CONCORD, N.H. – A historical marker dedicated to a feminist and labor activist in New Hampshire who also led the Communist Party was removed Monday just two weeks after it was unveiled.
The green and white sign describing the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was installed May 1 in Concord close to where she was born in 1890. But it quickly drew criticism from two Republican members of the Executive Council, the five-member body that approves state contracts, judicial nominees and other positions. They argued it was inappropriate given Flynn’s communist involvement. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, meanwhile, called for a review of the historical marker process.
“All polices and guidelines were followed in removing this controversial marker,” said Sununu's spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt. He said Concord city officials weren't advocating to keep it, and once state officials realized it was on state property and not city land as previously believed, the state removed it.
But supporters of the sign accused the state of violating its own rules for the markers. They argued markers can only be “retired” if they contain errors of fact, are in a state of disrepair or require refurbishment.
“We still say that under the department’s own guidelines, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s birthplace in Concord is a fitting location for a historical marker,” said Mary Lee Sargent, a former U.S. history teacher and longtime labor and feminist activist.
Known as “The Rebel Girl” for her fiery speeches, Flynn was a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union who advocated for women’s voting rights and access to birth control. The marker also says she joined the Communist Party in 1936 and was sent to prison in 1951. She was one of many party members prosecuted “under the notorious Smith Act,” the marker says, which forbade any attempts to advocate, abet or teach the violent destruction of the U.S. government.
Flynn later chaired the Communist Party of the United States and she died in Moscow during a visit in 1964, at age 74. Her marker was one of 278 across the state that describe people and places — from Revolutionary War soldiers to contemporary sports figures.
Under the current process, any person, municipality or agency can suggest a marker as long as they get 20 signatures from New Hampshire residents. Supporters must draft the marker’s text and provide footnotes and copies of supporting documentation, according to the state Division of Historical Resources. The division and a historical resources advisory group evaluate the criteria.