Agnes Smedley --Unsung American-born Indian nationalist!

Indian freedom fighter Agnes Smedle,
Agnes Smedley was not only an American born Indian nationalist, a journalist of repute and a social activist but also a secret  triple agent working  for the Soviets, the Chinese Communists, and the Indian nationalists. She got herself clandestinely engaged in the last activity with courage and commitments. Considered as one of the most prolific female spies of the 20th century, she was not well-educated. Nor did she have the luxury of  formal education in a posh school and fairly good  family background. A battered woman, she surmounted every road-block in her life with aplomb. Her semi-autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth as well as  her sympathetic chronicling of the Communist forces in the Chinese Civil War won her international fame. Her 125th birth anniversary was celebrated in February 2017.  Smedley wrote six books, including a novel, reportage, and a biography of the Chinese general Zhu De, Her reports / contributions  appeared in newspapers such as New York Call, Frankfurter Zeitung and Manchester Guardian, All these were well received and credited.
Her deep involvement in India's struggle for freedom, unfortunately, did not  hog the limelight it deserved, unlike her works on China. In this regard, she was an unsung Indian freedom fighter from abroad. A noteworthy moment  during World War I was, she worked in the United States for the independence of India from Britain by receiving financial support from the government of Germany.

Agnes Smedley,,China, 1985 Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Born on 23 February 1892 in Osgood, Missouri -the second of five children, in a working class background, the  family suffered untold miseries in the small town of Trinidad, Colorado that in 1903 and 1904 witnessed  coal miner's strike and lack of jobs. She was just 13 then. When she was 14 years old. her father walked out on his wife  and to supplement the family income, she became a domestic help.  Valiant as she was, to make up for her basic education, she qualified herself as a teacher and began teaching in Torico, New Mexico. In early 1910, her mother Sarah died (she was barely 38) and  from 1911 to 1912 Smedley enrolled in Tempe Normal School, Arizona and got a name as an activist. Her stint at Teacher's college gave her a chance to come closer with Emma Goldman. She became a socialist and in 1917 her marriage with Earnest Brundin ended in divorce and the relationship lasted barely for five years. Later, she moved over to New York where she stayed with her sister-in-law Thornburg Brundin, Smedley got a chance to work with Margret Sanders, a birth control activist.  

Agnes Smedley

Above image : Agnes Smedley, Bernard Shaw, Soong Ching-ling, Tsai Yuan Pei, and Lu Hsun in Shanghai in 1933

At New York University- 1912, Smedley had a close contact with a group of Bengali students from India who supported their country's  freedom movement. She in 1918 took a decisive step and  joined the "Friends of Freedom for India", a secretive organization under close surveillance  by the U.S. Her close interaction with some of the Bengali nationalists in New York such as M.N. Roy,Sailen Ghose, etc. drew the attention of the US government
Smedley's intention was to espouse  India's cause to the world through her writings and contacts. She had contact with Lala Lajpat Rai (1865 - 1928;  Indian writer, politician and an advocate of a militant anti-British nationalism in the Indian National Congress). World War I provided an opportunity and the nationalists based in the US wanted to distract England from European battlefront. It was called the Hindu German conspiracy because they received funds from Germany.  Smedley's activities along with Bengali revolutionaries invited  serious trouble  and 
she  was arrested and jailed for two years  in New  York under the Espionage Act for supporting Indian freedom struggle against the British.  After release from the prison, she moved over to Germany in 1918 to carry on her activities against the British. There she married V. chatoupadyaya, brother of woman freedom fighter and poet Sarojini Naidu  and carried on her other social activities and ran birth control clinic in Berlin. She taught English at the university of Berlin and  did graduate work in Asian Studies. It was here in 1929, she published her first naval "Daughter Of Earth".

Later, she moved over to China in 1928 where in the 1930s she helped Soviet super spy Richard Sorge in Shanghai  establish himself as a master spy in Tokyo. She also befriended Chinese writer  Lu Xun.
While reporting for news papers such as Frankfurter Zeitung and Manchester Guardian, etc., As usual, she continued her social work on birth control, children's welfare and women's rights, etc. So to say, she did a pioneering work in these areas that had received least attention in those days.

She wrote numerous reports on China. She made a daring trip along with  8th Route Army (the Red Army) during the Sino-Japanese War and in 1938 published China Fights Back: An American Woman with the Eighth Route Army, on her experiences in Shanxi province. In Hankou  she worked with the Chinese Red Cross Medical Corps, collected supplies for the Red Army, and served as a publicist for the communists until the city fell in 1938. 

Back in the USA,  she lived in Writers' Colony, 
New York and wrote many books on China  and became an advocate for China in the west. During the McCarthy Era (period  marked by  making of accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence by the government), Smedley had troubled time  with the American government because of her sympathy for Communists and she  left for England where  she died  on 6 May 1950. Her  ashes were interred in the National Revolutionary Martyrs Memorial Park in Beijing. In England she completed her work before her death - The Great Road: The Life and Times of Chu Teh, her biography of the Chinese communist military leader Zhu De, published posthumously in 1956.

Her  famous novel Daughter of Earth was out of tune with Women's novels of 1930s that mostly focused on unhappy marriages, women's education, etc. However, Smedley's works concentrated on such serious issues like birth-control, motherhood, women sexuality, women's rights, etc. In this respect, she was one of early trailblazers in the above subjects, breaking away from traditions and asking radical questions.  A battered woman who never gave up and compromised on her ideals till her death.