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Valesh, Eva McDonald (1866–1956)

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Eva McDonald Valesh, c.1885

Eva McDonald Valesh, c.1885. Photographer: Rugg.

In 1888, a St. Paul Globe exposé of women's working conditions penned by "Eva Gay" launched the career of Eva McDonald Valesh, a young writer. During the time that she lived in the state, Valesh left a big impression on Minnesota journalism, politics, and labor organizing.

Born in Maine in 1866, Eva McDonald moved to Minnesota as a child. One of her early jobs was as a typesetter in a print shop, where she joined a typographer's union. Her interest in labor issues was sparked by her work experience and by her upbringing as the daughter of a politically active carpenter.

The first of her numerous Globe articles, written under the name "Eva Gay," was titled "'Mong the Girls Who Toil." It revealed the long hours, unhealthy conditions, and low wages faced by women who worked in a local garment factory, the Shotwell, Clerihew and Lothmann firm. When the women at that factory went on strike less than a month later, McDonald's article was credited with setting off the protest. She continued writing for the Globe for more than a year, going undercover as a factory worker, a domestic worker, and a store clerk. Although employers across the Twin Cities swore they would not be tricked, McDonald's youth, tomboyish appearance, and ragged costumes always got her in the door.

McDonald quickly became a star in the Minnesota labor movement. Her intelligence, passion, and poise made her a popular public speaker. She spoke across Minnesota in support of the Knights of Labor and their movement for an eight-hour workday. She was also elected State Lecturer of the Farmers' Alliance. As she lectured across the state, McDonald continued to work for the Globe as the editor of their labor section. She directed their coverage of the violent 1889 street railway strike of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In 1888, McDonald became the first woman to run for the Minneapolis School Board for the Democratic Party. Women could vote in school board races but most did not support McDonald. Her working-class allegiances made her suspect in the eyes of many middle- and upper-class women.

McDonald's 1891 marriage to Frank Valesh did not slow down her career. However, her public life was significantly limited after she nearly died giving birth to their only child, Frank, in 1892. After recovering, she edited a labor column for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was also was chosen to introduce Populist presidential candidate Williams Jennings Bryan when he spoke in the Twin Cities in 1896.

In 1896, Eva McDonald Valesh left Minnesota for New York City and lived the rest of her life on the East Coast. After leaving the state, McDonald Valesh worked for Samuel Gompers, the leader of the American Federation of Labor. She also worked as a reporter, published her own magazine with her second husband, and became involved with charitable and relief work. She died in Connecticut in 1956, at age 90. She spent the last decades of her life as a proofreader for the New York Times.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Faue, Elizabeth. Writing the Wrongs: Eva Valesh and the Rise of Labor Journalism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Gay, Eva. "Mong the Girls Who Toil." St. Paul Daily Globe, March 25, 1888.

Gilman, Rhoda R. "Eva McDonald Valesh: Minnesota Populist." In Women of Minnesota: Selected Biographical Essays, edited by Barbara Stuhler and Gretchen Kreuter, 55–76. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1998.

M575
Eva McDonald Valesh Papers, 1891–1983
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/P0039.xml
Description: Microfilm and typed transcript of an oral history conducted by Columbia University and a few personal papers.

Related Images

Eva McDonald Valesh, c.1885
Eva McDonald Valesh, c.1885
Eva McDonald Valesh, c.1886
Eva McDonald Valesh, c.1886
Frank Valesh (husband of Eva McDonald Valesh)
Frank Valesh (husband of Eva McDonald Valesh)
Eva McDonald Valesh
Eva McDonald Valesh
Eva McDonald Valesh Cross and her son Frank Morgan Valesh
Eva McDonald Valesh Cross and her son Frank Morgan Valesh

Turning Point

In 1888, Eva McDonald Valesh's investigations of women's working conditions are printed in the St. Paul Globe. They stir up public sympathy for workers and launch McDonald Valesh's career in journalism, labor, and politics.

Chronology

1866

Mary Eva (Eva) McDonald is born in Orono, Maine.

1886

Under the alias "Eva Gay," Eva McDonald publishes a sensational column for the St. Paul Globe that exposes the poor labor conditions of working women. Shortly after her first column is published, the women she profiled go on strike.

1889

McDonald edits the labor news column of the Globe, overseeing its coverage of the violent street railway strike of Minneapolis and St. Paul. She lectures across the state for the Knights of Labor and the Eight-Hour League.

1890

McDonald becomes involved with the Farmers' Alliance and begins writing for the St. Paul labor newspaper Great West.

1891

McDonald is elected to be a lecturer for the Farmers' Alliance and travels all over the US. She marries Frank Valesh.

1892

Eva McDonald Valesh nearly dies giving birth and retreats from active public life, although she writes and edits labor columns for the Minneapolis Tribune until 1895.

1896

She moves to New York City with her son Frank and younger sister Blanche.

1919

Valesh has a heart attack at age 53 and lives a low-key life as a proofreader until her death.

1956

Eva McDonald Valesh dies in Connecticut at age 90.