In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Hermina Huiswoud, "Thyra Edwards," Women I Have Known Personally*
  • Anne Donlon (bio)


In the 1980s, the Afro-Caribbean radical Hermina Dumont Huiswoud (1905–1998) wrote a series of portraits of women "with whom I have been acquainted—either over a long period of time or through an incidental, short encounter."1 She titled the project Women I Have Known Personally. In it, she recalls women she met through socialist and communist networks and the arts, as well as some anonymous figures who made a strong impression but whose acquaintance was fleeting. Huiswoud grew up in British Guiana (now Guyana). She spent her adolescence and periods of adulthood in New York. In 1926, while living in New York, she married Otto Huiswoud, who was originally from Suriname (then part of Dutch Guiana).2 With her husband, who became a leader in the Communist Party, she also lived abroad in the Soviet Union, France, and the Netherlands. In Women I Have Known Personally, Huiswoud profiles figures including African American performers Marian Anderson and Josephine Baker, the African American artist Elizabeth Catlett, the Spanish communist Dolores Ibarruri (known as La Pasionaria), the British writer Nancy Cunard, Eslanda Robeson, as well as a Cuban prima ballerina, and a "Little White Girl of 400 West 128th Street," whom [End Page 28] Huiswoud encountered as a child when her family moved to Manhattanville. Each profile ranges in length from a half a page to several pages, and Huiswoud orders them alphabetically by last name, as in a reference work. Scholars writing about Huiswoud have drawn upon the collection to fill in her biography.3 And scholars have also drawn on the manuscript to research women Huiswoud profiled.4 Yet Women I Have Known Personally has not been considered on its own terms as a work of life writing. Huiswoud's project demonstrates that a variety of interactions and relationships with women structured her life and political work. Such unpublished autobiographical and biographical projects that exist in archival folders (or in private hands) offer a possibility for recovering the knowledge, contributions, and experiences of black women in the twentieth century, underreported at the time and largely forgotten today.5

In Paris, in 1937, Huiswoud met the African American social worker and labor organizer Thyra Edwards. Huiswoud was living in Paris, where she contributed to the communist newspaper her husband Otto edited, The Negro Worker.6 Huiswoud recalled that on account of this work in Paris, "most of the blacks who passed through were introduced to us."7 And, indeed, Huiswoud and Edwards met when Edwards arrived in Paris that summer as the leader of a travel seminar, the European Seminar on International Relations. The New Amsterdam News reported on the group's itinerary: "they will be met by Monsieur Georges Riand, editor of the Negro Worker, and his charming American wife, Helen"—referring to Hermina and Otto by their aliases, Georges Riand and Helen Davis.8 "After a week visiting the Paris Exposition, exploring Paris and environs, talking with leaders in the Front Populaire, and shopping on the justly famous boulevards of Paris," the article continued, "the group will proceed to Geneva." Edwards's travel seminar, an interracial group of social workers and others from the United States interested in European social movements, traveled from Geneva to various cities in the Soviet Union, and Copenhagen. At the tour's conclusion, most of the group returned home. Edwards stayed on in Paris to attend the International Congress Against Anti-Semitism and Racial Discrimination. Then she went to Spain, where the civil war was underway. Edwards, with another Chicago social worker, Constance Kyle, conducted a survey of children's colonies, homes where evacuated children lived. Edwards spent some time in Valencia with Langston Hughes, who was in Spain as a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American. He reported, "Miss Edwards is especially interested in the problems of the women and children in war-torn Spain and is bringing back to America a report of her investigations here."9 She translated a poem by the Cuban poet Nicolas Guillén and wrote articles for the Associated Negro Press.10 Then, later in the fall, Edwards left Spain...