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Anna Lord Strauss (September 20, 1899 – February 23, 1979) was an influential civic leader that was mainly a feminist/women's right activist, and perhaps one of her greatest accomplishments was her push for the creation of the United Nations. She was also recognized widely and appointed to certain positions for her ability to work effectively with women of many different cultures and backgrounds. A part of the Famine Emergency Committee, the International Alliance for Women, and the League of Women Voters, Anna Lord Strauss significantly influenced American history.
Leila J. Rupp in "Imagine My Surprise’: Women’s Relationships in Mid-Twentieth Century America", views Anna Lord Strauss as the epitome of the “charismatic leader” figure. Some quotes from her followers addressing her are: “I love you! I can’t imagine the world without you. . . . I love you. I need you.” Knowing her is “the most beautiful and profound experience I have ever had.” And apparently, Strauss’ only imperfection is that she cannot be loved. In fact, Rupp suggests that this inability to be intimate may have shaped her feelings about lesbianism, “Strauss’ reserve and inability to express her feelings may or may not have had anything to do with her own attitude toward intimate relationships between women.”
She was born in New York City in 1899, the second of three daughters of Albert Strauss (1864-1929) and Lucretia Mott Lord (1867-1939). She was brought up with two other siblings, Marjorie Lord Strauss (1897-1969) and Katherine Lord Strauss (1902-1980). After going to the New York School for Secretaries and getting a job alongside her father, she took a trip to France which ultimately made her contemplate what she really wanted to do with her life. In 1923, she got a job with the Century Magazine, but after six years left because she felt her promotion was taking a job away from someone more deserving. She took up volunteer work at Ellis Island, and eventually joined the New York City League of Women Voters in 1934. Determined and hard-working, Strauss moved up in the organization to president. Her election, however, led to the resignation of the senior board members and staff because the outgoing presidential candidate was apparently a big-shot and they did not want to give Strauss a chance. To combat the loss of members, she hired plenty of excited new people who shared similar stances.
Strauss, the great-granddaughter of abolitionist and woman suffrage leader Lucretia Mott, came from an old and wealthy family; she was prominent and respected, a staunch liberal and an anti- or at best a nonfeminist. She never married and her papers leave no evidence of intimate relationships outside her family. Yet Strauss was the object of some very strong feelings on the part of the women with whom she worked. She, like Alice Paul and Lena Madesin Phillips, received numerous hero-worshipping letters from awestruck followers. But in her case we also have evidence that some of her coworkers fell deeply in love with her. It is hard to know how the following women would have interpreted their relationship with Strauss. The two women who expressed their feelings explicitly were both married women, and in one case Strauss obviously had a cordial relationship with the woman's husband and children. Yet there can be no question that Augusta Street, a League officer, fell in love with Strauss. She found Strauss "the finest human being I had ever known," and knowing her "the most beautiful and profound experience I have ever had." Loving Strauss—she asked permission to say it—made the earth move and "the whole landscape of human affairs and nature" take on a new appearance. Being with Strauss made "the tone and fiber" of her day different; although she could live without her, she could see no reason for having to prove it all the time. She tried to "ration and control" her thoughts of Strauss, but it was small satisfaction. When Strauss was recovering from an operation, this woman wrote: "I love you! I can't imagine the world without you.... I love you. I need you."
Although our picture of this relationship is completely one-sided-for Strauss did not keep copies of most of her letters-it is clear that Strauss did not respond to such declarations of love. This woman urged Strauss to accept her and what she had to say without "the slightest sense of needing to be considerate of me because I feel as I do." She understood the "unilateral character" of her feelings, and insisted that she had more than she deserved by simply knowing Strauss at all. But her hurt, and her growing suspicion that Strauss shunned intimacy, escaped on occasion. She asked: "And how would it hurt you to let someone tell you sometime how beautiful-how wonderful you are? Did you ever let anyone have a decent chance to try?". She realized that loving someone did not always make things easier-that sometimes, in fact, it made life more of a struggle-but she believed that to withdraw from love was to withdraw from life. In what appears to have been a hastily written note, she expressed her understanding-an understanding that obviously gave her both pain and comfort-that Strauss was not perfect after all: "Way back there in the crow's nest (or at some such time) you decided not to become embroiled in any intimate human relationship, except those you were, by birth, committed to. I wonder.... There is something you haven't mastered. Something you've been afraid of after all."
This woman's perception that Strauss avoided intimacy is confirmed elsewhere in Strauss' papers. One old friend was struck, in 1968, by Strauss' ability to "get your feelings out & down on paper!" She continued: "I know you so well that I consider this great progress in your own inner state of mental health. It is far from easy for you to express your feelings...... This aspect of Strauss' personality fits with the ideal type of the charismatic leader. The other case of a woman falling in love with Strauss that emerges clearly from her papers reinforces this picture. This woman, also a League officer, wrote in circuitous fashion of her intense pleasure at receiving Strauss' picture. In what was certainly a reference to lesbianism, she wrote that she hoped Strauss would not think that she was "one of those who had never outgrown the emotional extravaganzas of the adolescent." Before she got down to League business, she added:
But, Darling, as I softly close the door on all this—as I should and as I want to—and as I must since all our meetings are likely to be formal ones in a group—as I go back in the office correspondence to "Dear Miss Strauss" and "Sincerely yours," ... as I put myself as much as possible in the background at our March meeting in order to share you with the others who have not been with you as I have—as all these things happen, I want you to be very certain that what is merely under cover is still there—as it most surely will be—and that if all the hearts in the room could be exposed there'd be few, I'm certain, that would love you more than ... [I].
Apparently Strauss never responded to this letter, for a month later, this woman apologized for writing it: "I have had qualms, dear Anna, about that letter I wrote you. (You knew I would eventually of course!)." Continuing in a vein that reinforces the above quoted perception of Strauss' inability to be intimate, she wrote of imagining the "recoil ... embarrassment, self-consciousness and general discomfort" her letter must have provoked in such a "reserved person." She admitted that the kind of admiration she had expressed, "at least in certain classes of relationships (of which mine to you is one)—becomes a bit of moral wrong-doing.". She felt ashamed and asked forgiveness.
What is clear is that this was a momentous and significant relationship to at least one of the parties. Almost twenty years later, this woman wrote of her deep disappointment in missing Strauss' visit to her city. She had allowed herself to dream that she could persuade Strauss to stay with her awhile, even though she knew that others would have prior claims on Strauss' time.
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