Agnes Smedley Collection

Daughter of Earth

The photographs of Agnes Smedley are best described by a quotation from her autobiographical book Daughter of Earth, "I shall gather up the fragments of my life and make a crazy-quilt of them. Or a mosaic of interesting patterns-unity in diversity. This will be an adventure."

About Agnes Smedley

Smedley in jungle
Agnes Smedley in Guomindang uniform worn by communist troops in Central China during the United front 1939.
Photographer: Aino Taylor
Agnes Smedley Collection, Acc. #93.1116

Agnes Smedley was born in Missouri in 1892 the second of five children to a poor farming family. Her family moved to a Colorado mining town when she was ten where she worked to support the family while attending school until her late teens. Smedley never finished her formal training yet she excelled in school. She accepted a teaching position in New Mexico that led her to desire further education. From 1911-12 she attended the Tempe Normal School as a special student. As a contributor and editor of the Tempe Normal Student she began her career as a journalist. At Tempe Normal she met and married Ernest Brudin and moved to California where she explored socialist theories which influenced her political direction and her social conscience. Marriage did not suit her so after six years she divorced and moved to New York City.

In New York City she worked for Margaret Sanger on the Birth Control Review and became involved with the movement to support India's independence from Britain. Smedley relocated to Germany to live with Viren Chattopadhyaya(Chatto) and worked for Indian independence. These were tumultuous years with serious breakdowns both personally and politically. After psychoanalyses and the completion of her autobiography he broke away from Chatto and the Indian cause. As if this book released her she moved to Shanghai in 1929.

For years she chronicled the Chinese revolution as a war correspondent for Germany, Britain and later the United States. She told the story of the peasants, the Red army and the oppressed of China to the world. In October of 1937 she joined the Eighth Route Army in the field. As it became increasingly dangerous, she left the field in 1937 to organize medical supplies and continue writing. From November 1938 to April 1941 she visited resistance units under both the Communist and Guomindang leaders in the war zone, the longest tour of the Chinese war by any foreign correspondent, man or woman.

Convinced she could support the Far East in Washington D.C. she returned to the United States. Smedley remained an advocate of China, writing several books about China's revolution. She lived at a writer's colony in New York State known as "Yaddo" through the middle forties. She was a regular contributor to The Saratogian and wrote feature articles for The New Masses, The Nation and The New Republic. In 1947 during the McCarthy era she was accused of espionage. Smedley moved to England during the investigation and died in 1950. In 1952 the F.B.I. closed the investigation.

Over the years Agnes Smedley had friends and associates who supported a wide range of causes. Margaret Sanger, Emma Goldman, Roger Baldwin, Ladip at Rai, Kathe Kollowitz, Lu Xun, Nehru, Richard Sorge, Soon Qingling, and Chou En-Lai are some of the people who influenced Smedley's life.

Influenced by her impoverished childhood Agnes Smedley was an advocate for women, children, peasants and liberation for the oppressed.