Childhood & Early Life
John Reed was born on October 22, 1887, in Portland, Oregon to Margaret Green Reed, the daughter of a leading Portland citizen and, Charles Jerome Reed, the representative of an agricultural machinery manufacturer from the East.
He was a sickly child with a weak kidney. For much of his teenage years, he suffered recurrent attacks of pain that kept him bedridden for periods of a week or more.
He attended Portland Academy, a private school with younger brother Harry. He was bright enough to pass his courses but would not work for top marks, as he found school dry and tedious.
He entered Harvard College in 1906, and excelled in swimming and water polo, served the editorial boards of Lampoon and The Harvard Monthly, and wrote music and lyrics for the Hasty Pudding Theatricals show.
He graduated from Harvard College in 1910, and that summer he set out to see more of the "dull outside world," visiting England, France, and Spain before returning home to America the following spring.
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Wanting to be a freelance journalist, he circulated essay and short stories about his six months in Europe which were accepted in The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, The Forum, and The Century Magazine.
One of his poems was set to music by composer Arthur Foote, and the editors at ‘The American’ came to see him as a contributor and begun to publish his work.
In 1913, he joined ‘The Masses’, a magazine of socialist politics. He was arrested for the first time in Paterson, New Jersey for speaking on behalf of strikers in the silk mills.
In 1913, he was deputed to Mexico by the Metropolitan Magazine to report the Mexican Revolution and covered Pancho Villa’s—one of the most prominent Mexican Revolutionary generals—victory over Federal forces at Torreón.
When The Ludlow Massacre happened in April 1914, he arrived at the scene in Colorado and reported on the event, siding with the miners and seeing it as an example of class conflict.
On the outbreak of the First World War, Reed went to Europe where he covered the battle fronts in France, Germany, Russia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria for The Masses and the Metropolitan Magazine.
He saw World War I as a “Clash of Traders” and showed little sympathy for any of the participants and observed with dismay that working-class solidarity was being replaced by militarism and nationalism.
In 1915, he returned to Portland where he met Louise Bryant. They rented a home in Provincetown, in Massachusetts and acted in, Bound East for Cardiff, a play written by Eugene O'Neill.
In 1917, accompanied by his wife Louise Bryant who was also provided foreign correspondent accreditation, he left for Petrograd. He interviewed Alexander Kerensky, head of Russian Provisional Government just before Kerensky went into hiding.
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In November 1917, he spent time with Lenin and saw in him, “the power of explaining profound ideas in simple terms, of analyzing a concrete situation. And combined with shrewdness, the greatest intellectual audacity."
He returned to New York City in April, 1918 and was immediately arrested and charged for violating the Espionage Act by publishing anti-war articles and cartoons in The Masses that undermined the war effort.
He was released on bail and he published a series of articles on the Russian Revolution in The Liberator. He was arrested many times on charges of violating the Sedition Act.
In September 1919, Reed and several others, decided to form the Communist Party of the United States. Within a few weeks it had 60,000 members whereas the Socialist Party of America had only 40,000.
In 1920, he attended the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow and sought official recognition of the American Communist Party. The Comintern declared that a decision would be arrived after deliberation.
Reed became disillusioned with the way Lenin had become a virtual dictator of Russia and thought that he had made a terrible mistake in interpreting the Russian Revolution.
Personal Life & Legacy
Reed married writer and feminist Louise Bryant, in 1916.
He died on October 17, 1920, due to typhus, in Moscow, and after a hero's funeral, his body was buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.