Maley, Anna Agnes (1872-1918)

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 9/28/2007
  • Essay 8308

Writer, editor and lecturer, Anna Agnes Maley arrived in Everett, Washington, in September 1911 to edit The Commonwealth, the official publication of the Washington State Socialist Party.  In 1912 she was the party’s candidate for governor, making her the first woman in the state to run for the office of governor.  Anna Maley received about 12 percent of all votes cast in the election.  Following the election, she became a victim of squabbling Socialist Party factions and eventually left Washington state to make her living as an organizer, a writer, a labor arbitrator, and a lecturer on the lyceum (lecture) circuit.  As poor health overcame her, she returned to her family in Minneapolis, where she died in 1918.

Maley and the Socialists 

Socialist reformers in the early 1900s saw the Pacific Northwest as fertile ground for building communities anew based on their own idealistic principles.  Utopian colonies such as the Equality and Home were established in Washington state, and the national Socialist movement made an organized effort to win positions of leadership in Western states.  In 1897, the Brotherhood of the Co-operative Commonwealth met at a convention in Ruskin, Tennessee, and openly suggested that the Socialist Party move quickly to capture the 1901 Washington state elections.  

Everett, Washington, located on Puget Sound north of Seattle, drew its share of reformers at this time, due in part to its socio-economic structure of industrialists and workers that gave ample cause for political debate.  Organized labor formed a solid base in the community as early as the 1890s and in 1901 the trades union Labor Journal published its first issue.  But socialism was alive in the city as well.  Between 1911 and 1919, Everett was the base for a Socialist newspaper which operated through a succession of four different names.       

Anna Agnes Maley, an author, journalist, and lecturer of national reputation, arrived in Everett in September 1911 to become the third editor of the most successful of these papers, The Commonwealth, Washington state’s official Socialist newspaper.  The publication, housed in Everett's Commerce Block, gave Maley an outlet for commentary and helped launch her political career. Contemporary journalists write of Anna as a forceful and persuasive speaker who quickly gained the support of the Washington State Socialist Party.  Maley resigned as editor in the spring of 1912 to run as the Socialist Party candidate for governor.  She was a moderate, and although she did not win, she received 37,155 votes, about 12 percent of those cast.  Socialist presidential candidate Eugene Debs drew about the same number of votes, indicating that Socialists had voted a straight party ticket. 

Maley’s roots were in the Midwest.  Born in Faxon, Sibley County, Minnesota, on January 6, 1872, Anna was educated in Minneapolis, working first as a stenographer and later as a teacher.  She taught for six years in Minnesota schools and then studied literature at the University of Minnesota.  It was here that she learned about socialism and the radical movement.

A Writer for the Cause

Maley’s journalism career began in Kansas in 1903, but the socialist cause soon took her to the East Coast where she wrote for two publications, the New York Worker and the New York Call. During this time she met radical thinkers from around the world.  Her interest and dedication to socialism led her to a position of leadership.  She lectured throughout the country and acted as advisor in several large strikes. In 1909 she was chosen as chairwoman of the Woman’s National Committee of the Socialist Party, a group primarily dedicated to women’s issues.  The party felt that Anna put the WNC on solid ground.   

After Maley’s defeat in the race for Washington governor, she hoped to run for other state party positions, but became a casualty of squabbling Socialist factions.  A radical group was gaining prominence in state politics and Anna and the moderates were brushed aside, a split that contributed to the party’s decline.  From articles that appear in the Commonwealth, Anna never drew much salary as an editor or writer and mostly made her living by speaking on the lyceum (lecture) circuit. 

Women and Socialism 

In 1915 she was a teacher at the Rand School of Social Science in New York City.  During this time she wrote a pamphlet called “Our National Kitchen: The Substance of a Speech on Socialism.”  Appealing to women for support, she compared industry to household management: 

“A woman does not feel quite at home in discussing politics.  She has had but little share in politics.  She is not supposed to know much about them.  Her ignorance is surely excusable since she has had nowhere to learn politics except in bad preachments and the worse practices of her brothers. ... Industry is, after all, no more and no less than our national housekeeping.  It is the process of feeding, clothing, housing and educating our people.”   

Late Marriage and Early Death

By now over 40 years of age, Anna Maley married for the first time.  But, while traveling through the southern states, her husband contracted malaria and soon died. 

For the remaining years of her life, Anna was in poor health and was cared for by her family in Minnesota.  In November 1918, Maley died at her sister’s home.  She was 46 years old. A large funeral procession of family, friends, and union workers accompanied her body to its final resting place in St. Mary’s cemetery, Minneapolis.  

Sources: Mari Jo Buhle, Women in American Socialism (Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1981), 153; Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 25, 1918, p. 9; Minneapolis Journal, November 25, 1918; The Commonwealth, Everett, Washington, 1911-1912;  “Comrade Anna Maley is Brutally Handled,” The Commonwealth, August 28, 1913; Frederick Bird, The Labor Press Project website accessed January 2007; F. G. Crosby, “The Story of The Washington Socialist and The Old Commonwealth,” The Washington Socialist, February 4, 1915; Anna Maley, “Our National Kitchen: the Substance of a Speech on Socialism”  (Minneapolis: People’s Press, 1916); Polk’s Everett (Washington) City Directory (Kansas City, Mo.: R. L. Polk and Co., 1912).

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