MN Roy: brief outline of life-events and thoughts – Part 17
Western Women in leftist and national movements (3)
Evelyn Leonora Trent (1892-1970)
Evelyn Leonora Trent (1892-1970) consistently described as bright, young and attractive, and as ‘a very competent and dedicated person’; was born in Salt Lake City, Utah as the youngest of the eighth children of the English-born mining engineers Lemartine Charles Trent of California and Mary DeLome McLeod of Florida. Evelyn attended High School in Auburn, California. Later, she joined Girls’ Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles in 1908 and completed the course in 1911.
Then, in 1912, she joined Stanford University, California. Her brother Edwin Walter was already in that university. Stanford was a prestigious university, though conservative in certain respects. When Evelyn was studying, women in USA did not have the right to vote.
Evelyn Trent was very active in Stanford University between 1912 and 1915. She belonged to Alpha Phi Sorority (a sisterhood of outstanding women supporting one another in lifelong achievement). David Jordan Starr was the Chancellor of the University. He was a scientist and a peace lover. Evelyn, a brilliant student, was among his favourite students. Evelyn and her close friend Ethel Rae Dugan, an Irish-American, were friendly with Jessie Louise Knight, the wife of David Jordan Starr.
Evelyn was in women’s athletic association as one of the directors. She was also in fencing sport and tennis club. She was the associate editor of Quad, Stanford University annual, during 1914 and 1915. Evelyn took English as her main subject ; and philosophy and French as her optional. During her second year, Evelyn acted as Ethel, the Duchess of Carbondale, in a three act Comedy “On the Quiet” by Augustus Thomas. Her histrionic ability made a deep impression on the viewers ; and , her performance was rated as very high.
Evelyn discussed Tagore with the Bengalis in the University . While continuing her studies, Evelyn also taught poor children an hour a-day. Evelyn wondered that while millions of dollars were poured on munitions and war, why very little was done to help needy children in desperate conditions; and wrote about her thoughts to her mother and also in the University magazine.
Evelyn completed her graduation and started applying for jobs in the early part of 1916. She wanted to earn through her writings; and, wished to bring focus on problems of unemployment, poverty and other economic issues.
It June 1916, Narendranath Bhattacharya disguised as Rev. C. A. Martin , a Roman Catholic priest on his way to France for pursuing further theological studies in the University of Notre Dame, came to the campus of the Stanford University to meet Dhangopal Mukherjee ( younger brother of the revolutionary Jadugopal Mukherjee and a contact for Bengali revolutionaries). It was on the campus of the Stanford University, at the suggestion of Dhangopal Mukherjee, that Narendranath Bhattacharya took on the name Manabendra Nath Roy (M N Roy) . And, that name stuck to him for the rest of his life.
During those days, Dhangopal Mukherjee and Ethel Rae Dugan (Evelyn Trent’s friend) were in love and were dating. Roy met the young and attractive Evelyn Trent at Dhan Gopal’s residence in the University Campus, Ramona, Palo Alto. Ethel was also present. Soon thereafter Roy and Evelyn started dating, and fell in love. At that time, Roy was about twenty-nine and Evelyn was about twenty-four years young.
During the early part of 1916, Evelyn who had just completed her graduation started applying for jobs. After meeting Roy in Palo Alto, Evelyn changed her plans, stopped applying for jobs. Instead, she planned to go to Europe along with Roy.
M.N. Roy, then, was in touch with Germans; but, he could neither get the promised money nor arms from the Germans. At one stage, M.N. Roy planned to go to Germany in U-53 submarine. Evelyn wanted to join him. Evelyn’s parents were shocked, and were totally against their young, innocent and bright daughter getting mixed up with an unknown Hindu fugitive. Evelyn’s involvement with Roy seemed to them a terribly bad idea ; too dangerous and scary. Evelyn’s parents were horrified at the thought of their daughter running away with a stranger on German submarine. It was also too risky and totally improper. Hence, Roy and Evelyn dropped the plan.
Evelyn, then, applied for a passport to visit European countries. Those were the days of the First World War and the American Government was not willing to issue passports to its citizens. Evelyn requested David Jordan Starr, her teacher and the Chancellor of the Stanford University, for a recommendation letter to the State Department. He sent her that letter, as requested. Even before receiving that letter, Evelyn had applied for the passport. She thanked David Jordan Starr for his letter and said that she would keep his letter as a memento.
Roy rented a house, near to the University campus, on the Ramona street, to be in touch with Dhangopal. Roy stayed in 245 Ramona Street, Palo Alto for about six months. But, the police by then had began to suspect that Roy might be that elusive ‘Brahmin Revolutionary and Dangerous German Spy’ they were looking for . Following that alarm bell, Roy and Evelyn Trent together hurriedly moved to New York.
Roy and Evelyn were without money and a regular place to stay. For fear of police surveillance , they had to change their accommodation frequently. Initially they stayed in 2117 Daly Avenue in New York; then moved to 239 E 19th St; and later rented an apartment in 19th West 44th St. in New York. And, sometimes they had to stay apart to avoid police-attention. Since Roy did not have a permanent address, he gave a Ceylon restaurant (672, 8th Ave) as his ‘care of address ‘ to receive his mail.
At that time, Walter Edwin, Evelyn’s brother was also in New York; but was reluctant to help his wayward sister. Hence, Evelyn was forced to go in for odd jobs; and, she was , for a while , employed by American Society in 131 E. 23rd St. By about that time, Roy met Lala Lajpat Rai, the legendary Indian freedom fighter and revolutionary; and attended some of his meetings. Lajpat Rai was impressed with the Roys; and employed Evelyn for a couple of months as his Secretary and also paid her some amount as a token help.
It is not clear when exactly during 1917 that Roy and Evelyn got married. But, in any case, Evelyn‘s parents and her brother were against her relation with Roy. The Hindu groups in New York too despised Roy for having married a foreigner and a non-Hindu. Life in New York had become very difficult because of lack of money, bad relations with Indian nationalists and constant scrutiny and survey by American and British Intelligence agencies. And, at the end, they had to seek shelter in the residence of Lala Lajpath Rai.
Lajpath Rai later wrote that Roy and Evelyn, in particular, had to face much hostility and humiliation both from Hindu nationalists and Evelyn’s family. Lajpath Rai sympathized with their plight and allowed them to live in his house. He also helped them with $ 350, out which $50 was payment due to Evelyn for some work she did for him , as secretary.
The British Intelligence and the American police were keeping a watch on Roy’s movements. The net was closing in over the USA -Pro – German revolutionaries and also on the revolutionaries of Indian origin. They were systematically were rounded up. Things came to a head when the British spies broke into Roy’s room while he was away and seized some letters and papers. Roy, at that time, was on the Campus of the Columbia University to where he had gone after attending a meeting addressed by Lala Lajpath Rai. On the next day , that is on 7 March 1917 , Roy was eventually arrested
Roy had to spend a few hours of the night (7 Mar 1917) before he was released in the early hours of the morning and asked to appear before the Grand Jury in the Town Hall, a few hours later. The Grand Jury indicted him for violating the immigration Laws of the USA and pending trial released him on bail on his personal surety.
Roy however had no intention of returning to the trial. Roy left the court determined not to return. He was desperate to escape attention and arrest. He knew that he would be taken to San Francisco and tried there as a conspirator. But, his worse fear was deportation to India for standing trial which would result in long imprisonment or death sentence for the many acts of terror he had committed in India until 1915.
It was then, prompted by Evelyn, that Roy seriously considered escaping to Mexico. They had heard from their socialist friends about Mexico; the social revolution brewing there; and establishment of socialism in one its parts – Yucatan. Mexico, to them, appeared as the Land of Promise.
Evelyn and Roy soon travelled by train from New York to San Francisco, a distance of about 3,300-miles. And, during 1917 the journey might have taken nearly a week’s time.
Evelyn Trent then approached her teacher and friend, Dr. David Starr Jordan, President of the Stanford University, at Palo Alto, for help. Dr, Jordan was prepared to make it easy for Roys to find a refuge in the neighboring Mexico; and, he readily gave them a letter of introduction to the Governor of the State of Yucatan , General Salvador Alvarado , a powerful person in Mexican politics . That indeed was an immense, immeasurable help. Roy’s biographers wonder, there is no reason why Dr, Jordan , a President of an University, would have anything to do with a dangerous Indian fugitive who had violated American laws and was still at large evading both British and American police , and helped him to escape , had he not been impressed with young Roy and his mission. But, it is very likely that Dr. Jordan was primarily trying to rescue one of his favorite students and a family-friend from a bad situation that was getting worse.
Evelyn and Roy slipped into Mexico under their assumed names of Senorita and Senora Evelyn and Manuel Mendez, in the last week of March 1917.
Soon after securing a safe place at Cordoba 33 in Mexico City, Evelyn along with Roy took lessons in Spanish from Enrique Guardiola, a teacher of Spanish. And, in about two moths time they had learnt enough Spanish not only to write articles and pamphlets in Spanish but also to speak it fluently. They began to contribute articles to El Pueblo (The People), the almost the official daily of the Mexican Government.
After Roy came into some big-money, thanks to the Germans, they moved into a more spacious house at Merida 186, Colonia Roma, Mexico City. It was Evelyn who was primarily responsible for an almost total transformation in Roy as a person; bringing about remarkable changes in the personal life, the habits, the interests; and, the general outlook of Roy. The Mexican experience was for Roy a sort of liberation from pre-conceived notions of culture, nationalism etc. In Mexico for the first time he had a home of his own where a woman who adored him and shared his ideals, brought him new insights and experience of happiness. The period of about two and a half years (March 1917 – November 1919) that Roy and Evelyn lived in Mexico were perhaps the most wonderfully delightful and magical years in their life.
While in Mexico, Evelyn skillfully managed his household, his social life and his political career. She also managed his finances and bank accounts, juggling with several aliases like–Martin, Roy, Allen, Trent etc.
Evelyn took up educational programmes for under-privileged children. And, when Roy formed ‘The Friends of India League ‘ , for propagation of India’s freedom , Evelyn became its Director. Evelyn in her letters to her mother, who at that time was in Washington D C , wrote about her desire to work for an Indian Revolutionary Party; and , wished that the wasted American millions should pour into India to build schools, factories and Universities.
Along with Roy, Evelyn got busily involved with the Socialist movement in Mexico. She contributed to El Heraldo de Mexico. From August, 25, 1919 to September 4, Roy organized the marathon session of the National Congress of the Socialist Party of Mexico. Roy and Evelyn chaired most of the sessions.
Evelyn was also one of the founder members of the Communist Party of Mexico (Partido Comunista Mexicano- PCM), the first recognized Communist Party formed outside Russia
When they decided to accept Lenin’s invitation to attend the Second Congress of the Communist International to be held in Moscow during spring of 1920, Evelyn and Roy left Mexico in November 1919 to Berlin on their way to Moscow. They travelled under Mexican diplomatic passports provided by the President Carranza, in which their names were given as Senor and Senora Roberto Alleny Villa Garcia.
While in Berlin, on the way to Moscow, Evelyn came into contact an Indian group known as Berlin Committee fighting for India’s freedom with assistance from Germans. She also established links with August Thalheimer, the German Marxist activist and theoretician. Thalheimer was one her close friends; and kept in touch with him even during her later years.
Before leaving Berlin for Moscow, Roy along with Evelyn, drafted what he called as the Indian Communist Manifesto. The manifesto was signed by Roy, Abani Mukherjee and Evelyn Trent.
Evelyn and Roy along with Charles Philips (Frank Seaman) ,invited as official delegates of the Communist Party of Mexico , participated in the Second World Congress held at Moscow from 19 July 1920 to 7 August 1920, spread over fifteen sessions. Evelyn, while at Moscow, came into contact with various other Indian leftist and nationalist leaders such as, MPBT Acharya, Virendranath Chattopadyaya and also with Agnes Smedley.
They attended a rally in Petrograd. Evelyn was reporting her views and experiences to her mother through letters and personal messages. She was all praise for the social conditions in the Soviet Union.
Thereafter, Evelyn accompanied Roy on his mission in Tashkent during 1920-21; and managed his affairs in setting up a Military School in Tashkent.
Evelyn was one among the seven signatories to the document establishing the Communist Party of India (CPI) at Tashkent on 17 October 1920. Thus , Evelyn Trent was one of the founder members of the Communist Party of Mexico as also among the founder member of the Communist Party of India at Tashkent.
While she was in Moscow, Evelyn Trent taught in the Communist University of the Toilers of the East and in International Political School. She collaborated with M.N. Roy in the organizational and intellectual development of the international communist movement in the Soviet Union, Mexico, Europe and in India.
Evelyn wrote series of articles on their newly started journal The Vanguard of Indian Independence (later re-named as Masses of India) attacking the Gandhian approach to the British, predicting that Gandhi would eventually compromise with the British. She published her writings under her assumed name Santi Devi. Her mature writings written with understanding and clear analysis influenced the course of events in Communism, in Indian national movements and on the Indian National Congress. Her articles on Gandhian politics and economics were regarded by many as ‘the best-argued critiques ever published in Communist literature’. In 1923, she wrote for the Labour Monthly attacking the Indian Congress session at Gaya held in 1922. In the same year (1923) her article ‘Mahatma Gandhi: Revolutionary or Counter-revolutionary?’ was published in the Labour Monthly of September . Some of her articles were later reproduced in a book titled ‘One Year of Non-Cooperation from Ahmadabad to Gaya’.
Please Check Evelyn Trent-Roy Archive for writings of Evelyn Trent.
And, for writings of M N Roy, please click here.
After the not-so-happy Fifth Congress, Roy returned to France by August 1924 after about six months of stay in Switzerland. Evelyn stationed in France was editing and managing the Journal The Vanguard. She was also guiding Comite’ Pro-Hindou a group headed by Henri Barbusse which did propaganda work in favour of Indian Independence.
And, in the following January (on 30 January 1925) Roy and Evelyn were arrested in Paris, due to to British pressure brought to bear upon the French Government. Evelyn was released and allowed to stay in France. Roy, however, was deported to Luxembourg.
In July 1925 the Roys attended a meeting of Indian and French Communist to plan for the Congress of the Oppressed Nationalities. Here they had strong disagreements about the British Communist Party over its interference in the affairs of the Indian Party.
It was around this time in 1925 or early 1926 that Roy and Evelyn decided to end their relationship. They were separated for ever. The exact dates and reasons for separation are not clear.
Evelyn’s latter dated 13 March 1927 addressed to their mutual friend Henk Sneevliet (Jack Horner) makes a most poignant reading. The separation was very painful to her; she was totally distraught. She desperately tried to contact Ray and longed to be with him again. But, here letters and pleadings did not evoke any response from Roy. She wrote:
I blame my husband for nothing. He could not help what happened, any more than I could. I only wish he might have been more frank and open so that together we could have discussed everything and decided on a course to follow, instead of sending me off in ignorance of his real feelings and desires.
Had he wanted me to come back, I would have come, if only to be true to him and the work. It was very hard for me to believe or to realize that he did not want me or need me. That he wanted me to stay away. I only fully knew these seven months after I left him, and it was then that I went to get my divorce.
I received a divorce six months ago, as it appeared to me absolutely necessary to do so, before I could take up my life again in any direction. I hesitated a long time before taking this step – waited over six months and wrote many letters to R. offering to return and resume our former relationship.
It was only after receiving his categorical reply to remain in this country or go to China, but not to return there, that I decided upon what course to follow.
Life appeared to me very difficult – almost impossible to resume in the old channels I had left nine years before.
She longed to go back to her parents and to her earlier environment. But again she was lonely and not accepted
My mother & father were glad to see me, but did not welcome my ideas, and part of my family refused to have anything at all to do with me. Most of my old friends from school and college also turned away from me. I found myself almost alone, except for a very few who remained loyal to the past, without in any way understanding or sympathizing with my viewpoint.
These are my people. I understand them, and it is in this environment I can grow and develop normally, as a human being. Above all, I was so weary of being hunted from place to place, from country to country, of having to hide and always to be surrounded by a terrible fog of suspicion and fear, and to have others suspect and fear me. All this had become intolerable.
I found myself alone. I had not the heart, even if I had possessed the strength, energy and enthusiasm, to begin all over again in the movement here.
All my work had been for India. Many stories were circulated about me – from external and internal sources. Had I attempted to be active I would have been deported at once. There was no possible way to prevent it for I had no rights here at all.
At first I thought it would be impossible for me to abandon my former life and work and just to live like this – it is still difficult – but it has been forced on me by a good many circumstances. I could not remain in the Indian work, that was sure even before my divorce. My position had become very difficult.
If I had ever been in India, or could ever go there, it might have been different, but always it had been pure theoretical abstraction to me. The only living link was my husband. When this link was broken, only the abstraction remained, and I was so tired of abstract theories. I had to come face to face with realities and to learn something about every day, practical living.
The result is, I have held aloof from everything, seen no one and done nothing but attempt to regain my mental and physical strength and to solve the first problem of all – to earn my living somehow or other.
The life after return from Europe had become very difficult for her, especially during the first 18 months after her return
I was in a state of complete mental and physical collapse. The very thought of politics sickened me. I could not concentrate my mind long enough to read a newspaper or book. I was restless, unhappy and frightfully disorientated. I belonged neither to my old life or the new one I had left it for. Then there was the personal heartache.
Besides all this, I had to meet the slanderous gossip and malicious tongues of various nationalist factions in this country, who very effectually poisoned the minds of all those liberal and semi-radical people I have turned to for help and friendship. They heard such frightful things against me that one and all turned away from me.
I was accused of being a spy, a renegade, a defalcator of funds, of having abandoned my husband and the movement after having bled them dry, etc. etc.
My activities abroad had been such as to render it very difficult for me to obtain work for which I was adapted by education and training. I had lost my citizenship and this fact closed a good many avenues of employment as well as made my position extremely uncertain.
Their separation was so complete that never thereafter did they meet or correspond. And, there is not a single word or reference to Evelyn in Roy’s Memoirs.
Evelyn was keenly following Roy’s Memoirs published as serial in Radical Humanist Weekly from India during 1953-54 was curious to know what Roy said of her. But, to her utter disappointment, there was not a word about her.
The separation was very painful to both. Roy’s party work in Europe suffered a great deal, because till then Evelyn had been managing and editing Vanguard/ Indian Masses; writing articles in Inprecor. She was his secretary assistant and co-worker.
And, from 1925 onwards the name of Evelyn did not appear in any of the “documents of literature relating to Indian Communism” . Her vanishing act was complete as far as Indian leftist circles were concerned.
After her break from Roy, the British Intelligence lost track of Evelyn by 1927. Evelyn moved back to her parent’s home in Auburn , California in 1927.She was a columnist on International affairs for San Francisco Chronicle specially on the events in India, Afghanistan, China , Japan and the Asian region. Later she moved to New York where she worked as a freelance journalist; she wrote on subjects related to Aviation for Herald Tribune flying all over America and Europe gathering material on commercial aviation.
She kept in touch with the minority Left groups in USA led by Jay Lovestone. In 1931 Evelyn wrote an article to their journal Revolutionary Age , touching on MN Roy’s arrest in India , giving details of his early history and describing how he had returned to India after along exile, daring to brave British imperialism face to face. She called upon “American liberal intellectuals, radicals and workers’ to protest Roy’s arrest.
In 1935 Evelyn moved back to California and wrote for Sacramento papers. In 1936 she married a writer Dewitt Jones. After his death in 1949 , she returned to live in her family house in Auburn California. In 1956 she worked for the Placer County Welfare Department. She retired in 1962. And Evelyn Leonora Trent-Jones died in 1970.
Evelyn possessed great love and empathy for human beings and spent her life writing about social injustices and the need for greater humanity and awareness. Her contributions and examples will live on forever in the work she has left behind, some of which are lodged in the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.
Many researchers tried to talk to Evelyn to ascertain the reason for her separation from Roy; but, were not entirely successful.
Shibnarayan Ray, Roy’s biographer met Evelyn in 1957-58. She said that parting with Roy was friendly but ‘sad on her part.. Quite sad’. She retained her admiration for Roy and interest in his work and writings. She cherished her life as revolutionary in Mexico, Moscow and Berlin. But, she preferred her communist past to be not made known’
On the question of Roy silence on her in his Memoirs , she defended Roy stating that the climate prevailing at that time (1950 early) in USA was highly prejudiced against anything Left. And ‘any mention of her communist past could have led to witch-hunting and caused her much harassment and trouble ‘.
Later, in 1970, several research scholars on political science interviewed Evelyn through Robert C. North, the political science professor in Stanford University ; but were not successful. Evelyn preferred to remain anonymous and silent..
Dr Innaiah Narisetti, a Journalist from India, interviewed the son of Evelyn Trent`s sister, Diven Meredith in Los Angeles, during 1990s. He also corresponded with Evelyn’s nieces who sent Dr Innaiah some rare photos and some material about Evelyn. Dr Innaiah gathered some rare material about Evelyn Trent from the Hoover Institute in Stanford University; the National Archives, Washington DC; and, The Institute of Social Sciences at Amsterdam. Please check his research work: Evelyn Tremt Alias Shanti Devi
Evelyn Trent Jones was an extraordinary woman who lived an amazing life. A successful journalist, she travelled worldwide on behalf of the early communist movement with her husband M.N. Roy. She played an important role in shaping the life and thought of M. N. Roy in the early stages. She also played a great role in the International politics and also in developing the Indian Communist movement.
Evelyn was not only politically and intellectually an important figure in the early history of Indian Communism; but was also one of its founding members. She had a special concern for India. Her mature writings written with understanding and clear analysis influenced the course of events in Communism, in Indian national movements and on the Indian National Congress.
It is rather sad, she is not remembered with love and gratitude in India and by the Communist Party; and , none celebrated her centenary in 1992.
The Next Part
Sources and References
Evelyn Tremt Alias Shanti Devi by Dr Innaiah Narisetti
The White Woman’s Other Burden: Western Women and South Asia During British Rule by Kumari Jayawardena
Age of Entanglement by Kris Manjapra
Many pages of the Wikipedia
Socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru by Rabindra Chandra Dutt
India & the United States: Politics of the Sixties by Kalyani Shankar
How Stalin’s daughter defected in India-
The Lives of Agnes Smedley by Ruth Price
The Pictures are from Internet