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KATE RICHARDS O'HARE

Kate
Kate Richards O'Hare, "Red Kate,"
1876-1948

"Of that long, wretched winter following the panic of 1887 the memory. . .can never grow less bitter. The poverty, the misery, the want, the wan-faced women and hunger pinched children. . .the sordid, grinding, pinching poverty of the workless workers and the frightful, stinging, piercing cold of that winter in Kansas City will always stay with me as a picture of inferno such as Dante never painted.

Kate Richards O'Hare, 1908

Born near Minneapolis, Kansas, Kate Richards came to Kansas City with her family in the late 1880s after a drought ruined their farm. Her father became a machinist and then a partner in the shop. Kate first worked as a bookkeeper there, but persisting in her desire to learn the trade, she became a machinist's apprentice and then a journeyman. She was perhaps the first woman in the United States to do so.

Social work, the plight of women and child workers and the sexual exploitation of working girls were among Kate's concerns. She was also an avid reader of progressive literature. After hearing the legendary organizer Mother Jones speak at a ball given by the Cigar Makers Union, she became a socialist. She attended a radical school in Girard, Kansas where J.A. Wayland published the Appeal to Reason newspaper, the largest circulating socialist paper in the country. There she met and later married a fellow student, Frank O'Hare. Kate was a reformist -- not a revolutionary socialist. Despite her militant reputation, she believed that socialism would come through use of the ballot and strong unionism.

Developing a considerable reputation as a public speaker and rising to political prominence, she became known as "Red Kate" and "The First Lady of American Socialism." She spoke often at Carpenters Hall and other Kansas City union halls. Kate represented the Socialist Party at international meetings in Europe as an expert on rural organization. Before World War I, the SP was strong in Oklahoma, Kansas and elsewhere in the Midwest. Crowds of 5000 or more would gather for a week or two at socialist summer schools where they'd hear Kate, Eugene Debs and Mother Jones.
For speaking out against World War I, Kate was imprisoned in the Missouri state penitentiary along with the noted anarchist Emma Goldman. Her later life in California was largely devoted to prison reform issues.

 

 
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