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Women's History Month Union Woman of the Day: Jessie Ashley

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Sometimes remembered tangentially for being a love interest of Big Bill Haywood, Jessie Ashley was an IWW figure in her own right. As one of the few women attorneys in the early 20th century United States, she dedicated her career to defending jailed unionists, and later in life, to advocating for a woman’s right for access to birth control. From a highly-educated and wealthy background, Ashley and many of her East Village compatriots were looked at with suspicion by some in the ranks of the IWW, but she threw herself into solidarity work without hesitation. Ashley is particularly known for her work on the Paterson Strike Pageant of June 1912, in which over 1,000 striking textile workers traveled from Hoboken, N.J., to New York City, marched up 5th Avenue and held a spectacular IWW solidarity event in Madison Square Garden to raise funds for the striking workers. The event was successful in drawing attention and sympathy to the strike, although it did not pan out financially for the strike fund and the strike itself ended in defeat.

Ashley continued to work in New York with the IWW, supporting the movement by providing legal advice and assistance to unemployed workers, fighting to protect free speech rights, and during World War I, providing free legal counseling to draft resisters and conscientious objectors.

(More info can be found in Emma Goldman's Living My Life: Volume Two

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