Crystal Eastman

Document Date: March 12, 2002

NEW YORK–American Civil Liberties Union co-founder Crystal Eastman is one of 19 distinguished American women to be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame on Saturday, the ACLU announced today.

Eastman, a major leader in the suffrage and equal rights movements of the early 20th century, will be honored at an induction ceremony in historic Seneca Falls, New York, birthplace of women’s rights and site of the first Women’s Rights convention held in 1848. Other honorees include U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and Pulitzer Prize winning author Eudora Welty.

“Crystal Eastman’s determination to breathe life into the Bill of Rights in 1920 provided the nation with the first chapter in the story of the ACLU,” said Nadine Strossen, National President of the ACLU. “Her courageous struggle to realize equal rights for all is carried on in the work of the ACLU today, reminding us that no fight for liberty ever stays won.”

Eastman, whom ACLU co-founder Roger Baldwin remembered as “a natural leader: outspoken (often tactless), determined, charming, beautiful, courageous,” was at the center of a community of activists and rebels. Born in Glenora, New York in 1881 to ordained ministers of the Congregational Church, Eastman went on to graduate from Vassar in 1903, receive a Master’s in sociology from Columbia University and was second in the class of 1907 at New York University School of Law.

Eastman was a labor lawyer, suffragist, socialist and journalist who authored model legislation and helped create political organizations that survived this century’s turmoil. In 1917, Eastman, Baldwin and Norman Thomas, together with other supporters, established the National Civil Liberties Bureau, an organization that would later become the ACLU, to fight government suppression of dissenters’ rights during World War I.

The mission of the NCLB, said Eastman, its chief counsel and guiding spirit, was to protect the Bill of Rights: “To maintain something over here that will be worth coming back to when the weary war is over.”

In 1920, the NCLB was reconstituted as the ACLU, the suffrage movement triumphed, and Eastman continued her activities in support of women’s rights. As one of the four authors of the Equal Rights Amendment, she was also one of the few socialists to endorse it when it was introduced in 1923. About the ERA’s importance, revealed by the intensity of the battle against it, Eastman said: “This is a fight worth fighting even if it takes ten years.”

Today, the ACLU continues Eastman’s fight to defend civil liberties. A nationwide, non-profit, non-partisan membership organization dedicated to defending and preserving the principles of the Bill of Rights through litigation, legislation and public education, the ACLU has staffed affiliates covering all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

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