1920 October 12

ACLU Leader Arrested for Speaking from Her Car


Elizabeth Glendower Evans, an ACLU leader from Massachusetts, was arrested for speaking from her car in Norwich, Connecticut, on this day. In an apparent effort to avoid an embarrassing case, the judge dismissed the charge, holding that she meant to obey the police officer’s order to “move on.” Another speaker, a prominent local Socialist, was convicted and fined $25 for the same offense.

The arrests were typical of the period when the police arbitrarily blocked many pro-labor or pro-free speech meetings. In a number of cases, people were arrested when they attempted to read the Constitution or Bill of Rights as a symbolic gesture in support of freedom of speech. See, for example, March 23, 1920, October 12, 1920, and March 17, 1923. On May 15, 1923, the famous novelist Upton Sinclair was arrested in San Pedro, California, for attempting to read the Bill of Rights; his arrest prompted the founding of the ACLU of Southern California.

Learn more about Evans, including a short timeline of her activism, at the Radcliffe Library: http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~sch00026

See a photograph of Evans at the Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/resource/mnwp.150006

Learn more about the ACLU in its early years: Samuel Walker, In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU (1990)

And about the ACLU’s First Amendment battles in the 1920s and 1930s: Laura Weinrib, The Taming of Free Speech (2016)

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