Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Anna Louise Strong was a foreign correspondent and social activist whose midwestern idealism and pioneering spirit led her to extended stays in Russia and China. Although never a member of the Communist Party, she sympathized with the Communist cause and wrote of its struggles with a vibrant naivete, believing that a new era of human progress had arrived.

Anna Louise Strong was born on November 25, 1885, in a two-room parsonage in Friend, Nebraska, where her father, Sydney Strong, was a Congregational minister who was deeply involved in progressive movements. When she was not yet two, family lore relates, a late summer cyclone lifted her from the front yard and deposited her, relatively unscathed, in the cow pasture some distance away–an archetypal Plains experience.

Sydney Strong's ministry took the family to various midwestern locations such as Cincinnati, Ohio, and Oak Park, Illinois. A diligent and precocious student, Anna finished high school at fifteen, graduated from Oberlin College summa cum laude, and became, at age twenty-three, the youngest woman to receive a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

In Kansas City in 1911, Strong was director of the Child Welfare Exhibit Program, an organization dedicated to improving the wellbeing of urban children. It was there that she embraced socialism and decided to devote her life to progressive social causes. In 1919, as editor of the Seattle Union Record, she played an important role in the Seattle General Strike. In 1921 she traveled to the new Soviet Union, which became her principal home until 1949, when she was expelled by Stalin as a suspected spy. During this time she made yearly trips and lecture tours back to the United States, while also covering revolutionary developments in China, Mexico, and Spain. Shunned by both the American right and left and labeled a Soviet spy during the McCarthy era, she lived and wrote in California until she decided to take up residence in China in 1958.

Strong was warmly received by the Chinese Communist leaders, who saw her as a valuable propaganda mouthpiece they could use in their dealings with the West. She had interviewed Mao Tse-tung in 1946 at the Communist headquarters in Yenan, where he first used the term "paper tiger" to refer to Western imperialists. Her death in Beijing in March 1970 was an occasion for public mourning and a state funeral. She is buried in the Revolutionary Martyrs' Cemetery in Beijing.

Molly Spitzer Frost George Washington University

Strong, Anna Louise. China's Millions. New York: Coward-McCann, 1928.

Strong, Anna Louise. I Change Worlds. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1935.

Strong, Tracy, and Helene Keyssar. Right in Her Soul: The Life of Anna Louise Strong. New York: Random House, 1983.

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