William English Walling Papers, 1871-1962


William English Walling, twentieth century author and lecturer, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, March 14, 1877, and died after a short illness in Amsterdam, Holland, September 12, 1936. While he was a youth he moved with his parents, Dr. Willoughby and Mrs. Rosalind (English) Walling, to Chicago, where he was graduated with honors from the University of Chicago in 1897. He returned to the University in 1899 and 1900 to do graduate work in economics and political science.

For a short time he served as a factory inspector for the state of Illinois, engaged especially in enforcing the state's child labor law and its regulations for safety and sanitation. From 1902 to 1905 he was a resident of University Settlement in New York City, and between 1905 and 1907 traveled widely in Europe, studying political and economic conditions and talking at length with social reformers and labor leaders, many of whom were of national importance.

As a journalist in Russia after the revolution of 1905, Walling became acquainted with Tolstoy and met many others there-- intellectuals, noblemen, and commoners. In 1906 he was married to Anna Strunsky, a noted writer on social problems, and late in 1907 they were arrested and held for a short time in Russia. On his return to the United States he published his first book, Russia's Message, a work translated into Russian and German and circulated in English as well as American editions.

Mr. Walling had already attracted attention in the United States as a lecturer and writer. He was one of a group of American liberals, many of them wealthy, who worked in behalf of social reform early in the century, and frequently referred to himself as an “independent socialist.” On March 9, 1910, Walling wrote to George H. Shibley of Philadelphia, “Recently I have even joined the Socialist Party.” However, according to an article appearing in the AFL Weekly News Service, September 19, 1936, “Along with other prominent American socialists he left the official Socialist party about 1917...”, and thereafter devoted himself to advancing socialism as he interpreted it.

On May 5, 1917, Woodrow Wilson wrote to Walling asking him to be a member of a commission the President planned to send to Russia “to show our interest and sympathy at this critical juncture in Russian affairs...” Although Walling was in frequent consultation with the Secretary of Labor, he declined to become a member of the commission. Two years later, at the request of President Wilson, he accompanied Samuel Gompers and the American labor delegation to Europe, and was present at the first congress of the Trade Union International.

Mr. Walling was one of the founders of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (later the League for Industrial Democracy); he was one of the organizers of the National Child Labor Committee; with Mrs. Mary K. O'Sullivan of Boston he founded the Women's Trade Union League; and he and Miss Mary White Ovington of New York founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In the 1920's he was a staff writer for the International Labor News Service, often publishing without signing his articles. He was deeply interested in the American Federation of Labor, and collaborated with both Samuel Gompers and Mathew Woll in writing books.

He was a frequent contributor to publications such as Independent, World's Work, The Outlook, World Today, Colliers Weekly, and Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. The following books are credited to William E. Walling:

  • Russia's Message (1908)
  • Socialism As It Is (1912)
  • The Larger Aspects of Socialism (1913)
  • Progressivism and Socialism of Today (1916)
  • Whitman and Traubel (1916)
  • State Socialism, Pro and Con (with Harry Laidler) (1917)
  • Sovietism (1920)
  • Out of Their Own Mouths (with Samuel Gompers) (1921)
  • American Labor and American Democracy (1927)
  • The Mexican Question Under Calles and Obregon (1927)
  • Our Next Step - A National Economic Policy (with Matthew Woll) (1933)

The Wallings made their home in Greenwich, Connecticut, where their four children, Rosamound, Anna Strunsky, Georgia, and William Hayden English, were reared. In 1924 Mr. Walling was a candidate for Congress from the Fourth District of Connecticut, and in 1928 he wrote the foreign affairs section of the Democratic party platform.

Of particular interest to Wisconsin scholars is the fact that about 1906, when Walling was in Italy, he met a young Polish student, Selig Perlman. He was so impressed with Perlman that he sent the student to America and provided funds for his education. This personal interest was rewarded when, in later years, Perlman became one of the nation's leading economists and succeeded John R. Commons as head of the Department of Economics at the University of Wisconsin.