Born in Missouri in 1892, oldest of five children, father was a laborer and mother ran a boardinghouse. Moved to Colorado in 1902 and attended school.
Dropped out of grade school and didn’t attend high school but enrolled in the Normal School in Tempe, Arizona. Married Ernest George Brundin, August 23, 1912 but divorced soon thereafter. Moved to New York City and attended lectures at New York University. Became involved in an Indian revolutionary movement (financed by Germany, then an enemy of Britain). Joined Friends of Freedom for India and assisted the group with hiding secret documents and information.
Moved to California in 1915, studying at the University of California. Arrested along with Salindranath Ghose, considered a political agitator. Was indicted for fraud (but not prosecuted). Moved to New York City but soon migrated to Berlin. Was aligned with Viren Chattopadhyaya who was also considered a Communist agitator. The two lived together for eight years.
Visited Moscow in 1921 for a meeting of Indian revolutionaries. After various illnesses began teaching English at the University of Berlin. Founded a birth control clinic in Berlin before moving to Denmark. Wrote a book called “Daughter of the Earth” in 1927 continued her writings as a correspondent for the Frankfurther Zeiting. Was sent by Moscow to China in 1928, settling in Shanghai where she became an outspoken advocate of sexual freedom and women’s’ issues as well as pushing other leftist issues.
Served as an agent for the Comintern and the GRV. Worked with Richard Sorge for a period of time and was believed to have been his lover. Has a vast network of useful contacts and introduced many of them to Sorge to use in his spy ring including Ozaki Hozumi and Ruth Kuczynski. Also introduced Sorge to radio operator Max Klaussen. Continued on as a war correspondent, chronicling activities in the Chinese revolution and served for a time in 1937 in the Eighth Route Army in the field.
During World War II served as an adviser to Joseph Stillwell, the U.S. General and Military adviser to Chinese strongman Chiang Kai-Sheck, a noted anti-Communist. Persuaded Stillwell to arm Chinese Communist, convincing him that it was the lesser of two evils to help them fight against Japan.
Returned to the United States where she wrote and lectured about China and the Chinese people. Authored a book, “Battle Hymn of China,” detailing her war experiences. Fell under FBI surveillance. Was labeled a Soviet agent after statements by Sorge were released which identified her as a Communist collaborator and a chief figure in his ability to conduct his operations. Was defended by several high ranking Washington politicians.
Threatened to sue U.S. General Douglas MacArthur libel for releasing Sorge’s statements. MacArthur’s chief intelligence officer Major General Charles Willoughby dared her to sue, claiming he had more than enough information to prove the allegations correct and threatened to publicly expose her. Smedley moved to England and was due to be called by the U.S. House Un American Activities committee.
Died of acute circulatory failure on 6th May 5, 1950 in a London nursing home and was buried in China.