Socialism and Christianity in Early 20th Century America

By Jacob H. Dorn | Go to book overview

4
A Path Approaching Full Circle: Kate Richards O'Hare

Sally M. Miller

One of the significant leaders of the dynamic, if minor, Socialist Party of America, and arguably its most popular woman speaker was Kate Richards O'Hare. 1 The daughter of a homesteading family, O'Hare while still in her twenties developed a regional following among socialists and former Populists in the Plains States and the Southwest. She was much in demand as a platform lecturer, crisscrossing the country constantly on speaking tours. By 1910 she was a national leader of the party, campaigning for and holding offices and writing for movement newspapers. O'Hare's appeal rested very much on her rural upbringing and her ability to identify with her audiences as one of them- -a God-fearing farmer, working woman, and wife and mother. In fact, O'Hare's life was quite different from most of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who faithfully turned out to hear her. She was a cosmopolitan, non-churchgoing, educated writer who worked away from her family for most of each year. She lived her life on the road selling socialism, offering strong criticisms of the American social, economic, and political order. O'Hare faulted the institutions of her time, attacking society for its inegalitarian treatment of minorities, its shameless indifference to the lives of children, and its limitations on women. She challenged capitalism as exploitative, rejected the political system as plutocratic, and condemned the churches as hypocritical and unChristian. Indeed, perhaps her most severe criticisms were leveled at organized religion. As a former church worker, O'Hare spoke out sharply at what she perceived to be clerical irresponsibility and lack of interest in human needs. During the most challenging time of her life, and indeed, for her generation, World War I, she condemned national policy and paid the steep price of imprisonment. Ultimately, she attacked economic and social exploitation and especially the lack of responsibility of clergy even more harshly than earlier, for failing to live up to the teachings of their faith and its founder. At the same time, O'Hare achieved peace with herself, believing that more than ever she as a prison inmate upheld the teachings of Jesus.

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