Agnes Smedley

Agnes Smedley

Agnes Smedley(February 23 18926 May 1950) was an American journalist and writer known for her chronicling of the Chinese revolution.

She embraced and advocated various issues including women's rights, Indian independence, birth control, and China's Communist Revolution. Smedley authored eight books; she wrote articles in many periodicals such as "Asia", "The New Republic", "The Nation", "Vogue", and "Life". A website on Smedley states, "Influenced by her impoverished childhood Agnes Smedley was an advocate for women, children, peasants and liberation for the oppressed."


Smedley was born in Osgood, Missouri in 1892 in a farming family of five children. At the age of ten, she moved with her family to Colorado and worked to support her family, though while still attending school. Smedley never completed her formal education, despite great interest and success in studies. She was offered, and accepted, a position teaching in New Mexico.

From 1911 to 1912 Smedley was enrolled in the Tempe Normal School, Tempe, Arizona as a special student. She was an editor and a contributor to the "Tempe Normal Student", a student publication.

She married Ernest Brundin. They moved to California, and Smedley took an interest in socialist thought. After six years of marriage Smedley divorced and moved to New York City.

In New York she worked with Margaret Sanger at the "Birth Control Review".

During World War I, Smedley grew a close acquaintance with Lala Lajpat Rai and a number of Bengali Indian revolutionaries then in United States. She was at this time close to M. N. Roy and Sailendranath Ghose and agreed, at considerable personal risk, to serve as a communication centre for Indian revolutionaries then in United States. She oversaw at this time the publications of anti-allied propaganda at the request of Ghose, and later came into acquaintance with Bhai Bhagwan Singh and Taraknath Das.Harvnb|Price|2005|p=63-66] Her involvement in the Hindu-German Conspiracy would lead to British detectives put on her trail. Correctly judging her mail being intercepted and opened, and fearing for her personal safety as well as those she knew, Smedley would move house more than seven times in a year.Harvnb|Price|2005|p=65] . Later, she became involved in a relationship with an Indian communist, Virendranath Chattopadhyaya, and moved to Germany with him.

In 1929, she finished an autobiography; she left Chattopadhyaya and moved to Shanghai.

Smedley conducted a relationship with Richard Sorge, a Soviet spymaster, while in Shanghai. She also had ties with Ozaki Hotsumi, a correspondent of Asahi Shinbun. Later he translated Smedley's "Daughter of the Earth" into Japanese. She introduced Sorge to Ozaki, who became Sorge's most important informant. Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, who served with Gen. Douglas MacArthur's chief of intelligence, claimed Smedley was a member of the Sorge spy ring. After the war, Smedley threatened to sue Willoughby for the accusation. But according to Ruth Price, author of the most recent and extensive biography of Smedley (published by Oxford University Press in 2004), there is evidence in former Soviet archival materials that Smedley spied for the Soviet Union.

Smedley covered the Chinese Civil War during the 1930s and served as a correspondent for the "Frankfurter Zeitung" and the "Manchester Guardian". She traveled with the 8th Route Army the New Fourth Army. During the 1930s she applied for membership in the Chinese Communist Party but was rejected due to Party reservations about her discipline and what it viewed as her excessive independence of mind. Smedley was devastated by this rejection but remained passionately devoted to the Chinese communist cause.

Smedley left the field in 1937; she organized medical supplies and continued writing. Between 1938 to 1941, she visited both Communist and Guomindang forces in the war zone; it is recorded that this is the longest tour of the Chinese war front conducted by any foreign correspondent, male or female.

She relocated to Washington, DC to advocate for China and authored several works on China's revolution. During the 1940s she lived at a writer's colony in upstate New York. In 1947 she was accused of espionage. Feeling pressure, she moved to the United Kingdom during the investigation. In 1952, two years after her death, the F.B.I. closed the investigation.

Her ashes were buried at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in Beijing.


*"Battle Hymn of China"
*"Daughter of Earth" (1929), a fictional, semi-autobiographical novel
*"China's Red Army Marches" (1934), republished in USSR in English under the title "Red Flood Over China"
*"Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh"', a biography of the Communist general Zhu De.
*"China Fights Back: An American Woman With the Eighth Route Army"
*"China Correspondent"


* MacKinnon, Janice R. and MacKinnon, Stephen R. (1990) "Agnes Smedley: The Life and Times of an American Radical" University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, ISBN 0520059662
*Harvard reference
Surname1 = Price
Given1 = Ruth
Year = 2005
Title = The Lives of Agnes Smedley.
Publisher = Oxford University Press, US
ISBN= 019514189X
* Willoughby, Charles Andrew (1952) "Shanghai Conspiracy: The Sorge Spy Ring: Moscow, Shanghai, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York" E.P. Dutton and Co., New York (reprinted in 1965 by Western Islands, Boston, MA);

External links

* [ Agnes Smedley at the Arizona State University Hayden Library archives]
* [ Agnes Smedley from NOVA Online, "Secrets, Lies, and Atomic Spies"]
* [ Photo]

ee also

*American journalists
*Jack Belden

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