"Irene": A collection of stories and poems from a life lived courageously

Irene Levine Paull in the 1960s, before she was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Image courtesy of Bonnie Paull.

Her writings are archived in the Minnesota Historical Society. The Minneapolis Public Library has a chair in her name. But you may never have heard of Irene Levine Paull, eldest daughter of Russian immigrants raised on a windy hill called “Little Jerusalem in Duluth, Minnesota,” above the cold waters of Lake Superior.

Fiercely proud of her Jewish heritage and imbued with the fiery words of the Old Testament prophets, the young Irene first began fighting injustice when she organized the neighborhood children to stand up to the Polish Catholics with their taunts of “kike” and “sheeney.”

She met and married Henry Paull, a young labor lawyer. As editor of a labor paper, they worked together to improve conditions for lumberjacks, dock workers--those who had no voice of their own. She walked many picket lines and sang with Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, who visited her and became her friends. The words of poet James Russell Lowell became her mantra for life: “They are slaves who dare not speak for the fallen and the weak; they are slaves who dare not be in the right with two or three.”

Always part of ”the action and passion “of her time, Irene threw herself passionately into the labor movement, the feminist movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement and, in her later years, the Senior movement. She visited Castro in Cuba and marched in Hiroshima, remembering the victims of atomic destruction. And always, she recorded and published her intense experiences in memorable pieces of writing—articles, short stories and poems.

“Irene” is a collection of these writings published posthumously by a young group of admirers in the Twin Cities and is a testimony to her courageous and impassioned life.

The family and friends of Irene Paull are eager to share this book with others. It would be ideal for courses in feminist literature or simply as inspiration to others of a life lived with purpose and courage. I have copies of her book and would love to share these with others who are certain to find in Irene Levine Paull a kindred spirit and a Jewess with attitude. If you are would like a copy for yourself or for a classroom, please contact JWA.

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My father, Charlie J. Fisher, was a union official in the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) in Duluth from 1944 to 1963. He and others in the union- particularly Ilmar Koivunen, Martin Kuusisto, and Mel Heinritz- worked closely with the Paulls whom they adored and respected as persons and as supporters of their cause.

How to cite this page

Paull, Bonnie. ""Irene": A collection of stories and poems from a life lived courageously." 12 July 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 5, 2022) <https://jwa.org/blog/irene>.

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