A love poem by feminist activist Betty Millard
Betty Millard, right, with her niece Olivia. Courtesy Olivia Millard.

Betty Millard (1911-2010), feminist, writer, photographer, political activist and philanthropist,  was drawn to student anti-war activism at Barnard College in the 1930s, and found her true calling when she marched against the U.S. government’s support of Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Passionately devoted to ideals of equality and fairness, Millard joined the Communist Party in the 1940s, drawn by the hope that the movement could lead to the realization of the values she held dear. Her political activism was varied and constant.

After World War II, Millard spent two years in Paris as the American Secretary in the directorate of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), a feminist organization aligned with the global Communist movement. She was active in the Congress of American Women, a WIDF affiliate.

Millard served as an editor at The New Masses for four years. She authored a 24-page pamphlet entitled Woman Against Myth, released by International Publishers in 1948, which examined the history of the women’s movement in the United States, in the socialist movement, and in the USSR. Her analysis of the inequality between the sexes remains an entry of note in the annals of feminist and left history.

In 1959 she appeared as a hostile witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating the Congress of American Women. For a period of five years in the mid-1950s she edited the monthly magazine Latin America Today, reporting on political and social developments south of the U.S. border. She was close friends with Cheddi and Janet Jagan of British Guiana, later Guyana.

Millard left the Communist Party in the late 1950s, but remained an activist on her own terms, organizing a committee to free the Mexican muralist David Siqueiros from prison, and becoming active in the struggle to stop the Vietnam War. At about this time, she developed a love of photography, documenting political struggles as well as her own travels. She spent many happy hours in the darkroom that she installed on the top floor of her Greenwich Village brownstone.

During the later years of her life, Millard joined the fight for lesbian and gay rights, and in her 80s she finally was able openly to affirm her own lesbianism. She also began writing short stories and poetry. In “Enjoy This Introductory Offer,” Millard satirizes TV commercialism, but turns it around into a tentative, yearning love poem, offered here for Women’s History Month. It was published privately after her death.

Enjoy This Introductory Offer

To my new love
still in perfect trajectory
on the far side of the moon:
Call this number.
You may already have won!
A set of matching kisses
is reserved for you.
If you decide to keep them,
How easy! How satisfying!
They assemble in seconds.

And then, please express
in ten words or less
the flight of a dove,
the diversity of love,
and the trembling of a poem offered too soon.


CONTRIBUTOR

Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 UAW (AFL-CIO) for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski.

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