Activist for Humanity
Millhouse Owner 1918-1925
Martha Gruening was closely
affiliated with the Libertarian school, but until we researched
the period in late 2008, little was known about it.
We now know a lot more about
Martha and Helen Boardman, the whole Gruening family, the early years
of the NAACP, Black Theater, WPA Writer’s project, NBLA,
Smith College-class of 1909 (and Bryn Maw r and then NYU Law),
The Nation magazine, book and magazine reviews and critics
pre-WWII, personal data like adopting a black child and the
numerous times she was arrested while working for various
causes, most always summarized as, People’s Rights.
The tranquil image of Gomez
Mill House is really shaken during the Libertarian school
period. Let’s look at Martha’s life and what we
have learned about her.
Dr. Emil and Phoebe Gruening
had five children. Mrs. G or Phebe is from a farm family in
Bergen County, NJ. The eldest child was son, Ernest, who followed
his father in medicine to get his medical degree and then
branched into other careers. He was editor of The Nation magazine,
The Post, and FDR asked him to become the governor of the
Alaska territory. Later he became a senator and is widely
remembered for his “No!” vote on the Gulf of Tonkin
Not gaining the national acclaim
like Ernest, the ladies had each distinguished themselves.
There were four sisters, our subject Martha, and Clara, Mary
and Rose. All deserve chapters
in the Civil Rights movement in American history.
She was a Smith College graduate
(class of 1909) and came from a well-known family; her father
was an eminent physician and her brother would eventually
become a prominent public official. Gruening herself was writing
for and helping to edit a short-lived pacifist magazine, The
Dawn, in Greenwich Village, at the time of her arrest.
She held a law degree from New York University (awarded 1912).
From 1911-1914, Gruening served as an assistant secretary
to the National Board of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); she and the prominent
African American cofounder of the NAACP, W. E. B. Du Bois,
were appointed by the NAACP to investigate a race riot that
broke out in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917. On August 23, 1917, she traveled to Houston, Texas, to report on the race
riot there that involved members of the all-black Twenty-fourth
Martha encouraged tolerance
and the rights of all people.
From: A World Without
War. Series Editors, Harriet Hyman Alonso, Charles Chatfield,
and Louis Kriesberg. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Studies on Peace
and Conflict Resolution, 1997.