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Jessie Lloyd O'Connor papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00254

Scope and Contents

The bulk of the Jessie Lloyd O'Connor papers date from the 1920s, O'Connor's college years, to 1988 and relate to every aspect of her life, both personal and professional. Types of material include personal and business correspondence; writings; speeches; personal records and memorabilia; printed material; financial and legal records; photographs; biographical material; organization and subject files; miscellaneous notes and lists, and several audiotapes of interviews and music.

While the bulk of these papers are directly related to Jessie Lloyd O'Connor and the causes she worked for and supported, because she was a collector, these are also family papers. Harvey O'Connor is especially well represented here because he and Jessie often collaborated on projects, notably their memoirs, but also their work for the Federated Press and Harvey's books. O'Connor's interest in her family's history is reflected in biographical material about, and writings of, notable relatives such as Henry Demarest Lloyd, Maury Maverick, and Lola Maverick Lloyd in SERIES I. BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIAL and SERIES III. WRITINGS, respectively. There is biographical material about friends and associates in SERIES V. SUBJECT FILES.

O'Connor's interests were many, her correspondence prodigious, and she was a natural collector. The result is documentation of a wide array of subjects within these papers, some in great depth, others in a more fragmentary fashion. Some of the major subjects addressed throughout the papers are labor; international cooperation and world government; peace and pacifism; civil liberties; communism and U.S. anti-communism; the cooperative movement and other consumer issues; the environment; music, especially of a political bent, and dance; philanthropy; Soviet Union; political prisoners and refugees; political campaigns, especially of the Progressive Party; and housing. O'Connor accumulated material related to organizations with which she was actively involved, such as the League of Women Shoppers, American League Against War and Fascism, Progressive Party, Hull House, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and United World Federalists, as well as those in which she retained a more peripheral interest, receiving mailings and making donations. Some of the organizations, like the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Woman's Party, are well known and extensively documented in other archival repositories; others are more obscure, and it is likely that material about them is more difficult to locate in other archives. In addition to large social, political, and economic topics covered within the collection, there is a great deal of material, especially in SERIES II. CORRESPONDENCE, that addresses more personal subjects, such as marriage, divorce, and family relationships in general; friendship; sexual mores; adoption; the women's college experience; professional collaboration between husband and wife and the ambivalent relationship of career and family in women's lives; and the role of wealthy contributors to radical causes and the contradictions they faced. Similar subject matter and types of material often appear in several of the different series or parts of series and "see also" references have been used liberally in an attempt to alert researchers to at least some of these connections, though they are far from comprehensive.

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1823 - 1989


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for use with following restrictions on access: three folders of correspondence with doctors are closed until 2030: Bernard, Dr. Viola, 1939-63; Feigen, Simeon (re: Kathleen O'Connor), 1963-69; and Miscellaneous, 1948-68, undated.

Conditions Governing Use

To the extent that she owns copyright, Jessie Lloyd O'Connor has assigned the copyright in her works to Smith College; however, copyright in other items in this collection may be held by their respective creators. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. For instances which may regard materials in the collection not created by Jessie Lloyd O'Connor, researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

Jessie Lloyd, journalist and social activist, was born in Winnetka, Illinois on February 14, 1904, the daughter of William Bross Lloyd, writer and socialist, and Lola Maverick, pacifist and founder of the U.S. section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). O'Connor's grandfather was Henry Demarest Lloyd, muckraking journalist and author of Wealth Against Commonwealth (1894), an expose of Standard Oil. Her family's strong tradition of democratic socialism provided the foundation of a political education that was augmented by a constant stream of visiting radicals and reformers, including Jane Addams, Rosika Schwimmer, and John Reed. In 1915 Lloyd accompanied her mother to Europe aboard Henry Ford's Peace Ship.

After earning an A.B. in economics from Smith College in 1925, Lloyd visited London where she witnessed a confrontation between police and strikers during the British General Strike. Inaccurate news reports of the incident confirmed her parents' contention that mainstream press accounts of the poor were untrustworthy. A short stint working in a Paris factory reinforced her desire to provide a corrective to slanted news coverage by reporting events herself.

Lloyd contributed stories to newspapers in the United States while working as a correspondent for the London Daily Herald in Geneva (1926) and Moscow (1926-28). From Moscow, she also sent stories to the Federated Press, a labor wire service in the United States.

From 1929 to 1935 Lloyd worked as a reporter for the Federated Press in the United States. She was sent to Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929 to cover the National Textile Workers Union's attempt to organize the Loray mill. She wrote a pamphlet on the strike, Gastonia: A Graphic Chapter in Southern Organization (1930).

Early in the Depression O'Connor wrote stories about the unemployed in New York City. Her exposure to the plight of the jobless under capitalism and the activities of the Communist Party on their behalf fostered an appreciation for Communists' courage and dedication. Over time she became disenchanted with the Party, finding it doctrinaire and fraught with internecine battles. Though she declined to join, O'Connor never became part of the anticommunist camp within the American left. In 1957 she wrote of her accord with communist aims of "world peace, race brotherhood, [and] equality for women" but added that she "could not favor dictatorship of the proletariat or trust anybody with power, without guarantees of civil liberties for opponents."

In 1930, Jessie Lloyd married Harvey O'Connor, an editor for the Federated Press, and a former logger, seaman, and member of the International Workers of the World. The O'Connors decided to open a bureau of the Federated Press in Pittsburgh where the labor movement, in attempting to organize the steel mills and mining companies, was fighting its most bitter struggle. First, they took a six month trip to the Caribbean and Mexico, filing stories from each region they visited. The trip solidified a fruitful working relationship that would continue throughout the O'Connors' lives.

In 1931, the Federated Press sent Jessie Lloyd O'Connor to replace a correspondent who had been shot while covering the coal miners' strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. Despite regular threats, she turned interviews with miners, their families, and members of the community into evocative stories carried in newspapers throughout the country. Her investigation of the murder of two men conducting a soup kitchen for the strikers left an indelible impression which she described in the O'Connors' 1987 memoir: "Class struggle is not something I want to preach, it is something that happens to people who try to resist or improve intolerable conditions."

After returning to Pittsburgh, O'Connor continued working for the Federated Press and helped revitalize the local ACLU. She also helped research and edit the first in a series of Harvey's exposes of American capitalism, Mellon's Millions (1933), a role she played for his subsequent books.

The O'Connors went to Moscow in 1932 to work for the English language Moscow Daily News. Jessie was troubled by the changes in Russia since 1928 and unhappy translating dull stories of "socialist triumphs in new paper mills and state farms." When libel litigation over Mellon's Millions was resolved in 1933, the O'Connors returned to Pittsburgh where workers, guaranteed the right to organize by the National Recovery Act, were forming union locals throughout the steel industry. While reporting for the Federated Press from 1933 to 1935, O'Connor carried messages between organizers. During the Ambridge strike she narrowly escaped arrest, and smuggled the main organizer out of town. During this period she also chaired the Pittsburgh chapter of the League Against War and Fascism.

An heir to the Chicago Tribune fortune, O'Connor believed it was her duty to use her money to benefit radical causes. In 1934, she received publicity for demanding at a stockholders' meeting that U.S. Steel recognize a union of its employees. She helped fund many projects, from literacy and voting campaigns in the South to radical bookstores.

Although she continued to work periodically as a freelance journalist, in 1936 O'Connor turned her energies to volunteer work and later, caring for two children the O'Connors adopted in the early 1940s. From 1939 to 1944 they lived at Hull House. While in Chicago, Jessie was general secretary of The League of Women Shoppers, working to organize buying power to improve workplace conditions and wages. For the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council she made a film of housing conditions designed to convince her former Winnetka neighbors to finance improvements. She also worked for the Industrial Board of the YWCA, the ACLU, Spanish Refugee Relief, the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, WILPF, and the Campaign for World Government. O'Connor claimed she served on so many boards during this period that she did justice to none of them.

In 1945 the O'Connors moved to Fort Worth, Texas where Harvey worked as publicity director for the Oil Workers International Union. In 1948 they settled in Little Compton, Rhode Island, where Harvey devoted himself to writing. Jessie was a member of the National Committee of the Progressive Party from 1949 to 1952 and a delegate to the People's World Constitutional Convention in 1950. During the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy accused both O'Connors of being Communists. Harvey was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and Jessie's passport was revoked. They joined with other activists to organize the National Committee to Abolish HUAC (later the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation). From the 1960s on, Jessie demonstrated against the Vietnam War, was active in political campaigns, worked against construction of a local nuclear power plant, and traveled extensively.

For forty years, peace activists, union organizers, victims of McCarthy era purges, novelists, and folk singers came to rest and recuperate at the O'Connor home in Little Compton. Beth Taylor, a friend who knew them in their last years described them as "joyful, witty, accepting people" and noted that "anyone who came under their wing...felt their magnetism." Harvey died in 1987. Jessie died December 24, 1988 in Fall River, Massachusetts at the age of 84.

While Jessie's career received less public notice than Harvey's, she holds a significant place in the history of American radicalism. Beyond her career in labor journalism, she was part of an extensive network of radicals involved in every major social movement of the twentieth century. O'Connor's multiple interests and commitments probably diluted her impact in any single area, but her unwavering dedication to social justice was an example for all who shared her commitment.


68.668 linear feet (154 containers)

Language of Materials



Jessie Lloyd O'Connor was a journalist, social reformer and political activist. She worked as a reporter for Federated Press. Her extensive writings, notes, and correspondence document the labor strikes she covered in Kentucky and North Carolina and her work on civil rights, civil liberties and women's rights. O'Connor served and supported numerous progressive organizations, including the American League Against War and Fascism and the ACLU. Other materials include family biographical files; memorabilia; and photographs. Notable correspondents include family members William Bross Lloyd, Lola Maverick Lloyd, and Harvey O'Connor; as well as friends and colleagues such as Mary Heaton Vorse, Josephine Herbst, Earl Browder, Ella Reeve Bloor, Florence Luscomb, Katherine Anne Porter, Rosika Schwimmer, and Pete Seeger.


This collection is organized into five series:

  1. I. Biographical Material
  2. II. Correspondence
  3. III. Writings
  4. IV. Organization Files
  5. V. Subject Files

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Jessie Lloyd O'Connor donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection from 1982 to 1988. Stephen O'Connor and Georgia Lloyd have added to the original donation.

Additional Formats

Selections from the Jessie Lloyd O'Connor papers can be viewed in the Web exhibit Agents of Social Change: New Resources on 20th-century Women's Activism .

Related Material

Additional family papers are housed at the New York Public Library (Schwimmer-Lloyd Collection); Wayne State University and Brown University (Harvey O'Connor); and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Henry Demarest Lloyd). There is additional material about O'Connor in the Smith College Archives and the Dorothy Smith Dushkin Papers in the Sophia Smith Collection.

Finding aid to the Jessie Lloyd O'Connor papers
Legacy Finding Aid (Updated)
Amy Hague
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2005-09-23: mnsss131 converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02-5c.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:11-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2019-04-17: Made paper FA pencil edit changes and updated finding aid.
  • 2022-03-03: Integrated description of oversized materials

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063