Home and Agents of Social Change - Mary Metlay Kaufman

Kaufman Lesson Plan

Lesson Topic: The Personal Side of the Smith Act
Grade: High School
Class: American History
Approx. Class Time: 2 periods

Lesson Objective: The students will analyze a letter from Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to Mary Kaufman to illustrate the effects of the Smith Act on Americans accused of being Communists. After class discussion, students could also be assigned a position paper.

Materials Needed: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to Mary Kaufman, 15 July 1955 and "Elizabeth's Suggestions for the Letter." Class should research the Smith Act before reading documents. A short biographical treatment of Gurley Flynn can be found in Notable American Women (1980).

Discussion Questions:

  • What is Gurley Flynn's reward for "fifty years of uninterrupted service to the American labor movement?"

  • Why were labor organizers frequently targeted by the Smith Act trials?

  • Has Flynn's time in jail lessened her dedication to the labor movement or to radical politics?

Position Paper: The students should choose one of two perspectives from which to write their position paper. They could either be a defense attorney for Flynn or a federal prosecutor arguing on behalf of the Smith Act. Instead of, or addition to, a written assignment, a class debate format could be staged, using the same opposing positions.

Selected Suggested Readings:
Helen C. Camp, Iron in Her Soul: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the American
Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 1995).

Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall, ed., Words on Fire: The Life and Writings of Elizabeth
          Gurley Flynn
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987).

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