Life Dates: b. September 22, 1884, d. May 15, 1968
Full Name: Viva Flaherty
Birthplace: Grand Rapids, MI
Although at Central High School in Grand Rapids Viva Flaherty had been a member of the Junior Suffrage Club, in her later life she dedicated herself wholly to corollary struggles, ones that she perceived as more pressing.
Raised by first-wave feminists, Viva Flaherty (1884-1968) reinvested her Progressive Era education at Vassar College and the University of Michigan directly in the cause of social welfare and reform. In 1903 she took a position at the Bissell Settlement House in Grand Rapids. After work in New York with newly arriving immigrants, Flaherty took a position back in Grand Rapids as social outreach secretary at Fountain Street Baptist Church. She quit her job during the Furniture Strike of 1911 to protest church support for factory owners against labor demands, and then documented “facts hitherto unpublished” in a 29-page booklet.
She begins, “A strike is a public matter, and if the people are to know how another is to be avoided they should know all the inside facts of this one.” Her booklet documents daily wages (less than $2/day, even after prices of products had increased over 10%) and the consequences of protest prior to the strike. Read the booklet here.
Viva Flaherty was not afraid to address difficult and unpopular situations, or to stand alone. She stood for labor, and then stood against American entry into World War I—which should not be confused with World War II. Protesting what she saw as unnecessary American military adventurism, Flaherty tested the 1917 Espionage Act and was arrested for handing out pamphlets informing men of their rights concerning the draft and the imperialist nature of the war. She was the only woman in a group tried for conspiring against the federal government—and found not guilty.
This biography can also be found in the June 3, 2020 Women’s History Wednesday.