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This thesis is a life and times biography of Ellen Dawson (Kanki), 1900-1967, a working class Scottish woman who became a leading communist labor activist in the United States. As a young textile worker in Barrhead, she was influenced by the events of Red Clydeside, perhaps the most turbulent period of labor unrest in Scottish history. After World War I, she and her family migrated to Lancashire, where she worked first as a spinner and then as a weaver. In 1921, she lead her family to the United States, where she went to work in a textile mill on the outskirts of New York City. In the mid 1920s, she was a leader in three of the most important American textile strikes of the period : Passaic, New Jersey in 1926, New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1928, and Gastonia, North Carolina in 1929. In 1928 Ellen Dawson became first vice president of the newly formed National Textile Workers Union, the first women elected to a national leadership position in an American textile union. She also served briefly on the executive committee of the Communist Party U.S.A., but was expelled from the party because her primary concern was with the plight of American textile workers, not party dogma. Because of her radical activities, efforts were made by the U.S. Labor Department to revoke her U.S. citizenship and have her deported. She was saved with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union. She abandoned her radical activities in the early1930s, working as an anonymous weaver until shortly before her death in Florida in 1967. Through Ellen Dawson's life, this thesis offers a personal account of the Scottish Diaspora and the influence of Red Clydeside on labor movements in other parts of the world. This is the first detailed account of her life.


A thesis presented for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen as part of a cooperative program with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.




University of Aberdeen


Financial support: The Giles Foundation, The McColl Foundation, The St. Andrews Society of North Carolina, The University of Aberdeen, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, The University of Pittsburgh, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded the Barrhead Community web site, through which I was able to establish contact with Ellenâ's surviving relatives.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.