Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

By Jacob H. Dorn | Go to book overview
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infamous maximum-security prison. By the time she died of a heart attack in 1948, she was a respected civic leader in her local community who could always be called upon for a presentation on a public issue. 60

It is impossible to trace Kate O'Hare's views on religion after her release from prison. Files of her personal papers were destroyed two different times--once by Frank O'Hare and a few years later by a young communist who judged O'Hare to be lacking in Marxist class consciousness. As a result, O'Hare left behind no statements of belief that might suggest how her views on spiritual matters may have evolved in the last twenty-five years of her life. But it is obvious that in the nearly quarter-century from the latter 1890s through her prison term, Christian ethics formed the core of her philosophy within a socialist frame of reference. Her embrace of socialism following her work on behalf of the Crittenton Mission was encased in what she considered a Christian commitment to working people. Similarly, her views of her fellow inmates were shaped by her vision of how Jesus worked among and served society's most vulnerable. The touchstone of her ideas as she expressed them was the need to share the earth's promise among all people as she read it in Scripture and understood it to be taught by Jesus.

Over those decades, O'Hare was a forceful socialist leader who touched audiences as varied as sweatshop workers in congested cities, miners in isolated sites in Michigan, Montana, and elsewhere, and especially farming men and women in their encampments in the Southwest. For the latter, her religious and moral indictment of capitalism resonated as their hard-scrabble lives mirrored that of her own family a generation earlier. It is not surprising that they were her most loyal supporters. O'Hare was an effective activist on behalf of her party because she knew the concerns and problems of those before whom she spoke, as in later years she was successful in directing public attention to the horrors of prison life which she had experienced. O'Hare's life in service to minor causes was not without its victories.


NOTES
1.
No O'Hare collection exists. Because of the loss of her papers, the paucity of primary sources has been a serious problem for researchers. Her writings, however, may be found in various early twentieth-century socialist newspapers. O'Hare materials are available, if not in quantity, in the Frank P. O'Hare Papers at the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, in collections at the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka, at the University of Missouri- Columbia library collections, and a few other archives. O'Hare correspondence may also be located in collections of some of her fellow socialists in various repositories.
2.
David A. Shannon, The Socialist Party of America: A History ( Chicago, Ill.: Quadrangle Books, 1967), 60.
3.
Glenda Riley, Inventing the American Woman: A Perspective on Women's History ( Arlington Heights, Ill.: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1986), 75-76; Ann Braude, "Forum: Female Experience in American Religion," Religion and American Culture 5 (Winter 1995): 6-9. See for the first full discussion on this point, Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture ( New York: Avon Books, 1977), Part I.

-106-

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