Strong, Anna Louise

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STRONG, Anna Louise

Born 14 November 1885, Friend, Nebraska; died 29 March 1970, Peking, China

Also wrote under: "Anise"

Daughter of Sydney and Ruth Tracy Strong; married Joel Shubin, 1932

Anna Louise Strong descended from Puritan families who arrived in New England in 1630. Her father was a Congregational minister; her mother an important figure in the church's missionary organizations. Strong completed secondary schooling by the age of fourteen, studied languages in Germany and Switzerland, and obtained her bachelor's degree at Oberlin. Her first writing, poetry and stories, was published in Youth's Companion during her teens.

After college, Strong took her first journalism position as an associate editor and writer for a fundamentalist weekly, theAdvance, where she was overworked and fired by the publisher as soon as she had increased circulation. "As for their exploitation of myself, I was only eager to do more work for the salary than anyone else could do; this seemed the road to advancement." Partially to save face, she enrolled in a philosophy program at the University of Chicago. At the age of twenty-three, Strong defended her doctoral thesis on the psychology of prayer before the combined theology and philosophy faculties and became the youngest student ever awarded such a degree at the university.

For several years, Strong worked in urban social reform projects, including organizing child welfare exhibits in cities across America. She began to combine political activism and journalism after rejoining her father in Seattle, Washington, in 1915. Strong was elected to the Seattle School Board, but was recalled in 1918 because of her activism in antiwar groups and her reportage (under the pseudonym "Anise") for the Seattle Daily Call and the Seattle Union Record, both socialist newspapers. Her first major article was a rather detached, "impartial" account of the Everett Massacre (New York Evening Post, 4 February 1919). As events led to the Seattle General Strike of 1919, Strong became their major chronicler. After the strike, she analyzed what happened and the lessons to be learned in a pamphlet, The Seattle General Strike (1918). Roger Sale, a historian of Seattle history, considers the chapter on the strike in Strong's autobiography, I Change Worlds: The Remaking of an American (1935), as the "best single work on Seattle in one of its most critical periods."

In 1921 Strong did publicity work on the famine in Poland and Russia for the American Friends Service Committee, and she reported on the famine in both countries for the International News Service. From Moscow she wrote in defense of the Bolsheviks' new government and made several trips to the U.S. to lecture and raise money for projects aimed at promoting friendship between the two nations. In 1930 Strong founded the Moscow News, an English-language newspaper for foreigners in Russia. Despite working as hard as she once did for the Advance, Strong's ultimate inability to reconcile her American view of the proper style and philosophy of reporting with the perspectives of the Russian staff, caused her to leave the newspaper. Eventually concluding she would always remain an "outsider," Strong ceased to dream of "becoming a creator in chaos" declining to "organize" further and determining to continue writing. For the next 45 years, Strong reluctantly embraced a life of "roving to revolutions and writing about them for the American press."

In addition to her coverage of Russia from the 1920s through the 1940s, Strong reported on the course of revolutionary change in Mexico, the civil war in Spain, the advance of the Red Army against the Germans in Poland—her only novel, Wild River (1943), is a celebration of the courage shown by Russians during the German invasion—and, most regularly, on the revolution in China. Strong's most famous single piece of reportage is "The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung" (Amerasia, June 1947), an article she based on an interview with the leader at the Chinese Revolutionary Army's headquarters in Yenan in 1946. Mao's first use of the phrase "paper tiger" is found here. Perhaps the most widely read of Strong's writing among intellectuals, academics, and government officials is Letter from China, a monthly newsletter which she published from 1962 until January 1969. During this period, it represented one of the few reliable sources of information about life in China and the position of the Chinese leadership on their rift with the Soviet Union.

In addition to her China reportage, Strong's best works are her only book on the U.S., My Native Land (1940), and her autobiography, I Change Worlds. The first belongs to the genre of documentary reportage in which American intellectuals sought to "discover America." Her account is moving, filled with human interest stories, and governed by a simple—although not reductive—vision of the world. Strong condemns the failures of the American capitalist system; yet she does not entirely deny the past, but rather affirms a kind of populist democracy.

Strong wrote the first volume of her autobiography, I Change Worlds, partially as a result of urging from Lincoln Steffens. She identified herself as "motor-minded," one who thinks "in terms of actions." Critical of American civilization and resigned to a "haunting feeling of not being wanted," Strong documents the history of her times in the context of her largely unsuccessful attempts to be an "insider" in social movements for change. Despite a tone of innocent wonder, which is at the same time the tone appropriate to a manifesto, Strong's autobiography is a "rare tale" of "chosen" change in the consciousness of a remarkable woman. The second volume of her autobiography, which it is reported she was finishing at the time of her death, remains in China, unpublished.

Most of Strong's journalism is flawed by a consistent naiveté, a disinterest in explaining theory, and an overabsorption in portraying personality and action. The best of her work, however, is informative and meaningful "for the great Middlewestern masses," because of Strong's well-constructed images, dialogue, and use of the human-interest story.

Other Works:

The Psychology of Prayer (1909). Child Welfare Exhibits: Types and Preparation (1915). The First Time in History: Two Years of Russia's New Life (1924). Children of Revolution (1925). China's Millions (1928). Red Star in Samarkand (1929). The Soviets Conquer Wheat (1931). The Road to the Grey Pamir (1931). The Soviet World (1936). The Soviets Expected It (1941). The Chinese Conquer China (1949). Cash and Violence in Laos and Vietnam (1962). Letters from China, Nos. 1-10 (1963). Letters from China, Nos.21-30 (1966).

The papers of Anna Louise Strong are housed at the University of Washington in Seattle.


Chen, P., China Called Me (1979). Friedham, R. L., The Seattle General Strike (1967). Milton, D., and N. Dall, The Wind Will Not Survive (1976). Nies, J., Seven Women: Portraits from the American Radical Tradition (1977). Ogle, S. F., "Anna Louise Strong: Seattle Years" (thesis, 1973). Pringle, R. W.,Anna Louise Strong: Propagandist of Communism (dissertation, 1972). Sale, R., Seattle: Past to Present (1976).

Reference works:

NAW: MP (1980). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Eastern Horizon (1970). NR (25 April 1970). Newsweek (13 April 1970). NYT (30 March 1970). Survey (Oct. 1964).