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Sarah Leslie, the People's President (1936-1953).
Sarah Leslie's father was Adam Leslie, of Scots-Irish ancestry, originally a steel worker with the Carnegie Steel Company in Pennsylvania. After the failed Homestead Strike (1892) he immigrated to the then-US state of California in search of better opportunities.
In California, Adam Leslie found employment as a Pullman porter for the Southern Pacific transportation Company. While at a stop in San Francisco, Adam Leslie inadvertently met his future wife Irena Khrisoven. Khrisoven was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Her parents were reluctant to allow her to marry a local American Pullman.
Khrisoven became a school teacher at a time when public schools were expanding across the country - teaching both English literature and Russian language to all levels of school students.
Sarah's upbringing mostly occurred with her maternal extended family but only her father and her aunt from her paternal family. Her parents attempted to shield her from politics, Adam rarely spoke of life before moving west. From an early age Sarah was reared to be sharp and idealistic, she briefly became a religious Jew in her early teens. However, at the same time, she pushed the boundaries of what was considered gender-appropriate at the time and attempted to play baseball against her mother's wishes. Sarah was also an avid reader and became enamored with feminist literature such as The Great Awakening. In her teenage years, Sarah was physically abused by her mother, who became more reactionary as she aged.
Sarah had two siblings, an older brother, Ivan (1895) and a younger sister, Lucile (1900). However, between the two of them, she often attracted more attention than her siblings due to her defiant behavior. It has been alleged that she was her father's favorite.
In 1920, at the age of 23, Ivan Leslie was conscripted by the U.S Army to fight in France where by injury of shrapnel his left leg was amputated. Adam contracted the Spanish Flu. Returning home in May of 1919, Ivan was barely alive and died soon after.
Sarah became infuriated and vengeful. It was also at this time that she learned of her father's participation in the Homestead Strike. Sarah became further angered by her sister's marriage to a California entrepreneur who owned many grape orchards. Lucile Leslie's husband Bradly Adams held traditional views of American Conservatism. In a personal argument, Sarah in a fit of rage threw hot oil upon his face. Afterward, Sarah was not welcome in her sister's home, leaving her with little immediate family.
Leslie attended San Francisco State Normal School (now called Leslie's Peoples Republican Institute) to become a teacher. During her college years, she transformed becoming more familiar with Marxist and Unitarian ideology, the teachings of writers Edward Bellamy, Upton Sinclair, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Luxembourg, Vladimir Lenin, and Leon Trotsky appealed to her at the time. Leslie was almost expelled in 1917 for leading a women's demonstration for suffrage. Leslie attempted to cast illegal votes for imprisoned labor leader Eugene V. Debs on many occasions in 1920. Leslie was appreciated by her professors for her dedication but was also noted to be combative and at one point 'unladylike'.
Leslie's time at the State Normal School allowed her to meet young contemporaries from other colleges with shared radical views. Friends from the University of California of Hastings. During her 20's she allegedly eloped with multiple law students while at the same time having sexual relations with her fellow female students. However, most government-sponsored historians from America do not discuss the romantic relationships of Leslie's college years.
Leslie graduated above average but not at the top of her class in 1921. By this time she had developed a reputation for being a troublemaker. Nevertheless, she succeeded in attaining employment at a primary school. Leslie wished to continue her education, However, women school teachers at the time face barriers pursuing graduate school as the local school board desired that teachers stay in their current place in life.
The 'Wild' Years
Despite later attempts by the USRA to present Sarah Leslie as a committed ideologue her entire life, various personal testimonies by associates reveal that she was heavily involved in the organized crime that arose from Prohibition. Leslie often played the role of a clueless flapper girl as a cover. In 1924, she was fired when her school discovered her appearances at night clubs. The local government, however, did not discover her role as a smuggler and dealer of illegal alcohol.
What remains up for debate, are the motives behind Leslie's role in the mafias of San Francisco. Apologists always insist that her 'crimes' raised funds for communist organizations that were facing attack nationwide by a young J. Edgar Hoover. Opponents, particularly from overseas American Blues, counter that Leslie did this for personal gain, and out of the promiscuity she had with Mafia bosses in California. Leslie has long been accused by opposition historians for also expanding prostitution rings in San Francisco, something else the American government denies.
Sarah knew how to play as many different characters, and was valued by criminal bosses because she could misrepresent herself as anyone to anyone. In the criminal world, Leslie became known as Madam Shapeshifter. Leslie often acted as a shadow representative of the mafias she was working for and even a damsel in distress. In a few short years, she became the most powerful criminal woman in San Francisco. Friction grew, over her connections to radicals such as the Industrial Workers of the World, as the mafias feared that the rising leftists' movements would strike out at them. Prior to the 1925 revolution, Leslie avoided an assassination attempt. In the winter of 1925 Leslie worked as an investigator for the Pinkerton detective agency, but she privately despised them.
Leslie's status as a disgraced teacher and leading member of the criminal underworld catapulted her to prominence, in the chaotic 1925 revolution. During the outbreak of riots in San Francisco, Leslie already with connections with the local chapter of the defunct Communist Party of the United States, to seize control of the booze rings, With the support of armed radical agents, the leaders of the criminal underworld that opposed Leslie's rising star, vanished in the first weeks of the revolution. Cementing an alliance between the early American Revolutionary movement with the criminal underworld of the west coast. Following Leslie's example, leftists would attempt to replicate the process in the east. This did not come without opposition from Orthodox American Communists, who still supported the temperance movement, and these 'moral revolutionaries' would fight to prevent Leslie from gaining more influence among revolutionaries. Bill Haywood also arrived on the scene, and the two had an affair.
During the climax of the revolution, Leslie held effective power throughout the San Francisco Bay area, where the city government was unable to end the strikes on its own. When the California National Guard and the Pinkerton company intervened, Leslie became infuriated and claimed to have dreams of her father in the Homestead Strike. Wealthy from bank robberies and the sales of illegal alcohol, Leslie directed the purchase of arms on the black market.
However, despite these victories, the revolution that broke out in several cities nationally failed to coordinate into one united movement against the authorities of Washington. As the organizations who supported the uprising were diverse they soon began to engage in fights in one another. Leslie tried profusely to maintain revolutionary unity but she was kidnapped by the Pinkertons. After which, Bill Haywood led the fight against the California National Guard and the regular national army.
The short-lived commune of San Francisco was in a highly defensible position but in the long run, a protracted siege would have been destructive to the city. At this time, the local police and part of the state national guard defected to the revolutionaries, Government forces preferred not to use too much violence directly, out of the concern that this might spark a new civil war. On the other hand, Haywood's position grew more precarious as the loyalty of the gangs, and the ordinary people became restless. With neither side preferring a blood bath, Haywood - despite his desire to fight a climactic battle - did not want to sacrifice public support. Going out on more of a whimper than a bang, Haywood surrendered to the government on the condition that most of the participants would be free from persecution, a condition that was not honored by the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In the infamous shoot out trials of 1926, thousands across the country received prison sentences, yet ironically Leslie came out of the situation on top. Leslie called before the Superior Court of California was charged on many counts of larceny, violating the prohibition, and active treason before the United States. These chargest together surely could have resulted in a capital punishment
Leslie made an emotional display to the jury claiming that she had just been an innocent teacher manipulated by the men around her including dozens of small crime bosses and labor activists such as Haywood. She claimed that her emotions for her deceased father and brother made her vulnerable, to be controlled by power-hungry men. In a time where so many harsh sentences were being handed out, her status as a woman protected Leslie from the ire of the jury. Rampant sexism prevented the courts from believing that Leslie on her own volition was capable of the crimes she was accused and even allowed for some misguided sympathy from conservative Americans.
She was commuted on most charges, except the illegal possession of alcohol and disturbance of the peace. Sentenced to two years in prison, most of her sentence was commuted to community service, on the condition that she abstained from political activities. In this moment many in the American revolutionary movement believed she Leslie had betrayed the cause.