Floyd Dell

By: Joshua Glenn
June 28, 2010

In the late Oughts (1904-13; not to be confused with the 1900s), the Iowa-born FLOYD DELL (1887-1969) was editor of Chicago’s Friday Literary Review, where he promoted the work of Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Carl Sandburg. Having done his part for the Chicago Literary Renaissance, in 1913 Dell relocated to New York; as a socialist, pacifist, and feminist, there was no better place to work than The Masses, of which journal he became the managing editor. Along with fellow Iowans Susan Glaspell and George Cram Cook, Dell was active in the prewar Greenwich Village bohemian scene — and a founder of the Provincetown Players, who discovered Eugene O’Neill and invented modern American drama. He was pals with John Reed and Randolph Bourne, and he and Edna St. Vincent Millay had an affair. After World War I, Dell would write a best-selling autobiographical novel (Moon-Calf, 1920); in ’28, he’d have a hit Broadway play, Little Accident; and in the Thirties he became a New Deal administrator and ghostwriter for Eleanor Roosevelt. But his finest moment was in 1917, when The Masses was charged with undermining America’s war effort and put out of business. Facing a prison sentence, Dell insisted that “There are some laws that the individual feels he cannot obey, and he will suffer any punishment, even that of death, rather than recognize them as having authority over him. This fundamental stubbornness of the free soul, against which all the powers of the state are helpless, constitutes a conscious objection, whatever its sources may be in political or social opinion.”

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: Gilda Radner.

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