J. Louis Engdahl (1884-1932) was an editor and journalist who throughout his life was a tireless advocate for labor, socialist, and communist causes.
Engdahl was born November 11, 1884, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to working-class Swedish immigrant parents. He studied at the University of Minnesota from 1903 to 1907. Engdahl joined the Socialist Party around 1908 and quickly rose to prominence within its ranks.
A reporter and editor for several Socialist newspapers, including the Chicago Daily Socialist , the American Socialist , and the Daily World , in 1913 Engdahl joined Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, and others in West Virginia, where he reported on the coal miners' strike for the Socialist press.
Engdahl was a close friend of Pauline Grace Levitin, a Chicago schoolteacher from a family active in the Socialist movement. In 1914, the two were married. They had a daughter, also named Pauline.
Pauline Levitin Engdahl's sister, Sophia, was no less strong in her support of socialism. Sophia's husband was William Rodriguez, Chicago's first Socialist (and Hispanic) alderman. (The two divorced in the 1920s, citing among their grievances irreconcilable political convictions. Sophia would later join the Communist Party and spend several years in the Soviet Union.)
Another prominent associate of Engdahl's was Victor Berger, a Milwaukee newspaper editor and politician who served as a Socialist Representative in Congress from 1911 to 1913 and from 1923 to 1929. Upon the United States' entry into World War I, Berger and Engdahl, along with three codefendants, were prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 for their opposition to the war. Each was sentenced to twenty years in prison, a decision later overturned by the Supreme Court in 1921.
In 1931, the International Labor Defense, with Engdahl as its general secretary, took up the cause of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young African-American men convicted and sentenced to death for the rape of two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama--a claim that was eventually discredited, and which was considered suspect by many even at the time. Engdahl spoke at mass meetings across the country to protest the defendants' unfair trial and to raise funds for their further defense. In 1932, he and Ada Wright, mother of two of the Scottsboro defendants, toured Europe extensively to garner international support.
Engdahl contracted pneumonia during the strenuous tour. In Moscow, where he and Ada Wright served as delegates to the World Congress of the International Red Aid, he fell seriously ill and died on November 21, 1932.