Crystal Eastman, Activist

Feminist, Civil Libertarian, Pacifist

Crystal Eastman
Crystal Eastman. Courtesy Library of Congress

Crystal Eastman, a lawyer and writer, was involved in socialism, the peace movement, women’s issues, civil liberties. Her popular essay, Now We Can Begin, addressed what women needed to do after winning suffrage, to take advantage of the vote. She lived from June 25, 1881 to July 8, 1928.

Early Life

Eastman was raised in Marlboro, Massachusetts, by two progressive parents and a mother who, as an ordained minister, had fought against restrictions on women’s roles.  Crystal Eastman attended Vassar College, then Columbia University and finally law school at New York University.  She graduated second in her law school class.

Workers’ Compensation

During her last year of education, she became involved in the circle of social reformers in Greenwich Village. She lived with her brother, Max Eastman, and other radicals. She was a part of the Heterodoxy Club.

Just out of college, she investigated workplace accidents, funded by the Russel Sage Foundation, and published her findings in 1910.  Her work led her to an appointment by the New York governor to the Employers’ Liability Commission, where she was the only woman commissioner. She helped shape recommendations based on her workplace investigations, and in 1910, the legislature in New York adopted the first workers’ compensation program in America.


Eastman married in 1911. Her husband was an insurance agent in Milwaukee, and Crystal Eastman moved to Wisconsin. There, she became involved in the campaign of 1911 to win a state woman’s suffrage amendment, which failed. 

By 1913, she and her husband were already separated. From 1913 to 1914, Crystal Eastman served as an attorney, working for the federal Commission on Industrial Relations.

The failure of the Wisconsin campaign led Eastman to the conclusion that work would be better focused on a national suffrage amendment. She joined  Alice Paul and Lucy Burns in urging the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to change tactics and focus, helping to begin the Congressional Committee within the NAWSA in 1913. Finding the NAWSA would not change, later that year the organization separated from its parent and became the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, evolving into the National Woman’s Party in 1916.  She lectured and traveled to promote women’s suffrage.

In 1920, when the suffrage movement won the vote, she published an essay, “Now We Can Begin.”  The premise of the essay was that the vote was not the end of a struggle, but the beginning – a tool for women to become involved in political decision-making, and address the many remaining feminist issues to promote women’s freedom.

Crystal Eastman, Alice Paul and several others wrote a proposed federal Equal Rights Amendment to work for further equality for women beyond the vote.  The ERA did not pass Congress until 1972, and not enough states ratified it by the deadline established by Congress.

Peace Movement

In 1914, Eastman also became involved in working for peace. She was among the founders of the Woman’s Peace Party, with Carrie Chapman Catt, and helped recruit Jane Addams to become involved. She and Jane Addams differed on many topics; Addams denounced the “casual sex” common in the younger Eastman’s circle.

In 1914, Eastman became the executive secretary of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM), whose members came to include even Woodrow Wilson. Crystal and Max Eastman published The Masses, a socialist journal that was explicitly anti-militarist.

By 1916, Eastman’s marriage ended formally with a divorce. She refused any alimony, on feminist grounds. She remarried the same year, this time to a British antimilitarism activist and journalist, Walter Fuller. They had two children, and often worked together in their activism.

When the United States entered the First World War, Eastman responded to the institution of the draft and of laws prohibiting criticism of the war, by joining with Roger Baldwin and Norman Thomas to found a group within AUAM. The Civil Liberties Bureau that they initiated defended the right to be conscientious objectors to serving in the military, and also defended civil liberties including free speech. The Bureau evolved into the American Civil Liberties Union.

The end of the war also marked the beginning of ​separation from Eastman’s husband, who left to go back to London to find work. She occasionally traveled to London to visit him, and eventually established a home there for herself and her children, maintaining that “marriage under two roofs makes room for moods.”


Crystal Eastman and her brother, Max Eastman, published a socialist journal from 1917 to 1922 called the Liberator. Her reform work, including her involvement with socialism, led to her blacklisting during the 1919 – 1920 Red Scare. 


During her career, she published many articles on the topics of interest to her, especially on social reform, women’s issues and peace. After she was blacklisted, she found paying work primarily around feminist issues.


Walter Fuller died after a stroke in 1927, and Crystal Eastman returned to New York with her children. She died the next year of nephritis. Friends took over the raising of her two children.


Crystal Eastman was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame (Seneca, New York) in 2000.

Her papers are at Harvard University’s library.

In the 1960s and 1970s, some of her writings were collected and published by Blanche Wiesen Cook.

Also known as: Crystal Benedict, Crystal Fuller

Popular essay:  Now We Can Begin (what's next after winning suffrage?)

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Annis Bertha Ford, an ordained minister (Congregational)
  • Father: Samuel Elijah Eastman, an ordained minister (Congregational)
  • Siblings: brother Max Eastman, with whom Crystal Eastman sometimes collaborated
  • Husband: Wallace Benedict (married 1911, divorced 1916; insurance agent)
  • Husband: Walter Fuller (married 1916; journalist, activist, impresario)
    • Children: two children in her second marriage: Geoffrey and Annis


  • Vassar College, bachelor’s, 1903
  • Columbia University, master’s in sociology, 1904
  • New York University Law School, doctorate, 1907

Books About Crystal Eastman

  • Blanche Wiesen Cook. "Female Support Networks and Political Activism: Lillian Wald, Crystal Eastman, Emma Goldman." A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of American Women. Edited by Nancy F. Cott and Elizabeth H. Peck. 1979.