Bessie Beatty

Bessie Beatty

Bessie Beatty was born in California in 1886. After being educated at Occidental College she wrote for local newspapers and magazines before finding work with the Los Angeles Herald. Beatty published Who’s Who in Nevada in 1907.

Fremont Older, the editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, was impressed with Beatty's work and employed her to write a regular column for the newspaper. A strong supporter of women's suffrage, she wrote about radical issues. Beatty persuaded Older to let her visit Russia in 1917 with John Reed and Louise Bryant.

Beatty travelled to the trenches where she interviewed members of the Russian Army. She also spent a time with the Women’s Battalion of Death, a group of female soldiers devoted to the protection of their country. She wrote: "Women can fight. Women have the courage, the endurance and even the strength for fighting. The Russians have demonstrated that and, if necessary, all the other women in the world can demonstrate it."

Beatty interviewed Leon Trotsky in October, 1917. "There was keen intelligence here, nerve, a certain uncompromising streak of iron, a sense of power; yet I little suspected I was talking to the man whose name within a few brief weeks would be a familiar word on every tongue - the most talked of human being in an age of spectacular figures."

On 7th November, 1917, Beatty obtained a pass from the Military Revolutionary Committee and was one of the first civilians to enter the Winter Palace after the fall of the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky. She also visited prisoners in Peter and Paul Prison, including the former ministers of the government.

Bessie Beatty in the Russian trenches in 1917
Bessie Beatty in the Russian trenches in 1917

After arriving back in the United States she finished her book, The Red Heart of Russia, her book on the Russian Revolution that was published in 1919. She also contributed to McClure's Magazine. In 1919 she defended the Bolshevicks before the Senate Overman’s Committee.

Beatty became a freelance foreign correspondent and her work appeared in Good Housekeeping, New Republic and Ladies Home Journal. She returned to Russia in 1921 and wrote a series of articles after interviewing the revolutionary leaders Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Mikhail Kalinin.

In 1926, Beatty married British actor William Sauter. The couple moved to Los Angeles, where Beatty wrote for MGM Studios and co-wrote a play, Jamboree, which appeared on Broadway in 1932. She remained a political activist and was director of the National Label Council to promote union-made goods. Beatty was also American Secretary of the International P.E.N. Club.

In 1940, she hosted a radio show on WOR New York. By 1942, her show was the most popular women’s show on air in the country. She continued her radio work until her death in 1947.

Primary Sources

(1) Bessie Beatty met Leon Trotsky for the first time on 25th October, 1917.

We stood there for a few moments, talking of inconsequential things, but all of us charged with the tensity of the hour. There was keen intelligence here, nerve, a certain uncompromising streak of iron, a sense of power; yet I little suspected I was talking to the man whose name within a few brief weeks would be a familiar word on every tongue - the most talked of human being in an age of spectacular figures.

(2) Bessie Beatty wrote about how the Bolsheviks took over the Winter Palace on 7th November, 1917, in her book, The Red Heart of Russia (1919).

At the head of the winding staircase groups of frightened women were gathered, searching the marble lobby below with troubled eyes. Nobody seemed to know what had happened. The Battalion of Death had walked out in the night, without firing so much as a single shot. Each floor was crowded with soldiers and Red Guards, who went from room to room, searching for arms, and arresting officers suspected of anti-Bolshevik sympathies. The landings were guarded by sentries, and the lobby was swarming with men in faded uniforms. Two husky, bearded peasant soldiers were stationed behind the counter, and one in the cashier's office kept watch over the safe. Two machine-guns poked their ominous muzzles through the entryway

(3) In her book The Red Heart of Russia, Bessie Beatty described how the Red Guards left their factories in order to defend the Bolshevik Revolution from the threatened attack by troops led by Alexander Kerensky.

The factory gates opened wide, and the amazing army of the Red Guard, ununiformed, untrained, and certainly unequipped for battle with the traditional backbone of the Russian military, marched away to defend the revolutionary capital and the victory of the proletariat.

Women walked by the side of men, and small boys tagged along on the fringes of the procession. Some of the factory girls wore red crosses upon the sleeves of their thin jackets, and packed a meague kitbag of bandages and first-aid accessories. Most of them carried shovels with which to did trenches.

(4) Bessie Beatty was in Petrograd when the Bolsheviks threatened to close down the Constituent Assembly in January, 1918.

We drove along the Liteiny in the direction of the firing. At the Kirochnaya, we came suddenly upon a group of Red Guards and soldiers, brandishing ominous guns. They rushed about, tossing orders at one another, their faces flushed with excitement.

"Murderers! Murderers!" shouted a woman, shaking a fist in their direction.

"Murderers! Murderers!" echoed a dozen other women, who turned blazing eyes upon them.

Scattered all over the snow were broken and splintered poles - all that remained of the proud banners that a few minutes before had proclaimed "All Power to the Constituent Assembly."

(5) Bessie Beatty was in the Constituent Assembly when it was closed down in January, 1918.

"Why should we wait?" We should arrest all! We should kill the counter-revolutionist Chernov!" came in angry murmurs from factory workers and soldiers.

The delegates looked from one to another. Some one moved a resolution to adjourn until five that afternoon. It was promptly adopted.

The murmurs of "Counter-revolutionist!" grew louder and louder. The soldiers and sailors flocked down the stairs, and crowded round the delegates. Some of the Bolshevik members who had remained in the ballroom surrounded Chernov, and took him in safety through the hostile throng to the gate.