Phelps Stokes,




Life is often stranger than fiction. And to prove that in the year 1907, when the Stokes family essentially owned and operated Ansonia Connecticut as a private fiefdom, James Graham Phelps Stokes, the heir to the vast Stokes fortune (when added together, the entire family fortune was estimated to be somewhere between $500,000,000 and one billion dollars) addressed a large crowd at Ansonia’s German Hall with the speech entitled “Why I am a Socialist" and was followed by a wife who’s speech was "Socialism, the Hope for the World"
At the time, the entire valley was feeling the effects of a business depression that caused a spike in applications to the Charities Department and the Stokes family owned Ansonia Brass & Copper Co, the Ansonia Copper Co and the Ansonia Land & Water Powder Co. (The reservoir, they also had a lock on the very lucrative ice business in the valley)
James Graham Phelps Stokes, who preferred to be called by his middle name Graham was born in New York City, one of 9 children to Anson Phelps Stokes (A founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and Helen Louisa Phelps, descendant of one of America’s oldest and wealthiest families. Graham’s great-grandfather, Thomas Stokes, was founder of Phelps, Dodge & Co.
Stokes maternal grandfather, Isaac Newton Phelps, built a fortune from hardware and later banking. His paternal grandfather, James Boulter Stokes, married Caroline, the daughter of Anson Greene Phelps, for whom Ansonia is named, and in doing so became the brother-in-law of William E. Dodge, who was also heavily invested in Ansonia based manufacturing.
Graham’s aunts, Caroline and Olivia, contributed the money to build the Ansonia public library. They also supported universities and colleges, funded orphanages, libraries and affordable housing plans.
When Caroline died in Redlands, California in 1909, the family set up a fund, at her direction and with her fortune, to build affordable housing units for the poor in New York City (As well funding education for Black Americans, Native Americans and needy deserving white students, through industrial schools and scholarships)
(Not everyone in the family was a shining star of generosity. Anson Stokes's cousin, (Anson being Graham’s father) Edward Stiles Stokes, shot and mortally wounded multi-millionaire James Fisk in the Grand Central Hotel on the 6 January 1872. They both fell for the same woman. Stokes was tried three times and eventually found guilty of manslaughter in the third degree, serving four years in jail.)
Graham Stokes attended Yale for his undergraduate work and then obtained an M.D. degree from Columbia University in 1896 although he never practiced medicine. He served in the New York National Guard during the Spanish–American War as a private in the U.S. Army cavalry.
According to the writer/historian Stephen Birmingham, Stokes was "Yale 1892, over six feet tall, darkly handsome, with the profile and athletic build of a Greek god. He sailed, he rode horses, and at college had been a track and tennis star. For years he had been regarded as one of New York s most eligible bachelors."
Like his Aunt Graham was also deeply concerned with the plight of the American underclass and poverty and in November of 1902 left the family mansion at 299 Madison Avenue (The family also owned a hundred room mansion in Lenox, Massachusetts) to live in a cramped settlement area for the masses of new immigrants from Europe on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one of the poorest areas of New York City if not the entire USA.
Historians Arthur Zipser and Pearl Zipser describe well the scene:
"There was a lively intellectual atmosphere on the top floor of the University Settlement house, where the highly educated, mostly rich, young social workers had their residence, dining, and club rooms.
It was a world apart from the lower floors of the building, where the regular settlement house functions were carried out among the denizens of the surrounding ghettoized slum. This separation between leaders and led was not the goal they were aiming for, which was the outreach of the privileged to the downtrodden. But the separation was real."
His sister Caroline Phelps Stokes joined him and soon fell in love and eventually married who with a settlement house, Robert Hunter, later was widely known socialist journalist and author. Graham also fell in love, to young a woman named Rose Pastor, news reporter who interviewed him for the Yiddish Daily News, whose offices were near the settlement area. They were married July 18, 1905.
Rose Harriet Pastor Stokes was born Rose Wieslander to an Orthodox Jewish family in a tiny shtetl, Augustava Suvolk, in the Russian Empire (present-day Poland), the daughter of Jacob and Hindl (later known as Anna) Wieslander
The family immigrated to Cleveland Ohio in 1891 where they were abandoned by their step-farther and alcoholic who suffered from depression. Rose managed to attend high school while holding a series of jobs and held the rest of the family, her mother and six siblings, together. One job she had was as a cigar roller “surreptitiously” one writer said “holding books in one hand while she rolled wet, dirty cigars with the other until her supervisor came to inspect her work, at which time she hid the book under her apron.”
A natural, talented writer, she responded to a solicitation by the Yiddishe Tageblatt (Jewish Daily News, based in New York City) for letters from Jewish workers, she submitted a letter about the fate of the working class. When it was published, she was encouraged to write more and eventually the Jewish Daily News hired her on staff and she moved to New York in 1903. She became a columnist at $15 a week, in the English-language section (The paper was published mostly in Yiddish.) offering advice to other young women. Several years later she was able to afford to send for her mother and siblings.
In July 1903, Pastor was assigned to interview Graham Stokes because of his financial support of the settlement house on the Lower East Side where was living. The day after they were married, (On April 5, 1905, the front page of the New York Times took the unusual step of announcing a wedding on its front page: "J.G. PHELPS STOKES TO WED YOUNG JEWESS.") the couple publically disowned their religions (Jewish and Episcopalian) and announced they were devoting themselves to developing Socialism in America.
The young couple wouldn’t have to fret over money matters. The family had already appointed Graham president of the state Bank of Nevada as well as giving him sole ownership of a railroad, the Nevada Central.
The following month, September 1905, heartened by the results of the Presidential election of 1904, which saw the party's candidate, Eugene V. Debs, win approximately 400,000 votes, they joined Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Clarence Darrow, and Florence Kelley, to found the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) to encourage study and discussion of socialism in colleges.
Jack London would be the first president of the organization, Sinclair as first vice-president, Graham Phelps Stokes as second vice-president and anti-child labor activist Owen R. Lovejoy chosen as treasurer.
In May 1907, London resigned the presidency of the ISS and Graham Stokes assumed the position.
From 1905 to 1921, the ISS, the brainchild of Upton Sinclair, attracted prominent intellectuals and writers and acted as an unofficial student wing of the Socialist Party of America. The Society sponsored lecture tours, magazines, seminars and discussion circles all over the US aimed at spreading socialist ideas among America's college population. Chapters were started at Wesleyan and Columbia University, Harvard, Princeton, Bernard, New York University Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania.
In November of 1905, Stokes became a candidate for public office, running as the candidate of the Municipal Ownership League for President of the New York Board of Aldermen.
Over the next decade, Graham and Rose Stokes lectured on behalf of the ISS on college campuses around America. However, despite his speeches on behalf of socialism, Graham never wandered far from the family fortune and served as an officer of Phelps Stokes Corporation, the Austin Mining Company, the Nevada Central Railroad, and the State Bank of Nevada as a member of the Board of Directors of the Tuskegee Institute.
In 1909, after the couple moved to Westport, Connecticut, Rose took part in the Shirtwaist Strike, to show support for the 40,000 garment workers in New York and because of her marriage to Stokes, became an instant media celebrity.
In May and June 1912, she led a strike by the New York City restaurant and hotel workers and in 1913, she aided the New York garment workers in another strike.
Rose’s next push was for birth control, illegal at the time. She distributed birth control information, organized meetings and worked closely with Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman, two of the leading birth control proponents of the day.

Somehow, in the midst of all this, Rose also managed to write and produce several plays and contribute poetry to The Masses, Independent and The Century Magazine.
In the meantime, Graham Stokes began pulling away and spent most of his time writing. He was highly embarrassed by Rose’s birth control activities and more and more he was dubious about the party’s work in the labor movement. Understandably most members of the Stokes family vehemently opposed to Rose’s politics. (To say nothing of her passing out birth-control literature at Carnegie Hall during concerts)
In 1917, with the outbreak of World War One, the Socialists denounced the American war intervention into the war. However, Graham and Rose Stokes withdrew from the party. Graham joined the Armed Forces of the United States. Rose also disagreed with the party’s position on the war and believed that Germany was a threat to democratic nations.
Rose rejoined the party shortly afterwards and began travelling across the US speaking out against the war. In 1918, after her comments following a speech in Kansas City were incorrectly reported, Pastor Stokes wrote a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star in which she criticized US involvement in World War I. She accused the US government of being allied with profiteers. Shortly afterwards she was indicted by the federal government for violating the Espionage Act of 1917.
She was tried in Kansas City, Missouri, found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in Missouri State prison. She was released on appeal and the government ultimately dismissed the case against her in 1920.
By then, Rose’s marriage to Graham was too strained to continue and in 1925 Graham brought a petition for divorce, on grounds of "misconduct by his wife". They were divorced shortly afterwards with Rose issuing a statement that she and her husband had lived as "friendly enemies for some time” but that she would cherish her freedom.
She remarried in 1929 to Jerome Isaac Romaine, a Polish-Russian Jew immigrant, was a language teacher and an active member of the Communist Party. The couple lived at 215 Second Avenue in the Lower East Side but Rose kept her cottage in Westport, and frequently lived there.
In 1919, she was among the founders with associates of the American Communist Party.
In 1922, she traveled to Moscow as an American delegate to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International and served there as the reporter for the special Negro Commission at the Congress and adopted the pseudonym "Sasha".
She participated in strikes and made court appearances to support men and women arrested for picketing and/or demonstrating. In 1929 she was arrested for demonstrating during a garment workers' strike. Due to her years of working with activists of the Lower East Side, she was called "Rose of the Ghetto".
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1930. In 1933, with hospital costs paid by her friends, she went to Germany for radiation therapy. However the cancer was to advanced and she died in the hospital on June 20, 1933, aged 53.

On March 13, 1926, Graham married Lettice Lee Sands at his sister’s home at 173 East Seventy-First Street in New York. The newlyweds moved into a home at 88 Grove Street. His sister eventually moved in with them and lived there until her death in 1945. Graham died of natural causes in 1960. Lettice Stokes remained in 88 Grove until her death in 1988.