You are forgiven for not knowing who Mother Bloor (Ella Reeves Bloor, 1862-1951) is, even though she got her own page of photos in Life magazine in 1938 on the occasion of her 76th birthday. One of the United States’ most important woman labor organizers, her personal journey can be used to trace the history of the American left. Read a somewhat sanitized version of her life story in Wikipedia, or a more left leaning version in the online magazine, Jacobin. She was married many times, but never to a man named Bloor. Somehow she ended up being known with last name of a male companion from the 1920s and the honorific “Mother,” as a nod to her age.
Like other women on the left, she dressed in a conservative manner. Was this because she was not interested in clothes? Or perhaps she wanted to convince her audiences that she had more important things than fashion on her mind? It is difficult to imagine a more “old lady” style than the one pictured above, a dark dress with a small print and lace at the collar, topped with a flowered hat. If you look at the picture below, you’ll see that she wore her skirts very long, even though fashion was sending them up by 1938.
Above is a slice of now almost forgotten American history. Mother Bloor is pictured with the winners of a beauty contest held at a camp for young Communists. It serves as a reminder than the American Communist Party was a genuinely popular movement during the Great Depression, with camps, clubs, and orchestras. Although many viewed it as a threat to American democracy, there is no trace of that fear here.