students should choose one of two perspectives from which to write their position paper. They could either be a defense attorney for Flynn or a federal prosecutor arguing on behalf of the Smith Act. Instead of, or addition to, a written assignment, a class debate format could be staged, using the same opposing positions.
Selected Suggested Readings:
Helen C. Camp, Iron in Her Soul: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the American
Left Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 1995).
Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall, ed., Words on Fire: The Life and Writings of Elizabeth
Gurley Flynn (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987).