Social Activist Lola Ridge Was a Literary Trailblazer

Born Emily Ridge in Dublin, Ireland in 1873, Lola Ridge (20) was a poet and champion of the working class. She has been described as a politically active communist, socialist, Marxist, and anarchist, all before those philosophies became fashionable among New York intellectuals. Ridge participated in protests, marches, and pickets with ferocious spirit. Her writing is vigorous and electric. Her collections include Firehead (1930), Red Flag (1927), Sun-up, and Other Poems (1920), and The Ghetto, and Other Poems (1918). Ridge made her literary debut in North America in the journal Overland Monthly, which described her as “a young Australian poet and artist, who is not without fame in her own land.” In April 1909 she had published a poem in Emma Goldman’s radical journal Mother Earth. After her mother died in 1907, she reinvented herself as Lola Ridge, poet and painter, and described herself as being only 23 years old. This fib about her age later caused friends to remark on her premature ill health and delicacy. When she died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1941, even the New York Times printed her age as 57 and not 67.

Four Poems by Lola Ridge

Lola Ridge in print.

MacDowell Fellow in literature Terese Svoboda (79, 13), was at work on her 2016 biography of Ridge, Anything That Burns You: Lola Ridge, Radical Poet, during her latest MacDowell residency. In it, she writes that Ridge was a “prominent proletariat modernist poet—the New York Times said at the time of her death that she was one of the best poets in the country–but proletariat modernism as a movement was buried under the anti-liberal, anti-female, and anti-experiment sentiments of the WWII period and the McCarthyism that followed.”

Portrait of Lola Ridge. She is looking into the camera

Photograph by Marjorie Content, 1935. Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College