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 a 1908 race riot in Springfield, Illinois, he was among the co-founders of the NAACP in 1909.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

He was born into wealth in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Willoughby Walling, a physician who had inherited much real estate, and Rosalind (English) Walling. He had an older brother, Willoughby George Walling. His father's family had held slaves before the American Civil War. The boys' maternal grandfather was William Hayden English, a successful businessman and the Democratic candidate from Indiana 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 died while he was in college, Walling inherited a private income. He became a liberal and progressive, active in New York 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 he and his wife had observed in Russia.[4] He joined the Socialist Party (1910–17), but finally resigned because of its anti-war stance. Walling became convinced that US 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 of ethnic whites against blacks, related especially to job competition and social change. As a result, 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, whose founding members included blacks, such as W.E.B. Du Bois from the Niagara Movement. They had some of their first meetings in his 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]

He later worked full-time for the American Federation of Labor.[2] His books included Socialism As It Is - A Survey of The World-Wide Revolutionary Movement (1912/1918). He published two other books on socialism by 1914, The Larger Aspects of Socialism, and Progressivism and After.


  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 September 30, 2007. 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 (Oct. 2003), pp. 403–430. In JSTOR

External links[edit]