The elusive Ellen : reconstructing the life of Ellen Dawson and the world around her
This thesis is a life and time biography of Ellen Dawson (Kanki), 1900-1967, a working class Scottish woman who became a leading communist labor activist in the United States. As a young textile worker in Barrhead, she was influenced by the events of Red Clydeside, perhaps the most turbulent period of labor unrest in Scottish history. After World War I, she and her family migrated to Lancashire, where she worked first as a spinner and then as a weaver. In 1921, she led her family to the United States, where she went to work in a textile mill on the outskirts of New York City. In the mid 1920s, she was a leader in three of the most important American textile strikes of the period – Passaic, New Jersey in 1926, New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1928, and Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929. In 1928 Ellen Dawson became first vice president of the newly formed National Textile Workers Union, the first woman elected to a national leadership position in an American textile union. She also served briefly on the executive committee of the Communist party U. S. A., but was expelled from the party because her primary concern was with the plight of American textile workers, not party dogma. Because of her radical activities, efforts were made by the U. S. Labor Department to revoke her U. S. citizenship and have her deported. She was saved with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union. She abandoned her radical activities in the early 1930s, working as an anonymous weaver until shortly before her death. Through Ellen Dawson’s life, this thesis offers a personal account of the Scottish Diaspora and the influence of Red Clydeside on labor movements in other parts of the world. This is the first detailed account of her life.