William English Walling

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William English Walling in 1906

William English Walling (1877–1936) (known as "English" to friends and family) was an American labor reformer and Socialist Republican born into a wealthy family in Louisville, Kentucky. He founded the National Women's Trade Union League in 1903. Moved by his investigation of the Springfield Race Riot of 1908 in the state capital of Illinois, he was among the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.[1]

He wrote three books on socialism in the early 20th century. He left the Socialist Party because of its anti-war policy, as he believed United States participation in the Great War was needed to defeat the Central Powers.

Early life and education[edit]

William English Walling was born into wealth in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Willoughby Walling, a physician who had inherited much real estate, and Rosalind (née English) Walling. He had an older brother, Willoughby George Walling. His father's family were planters who had held slaves before the American Civil War. The boys' maternal grandfather was William Hayden English, a successful businessman in Indiana and the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1880.

Walling was educated at a private school in Louisville, and at the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School.[2] After his grandfather English died while Walling was in college, the young man inherited a private income. He became a liberal and progressive. After moving to New York in 1900, he became active in state social movements and politics.


Walling became involved in labor and political movements, first working at Hull House in Chicago, an early settlement house. He vowed to live on the equivalent of a worker's wage. Moving to New York City in 1900, he worked as a factory inspector. In 1903 he founded the National Women's Trade Union League.

In 1906 following a lengthy trip to Russia to report on the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905, he married Anna Strunsky, a Jewish immigrant and an aspiring novelist from San Francisco. (She had lived as a child with her family on the Lower East Side before they moved to California.)[3] They had four children together: Rosamond, Anna, Georgia and Hayden.

In 1908 Walling published Russia's Message, a book inspired by the social unrest which he and his wife had observed in Russia.[4] He joined the Socialist Party (1910–17), but resigned several years later at the time of the Great War because of its anti-war stance. Walling became convinced that United States intervention in the war was needed to defeat the Central Powers.

In 1908 Walling and his wife Anna went to Springfield, Illinois to investigate a race riot that occurred on August 14. Ethnic whites had attacked blacks, with physical conflict arising out of job competition at the lowest levels and rapid social change in the developing city. Walling wrote an article, "The Race War in the North," for the September 3 issue of The Independent. He said, "the spirit of the abolitionists, of Lincoln and Lovejoy, must be revived and we must come to treat the negro on a plane of absolute political and capitalist equality, or Vardaman and Tillman will soon have transferred the race war to the North."[5] He appealed for a "large and powerful body of citizens to come to their aid."[5]

Mary White Ovington wrote to him in support. She was one among a number of people, white and black, Christians and Jews, who were moved to create a new organization to work for civil rights.[6] Walling was among the white founders of the NAACP; founding black members included such leaders as W.E.B. Du Bois from the Niagara Movement. They had some of their first meetings in Walling's New York apartment.[6] Walling served initially as chairman of the NAACP Executive Committee (1910–1911).[6]

Walling became a member of the Republican Party, but quit in 1917 due to the party's opposition to the US entering World War I. His marriage to Anna Strunsky ended at this time, in part due to their disagreement over the United States' role in the conflict.[3] Walling later worked full-time for the American Federation of Labor.[2]

His books include:


  1. ^ Boylan, James. Revolutionary Lives: Anna Strunsky & William English Walling, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998. viii, 334 pp.
  2. ^ a b "William English Walling Biography (1877–1936)". Biography.com. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2006-10-17.
  3. ^ a b Greenberg, David (February 21, 1999). "Comrades in Love". New York Times. Retrieved 2006-10-17.
  4. ^ Walling, William English Russia's Message: The True World Import of the Revolution (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1908).
  5. ^ a b Walling, William English. "The Race War in the North", Independent 65 (September 3, 1908): 529–534.
  6. ^ a b c William English Walling, Exhibition: NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom 1909–2009, Library of Congress

Further reading[edit]

  • James Boylan, Revolutionary Lives: Anna Strunsky and William English Walling. Amherst, MA: University of Massachutsetts Press, 1998.
  • Berry Craig, "William English Walling: Kentucky's Unknown Civil Rights Hero," The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, vol. 96, no. 4 (Autumn 1998), pp. 351–376. In JSTOR
  • Richard Schneirov, "The Odyssey of William English Walling: Revisionism, Social Democracy, and Evolutionary Pragmatism," The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, vol. 2, no. 4 (October 2003), pp. 403–430. In JSTOR

External links[edit]