WORLD NEWS Minnesota Women Labor Journalists Uplifted Working People for Decades

Minnesota Women Labor Journalists Uplifted Working People for Decades

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I also revisited the work of Marvel Cooke, who was born in Mankato in 1903 and was the first African American woman to work for a white-owned newspaper. She was a radical community and union organizer who inspired Black activists and scholars like Dr. Angela Davis. She worked in various industries and reported on the exploitation of Black domestic workers in white homes, which led to regulation in the industry. She was mentored by W.E.B. Du Bois, and helped found a chapter of the Newspaper Guild in New York, one of the first labor unions organized by journalists. She was later investigated by Senator Joseph McCarthy for her affiliation with the Communist Party.

McCarthy also investigated Irene Paull, a radical political activist from a Jewish immigrant family in Duluth. Paull edited The Timber Worker during the timber worker strikes of 1937. The paper later became the Congress of Industrial Organization’s official newspaper: Midwest Labor. Paull supported the Farmer-Labor movement, the most successful third-party movement in the U.S., uniting rural farmers with urban laborers. Other women writers and organizers helped lead this movement, including Susie Stageberg, the “mother” of the Farmer-Labor party, who edited The Organized Farmer in Red Wing. Also from Duluth was Sabrie Akin, who, in her twenties, founded the Labor World newspaper, edited by Catherine Conlan today.

A short walk from the University of Minnesota’s West Bank campus is a building named after Meridel Le Seuer, a writer and teacher who covered the lives of working people in the Midwest for the Communist Party’s Daily World. She wrote fiction and authored a manual on creative writing, Worker Writers, for the Works Progress Administration.

Meridel Le Seuer

I’m still learning about the writers I’ve mentioned here, many of whom are left out of the usual lists of pioneering journalists and women. Graduating with a journalism degree when there is so much distrust — of the media, of our neighbors, and of our leaders — I’ve often doubted what my gifts and perspectives as a young woman can bring to my community and the field of journalism. Learning about these writers and editors who were influenced by working people and had an influence on the conditions of their times; who were complicated, radical, and courageous, and fought against the narratives upholding oppression and exploitation; shows me there is room and need for my own voice.


Amie Stager (she/her) is the associate editor of Workday Magazine, a pro-worker publication funded by the Labor Education Service at the University of Minnesota. She is pursuing a master’s degree in heritage studies and public history.

On April 13, our “Healthy Collaborations” event will bring together voices from our past year of conversations in these areas to outline solutions and begin to take collective action steps together. We also will work with our community partners and Badass members to reward individuals in a “Celebrate Badass Minnesotans” ceremony. This is a Badass members-only event; become a member if you are interested in being part of it.

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