Sunday, March 06, 2011

Women's History Month: Louise Bryant

March is Women's History Month, so I'd like to kick it off with a short homage to Louise Bryant.

Those who have seen the epic 1981 historical film Reds will remember Diane Keaton playing the role of Louise Bryant opposite Warren Beatty as John Reed, but a movie can only do so much to illuminate a historical figure.

Louise Bryant (1885-1936) came from modest roots (her father had been a coal miner and railroad worker) and she eventually became active in the Suffrage Movement in Portland, Oregon.

It was also in Portland where she met native Portlander John Reed, and followed him to New York City, where she became active in left-wing and socialist causes. She also went to Russia with Reed, where they witnessed the 1917 Russian Revolution firsthand.

Most people know that John Reed wrote the definitive study of the revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World, published in 1919, but most people don't know that Louise Bryant beat him into print a year earlier with her reportage, Six Red Months in Russia, which is available for download at the University of Pennsylvania's digital library.

Both Reed and Bryant were dedicated communists by this time, so their reportage is a little ... shall we say "slanted" ... but they are nevertheless classic descriptions of one of history's most momentous events, one that pretty much shaped the rest of the 20th Century and one whose aftermath we are still dealing with today.