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Anarchy and the Sex Question:
Essays on Women and Emancipation, 1896-1917
By Emma Goldman
Edited by Shawn P. Wilbur
Available from PM Press, August 1, 2016


Emma Goldman (1869 – 1940) remains one of the best known figures of the political tradition known as anarchism, and with good reason, as few writers have so convincingly explained the evils of authority in government. But Goldman’s anarchism extended beyond the political realm, and arguably found its most essential expressions in her writings on matters more directly connected to everyday life. For Goldman, anarchism was not just an ideology, but a living force in the affairs of our life, constantly creating new conditions.” Still, there was another force that she considered “the most elemental force in human life:” Sex.

“The Sex Question” emerged for Goldman in the most varied of contexts, and we find her addressing it in writing on subjects as varied as women’s suffrage, “free love,” birth control, the “New Woman,” homosexuality, marriage, love and literature. It was at once a political question, an economic question, a question of morality and a question of social relations. However, despite the obvious importance of the question to Goldman, it has been hard to assess the precise nature of her answers to it, because the various elements of her analysis of that most elemental force remained fragmentary, scattered across numerous works and conditioned by numerous contexts.

Anarchy and the Sex Question draws together the most important of those scattered sources, uniting both familiar essays and archival material, in an attempt to recreate the great work on sex that Emma Goldman might have given us. In the process, it sheds light on contemporary questions such as Goldman’s place, or lack thereof, in the history of feminism.


  • Introduction: “Let Us Not Overlook Vital Things” (Shawn P. Wilbur)
  • Anarchy and the Sex Question
  • What Is There in Anarchy for Women?
  • The New Woman
  • “The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation
  • The White Slave Traffic
  • Mary Wollstonecraft, Her Tragic Life and Her Passionate Struggle for Freedom
  • The Hypocrisy of Puritanism
  • Jealousy: Causes and a Possible Cure
  • Victims of Morality
  • Woman Suffrage
  • Marriage and Love
  • The Social Aspects of Birth Control
  • Again the Birth Control Agitation
  • The Woman Suffrage Chameleon
  • Louise Michel: A Refutation Addressed to Dr. Maynes Hershfeld
  • Emma’s Love Views
  • Feminism’s Fight Not Vain
  • The Element of Sex in Life

Of course, the material in the Anarchy and the Sex Question collection is just an small sample from Emma Goldman’s work. Explore the other works archived here for much more by and about Emma Goldman, more material from Mother Earth, and works by and about Voltairine de Cleyre and Lizzie M. Holmes.

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Voltairine De Cleyre, “Mary Wollstonecraft—The Apostle of Woman’s Freedom” (1893)

For the Boston Investigator.



Delivered at the International Congress of Freethinkers at Chicago.

By Voltairine de Cleyre.

“Quietly does the clear light, shining day after day, refute the ignorant surmise, or malicious tale, which has thrown dirt on a pure character.”—[Mary Wolstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” p. 143, Humboldt Library Edition.

To touch with the commanding fire of the resurrection the crumbling bones of one who rots these hundred years; to call from our her grave in Bournmouth churchyard the form stricken from the passion and fervor of being in the midst of its struggle and its aspiration; to put back the pink and white of life upon the wreck and ruin of death; to lift the lids of the long sleep, letting out again the tender, slumb’rous brown light from those eyes that had attained the divinity of sorrow, the pathos of pity; to make you see her, feel Her, know her, that supreme woman, speaking with her undying voice away over the ocean of the years, to you, to me, to all—that woman who threw her splendid genius against the barbed barriers to freedom, who took their frightful pints of steel into her generous breast, that felt so deeply, burned so indignantly, loved so much; to make her live before you in all the beauty of that wonderful face, that wistful, pathetic, childlike face, that face that might have moved God to tears, if there were a God to weep; to have you know how that great heart, dust, dust, impalpable dust, years before any of us were, yet beats and pulses onward forever in the outgoing, wide-enfolding circle of the children of liberty; to make the live words leap again from the long neglected pages till you feel Mary Wollstonecraft’s presence here, asking, nay, not asking but compelling, the recognition of love and reverence, the tribute of grateful memory so long denied!—this is my task, the task that I have set myself; I, her humble lover, who if many tears and heart throbs could call her from the dead—would have summoned her here in my stead to-night.

I am unworthy; I know it. I know “I am a late come scribe, measuring with little wit that lofty love” which shines, an unquenchable fire, through every line the great apostle wrote.

Yet wherever the heart of freedom beats faster at the sound of a beloved name, it is because many grateful, humble ones, many whose hearts loved better than their lips could speak, have paid their tributes there, knowing the gift was little, but—their best. What freethinker’s bosom does not glow to-day at the name of Thomas Paine? And has not that glow been kept alive in obscure corners of the world, in little out-of-the-way coffee-houses and humble halls, and modest parlor gatherings, where those who were too poor in purse and power of thought and speech to do justice to the occasion, yet urged on by reverence and devotion and gratitude and indignation, poured out their thankfulness to the neglected hero?

The time will come when she, too, now so neglected and forgotten, she—this historian, this reformer, this thinker of daring thoughts, this doer of brave deeds,—will have her name graven on every altar-stone whereon the tabernacle of liberty rests.

And since love of a principle, incarnate in a man, begets love for those kindred spirits whom that man chose in friendship, let those who do not know it, learn—let those who love and reverence Thomas Paine remember—that Mary Wollstonecraft was Paine’s friend. She knew him in England when they were fellow-strugglers for the rights of free press, then fighting its way against courts, fines, imprisonment and exile; she knew him in France in the bitter days of the revolution, when the terrible tocsin was ringing the judgment of the people upon kings; and later, when the leaders of the people, gone mad with hate and suspicion, had doomed Paine to the guillotine. She, an Englishwoman, stayed there in the teeth of the storm, running the risk of the same fate, after the expulsion of the English had been ordered. Like Paine, she cried out against the shedding of blood in the days when to declare mercy to others meant danger to self. And while they were burning Paine in effigy all over England as the author of the “Rights of Man,” the same persons were proposing to do Mary Wollstonecraft the same honor as the author of the “Rights of Women.” In the great painting of Paine by Jarvis, among the fourteen names that decorate “the wreath of freedom haloing the figure, as these two: Margaret Bonneville and Mary Wollstonecraft; all the rest are men. These were the women who faced the east in that world-convulsing morning. Margaret Bonneville because catholic and reactionist; Mary Wollstonecraft died true to the faith of liberty.

Paine answered Edmund Burke’s strictures on the French revolution with the “Rights of Man.” Before Paine’s book appeared Mary Wollstonecraft had also answered with the “Rights of Man.” It is a long neglected work, although forgotten now; but if you unbury the treasure you will find there thoughts as keen and clear, and words that blind and bit as clean and sharp as anything Paine wrote, and more than that, words as applicable to-day as in the day when they were written. Listen! and marvel that it is no modern socialist that speaks, but the voice of a woman calling out of a grave dug one hundred years ago.

“The demon of property has ever been at hand to encroach upon the sacred rights of men…. Security of property! Behold the definition of English liberty…. It is only the property of the rich that is secure. When was the castle of the poor sacred? … Property in England is much more secure than liberty.”

Oh, how we feel that in America to-day, when loaves of bread are so much more sacred than hungry mouths! so much more sacred than the rights of those mouths to speak and declare their needs that the police club and arrest those who proclaim the holiness of sentient, suffering flesh, as against the holiness of glass and stone and gold; and workingmen and workingwomen walk between double rows of uniforms and bludgeons to proclaim the definition of American liberty!

How truly might Mary Wollstonecraft write again: “The rich man may thank his God he is not as other men are! When shall retribution be made to the miserable who cry day and night for help?” One hundred years have rolled away; and still the procession of the miserable comes pouring down, hungrier, thinner, dirtier than ever, and the cry goes up louder and louder, day and nigh, day and night, the whole long century, and no help comes! And the “rights of men” repose on obscure shelves in magnificent libraries, unknown of men, because the right to read has been made void by the necessity for work. Free libraries! Generous gifts of the “custodians of wealth”—that open at eight and close at five, while the factories open at seven and close at six. And do not forget these libraries are pious—they remember to keep “holy the Sabbath day.” O, satire on the rights of men! Men who are now, as she writes they were then, “oppressed by the influence of their own money”—their money which buys them cathedrals and priests, government-halls and governors, libraries and librarians, and neither knowledge nor hope! Their money, which plunges them into the frightful pessimism of starvation, gazing at abundance with bars between!

How little the spirit of the classes has change since our heroine penned these words: “If the poor are in distress the rich will make some benevolent exertions to assist them; they will confer obligations but not do justice!” And then the bright fire of her indignation leaps out at those who would have the recipients of such assuming charity, meek, and mild, and patient, and oh, so very, very humble, dropping these words of comfort to the proud soul who spurns such ostentatious insolence: “The aversion which men feel to receive a right as a favor ought rather to be extolled as a vestige of native dignity than stigmatized as the odious offspring of ingratitude.” There flamed forth the human being, asserting the supremacy of the individual over this stupendous travesty on justice which arrogates privileges to a few, that they may exercise the virtue of degrading the manhood of the rest. There shone out a clear, white streak of light, a sudden illumination of the soul upon the immense obscurity of human life, darting to the uttermost depths of the cave of misery the splendid truth that the “rights of men” are equal; and that these rights are not mere metaphysics, declarations on paper, political catchwords, but based upon the daily needs of human existence. The rights of man to Mary Wollstonecraft mean the right to eat, the right to be clothed, the right to be sheltered; and none of these as a charitable dole, and not of the poorest and meanest, but of the best, as rightfully belonging to those who produced them. The rights of men means to expropriate the expropriators! The right to take back that which has been stolen, without thanks to the thief! This is one of her questions: “Why does the brown waste meet the traveller’s eye when men want work?… Why might not the industrious peasant be permitted to steal a farm from the heath?” A century has passed. And still the brown waste meets the traveller’s eye, still men want work. And I echo her question, and repeat: “Why shall they not steal back the source of wealth which has been stolen from them?”

Edmund Burke, the great master of rhetoric, the fallen idol of the liberals, the cloaked pensioner of the English government, had arraigned the French revolution with more of eloquence than logic, as he found to his cost when Paine’s reply was selling by the thousand. He had exhausted himself in tears concerning the atrocities committed in that furious revolt, as if they had been born without a raison d’être. But Mary Wollstonecraft, true child of the people, faithful to the ideals of the people even when they themselves were unfaithful, came with her rebuking hand and, pointing to the sixty thousand monastics, the sixty thousand nobles, the two hundred thousand priests, the leech grown of fifteen hundred years upon the patient peasants of France, and pointing to the misery and squalor of these, exclaimed: “Your tears are reserved for the downfall of queens!… What were the outrages of a day compared to such continual miseries?” “Man preys on man, and your mourn for the idle tapestry that decorated a Gothic pile, and the dronish bell that summoned a fat priest to prayer…. You mourn for the empty pageant of a name while slavery flaps her wing!”

The world, the honest world, the christian world, the good religious, crucifying world; the world which takes hearsay for evidence and prejudice for judgment, the world which starves and freezes, and outcasts and hangs and damns people, for conscience sake, has amused itself these many years by repeating the false charge of atheism against Thomas Paine; when the very book they so ignorantly condemn was written, as its author says, “to stem the tide of atheism.” “The Age of Reason,” to quote Conway’s beautiful expression, “is the insurrection of the human heart against deified inhumanity;” it is humanity, or humaneness rather, raised to the divine pinnacle. The same charge by the same prejudice-hugging world has been made against this woman, also a fervent deist, because she, too, refused, as a slander upon God, the infamous doctrine of eternal torture, and that procrastinating christianity which bids man be Lazarus here in order to escape being Dives hereafter. In one of those darting sentences of hers, which strikes fire from the flint of the centuries, she asks: “Is the human heart satisfied with turning the poor over to another world to receive the blessings this could afford?” And again: “Why is our imagination to be appalled with terrific perspections of hell beyond the grave? Hell stalks abroad. The lash sounds on the slave’s naked sides, and the sick wretch who can no longer earn the sour bread of unremitting toil steals to the ditch to bid a long good-night; or, neglected in some ostentatious hospital, breathes his last amid the laugh of mercenary attendants. Such misery demands more than tears.”

So the brave spirit cried against the cursed inhumanity of the christian scheme of heaven and hell, though all the while her whole being was aglow with love for that ideal of God existing in her own fervent nature. To her, God was the supreme source and end of all life, a source which gave forth nothing but good, an end so pure and great as to receive back the foulest returning and remain unsullied, even as the ocean receives back the slime and mud of its children—the rivers—yet remains forever blue. This faith worked outward in her life, giving her the warmest and sincerest convictions of duty, and the strength to follow them. She was, in the highest and best sense of the word, a religious woman. So sure was she of the unfailing goodness of God that she spent no time in idle and impertinent prayers urging him to remember his duties. She attended to her part, believing that omnipotence knows its own business. Though at one time an attendant of an orthodox church, during the last decade of her life, from 1787 to 1797; that is, during the decade of her highest development, she never attended. And Godwin, her devoted lover and biographer, tells us that during her last illness “not one word of a religious cast fell from her lips.”

She had lived her faith, she didn’t need to talk about it. And her death, though one of intense suffering; so far as her mental attitude was concerned, was peaceful and beautiful. She went out into the darkness without a question as to the hereafter, conscious of rectitude, soul serene. If one believed as she, one might say those child eyes had looked straight through death at God, and were satisfied.

So much claim has she upon the love of humanity in general, and freethinkers in particular! But her fame as a reformer rests upon another work—the rights of women.

As Paine was the first English writer of note who contended for the rights, not only of white men, but of negro slaves, so Mary Wollstonecraft was the first English write of note who contended for the rights of the slaves of slaves—women. Against both the old and the new schools, against both Dr. Gregory and Jean Jacques Rousseau, she announced the repudiation of St. Paulism. She claimed for woman the destiny of an individual—self-supporting, self-governing, responsible. She demanded that an end be put to the abominable worship of sensuality as the be-all and end-all of woman’s existence. She went through the sham of female education with a ruthless dissecting knife. She asked for an equal standard of morals, of intellectual ideals, of physical culture. She denied that it was virtue for a woman to look pale and sickly and weak in order to flatter the vanity of some man’s “power of protection.” She denied that there was any reason why women should hide their abilities in order not to appear as a competitor with man mentally. She claimed for woman and man alike the full freedom to develop their powers to the utmost, without let or hindrance from each other. She showed how “cunning is ever the product of force;” how if the powers of mind and body be diverted from struggle towards free and noble ideals, they will twist and distort, and undercreep and mine the repressing forces, until society is cancered through, and ready to break into leprous sores. She showed that where classes of men (giving in example soldiers and courtiers) have been forced into an idle and frivolous existence, such as the majority of women led, and still do lead, they have become weak, cunning, intriguing, despicable. That, therefore, those faults charged, and charged justly, upon woman, are not hers because of her sex, but because of her social and industrial environment; that given men in the same conditions, the same results upon character will be produced. Hence wherever there is an idle class, a slave class, a class whose “grand business in life is coquetry,” a class perpetually appealing to the lowest and most sensual elements in its master’s character, nothing but evil to the whole race can be expected.

Thanks to the patient, patient years, some of the things for which she contended are not accomplished; and if in reading over her “Rights of Women” we are sometimes annoyed at her insistent repetitions of what seem to us obvious truths, right there let us check ourselves to thank her that she has done her work so well that we stand upon the steps her brave hands hewed in the rock, cutting above her head—that our feet are placed where he hands were, and our eyes see higher up. Remember that true gratitude to the great past does not consist in doing the specific acts of the past, but in preserving the progressive spirit of the past. She who truly loves Mary Wollstonecraft is she who tries to live as far in advance of her day as Mary Wollstonecraft was in advance of hers. Remember that, when you read by the reflex light of a hundred years the “Vindication of the Rights of Women.”

And now most reverently do I approach her last, her best, her greatest claim upon the gratitude of humanity. There be teachers that I have known teach, and preachers that I have known preach, and reformers that I have known, and the world has known, to be loud of mouth and pen! But the doers, the souls that become one with their thoughts that are their teachings, these are very few. And Mary Wollstonecraft was on of there rare few. Hers were no sterile songs flung out to die upon the air; they were the music of herself; she was an Idea, she was liberty!

Mary Wollstonecraft did not preach justice to the poor, and then live upon their toil; she toiled herself. She did not behold misery from afar off, and make fine phrases about it. She drank he cup, bitter with fennel, with the rest, and knew whereof she spoke. She did not preach the abrogation of classes and then practice servility to the powerful or arrogance to the humble. She maintained the dignity of the individual in her own person, compelling the haughty family of Lord Kingsborough to treat her, their governess, as an individual, not as a servant. She taught self-respect to the ignorant by setting them the example. She did not condemn the frivolities of so-called polite society and then acquire the last smirk and flutter; she did not proclaim a high standard of virtue and live a low one; she did not prate of independence for woman and then coquet to capture a husband; she did not declare for responsibility and then shrink from it when it came; she uttered no word that she did not stand by and live by unto the uttermost, no matter how great the price she paid society for it; and sometimes it was a very dear price!

She was poor, she suffered privations, she lived cheaply, in poor lodgings; she was sometimes in sore straits for work, and knew not where to turn. She did her own work, ladies; she washed her own dishes, and mended and turned her old dresses. Her clothes were not always pleasing to those who have nothing better to do than study fashion plates. When I read that, I remembered that Paine once said concerning a similar criticism: “Let those dress who need it.”

The money she earned by her pent went towards establishing her brothers and sisters in independent positions. She even adopted a friendless, young girl in London, a stranger to her, and out of her own poverty helped her to live. She resented as an insult an offer of marriage to a man whom she did not love—the usual cheap road of relief to struggling women—declaring marriage, which is only made holy by love, to be pure and simple prostitution without it, no matter how sanctioned by priest or magistrate. She never reckoned the cost to self, or the size of her opponent, when a wrong was being done. Once, on her passage from Spain to England, she alone, on woman, compelled a brutal captain of the vessel to take on board some castaways whom he had refused to rescue, and who, but for her, would have died the horrible death of starvation at sea! Her dear dream of life was independence, not the shell of it, but real independence, where she would not be only industrially self-supporting, but free to announce and live her beliefs, refusing to accept any position which demanded their suppression.

And when the great trial of life came, the trial which sends every soul through the fire—the trial of love—her acts proclaimed the sincerity of her conviction, that what is commonly called marriage—a service, a ceremony trumpeting abroad the sacred secrets of the heart—is of all the vulgarities the worst! Time proved her to have been mistaken, not in her own feelings, not in her principles of action, but in her estimate of Capt. Imlay. How many women that have had both the word of a husband and the certificate of a priest have also found themselves mistaken?

Millicent Garret Fawcett, in her introduction to the last edition of the “Rights of Woman,” apologetically alludes to this relationship as “an error” caused by the philosophical reaction of which Mary Wollstonecraft was part. I say Millicent Fawcett does poor and cowardly service to that great woman; she needs no apology, least of all for that. It was a brave living of beliefs which cannot be condemned because certain individuals holding them prove unworthy; of principles whose correctness have never been refuted.

Calumny was very busy with her after that. Tongues that lick vinegar spit gall. But she kept her grief for herself, and her dignity before all the world, ever refusing to be ashamed that she was an unmarried mother!

Long afterward, when she was dead, the letters, the letters to Imlay, the passionate, broken letters, were given to the world—and the world beheld the drops of blood falling from Mary Wollstonecraft’s heart. Sacred drops, drops that should purify whoever touches them. A Christian slanderer named Jeafferson, a man who has made it his business to vilify the great freethinkers, pressed his foul fingers on those sacred wounds. Had he been a man the touch would have killed him! He was not a man; and anyone who can read those letters and not feel that he is in the presence of something holy, pure, devoted, ineffably tender, is less than a human being.

There came a rift of sunshine after that, the sunshine of an honest love; and in that golden, summer afternoon she died. Too soon, too soon for us. Too soon for the motherless little babe, that afterward became the wife of the poet Shelley; too soon for the melancholy child, Imlay’s child, who, left alone, committed suicide; too soon for the unfinished work, left so broken and incomplete. But not too soon for us to say: “Behold the apostle of our freedom! Behold here who lived and died for woman’s progress!” Let justice be done! Let April 27, 1759, become a day of annual commemoration in every city, in every town, where the throbbing desire for liberty her heartbeats set in motion a century ago, pulses and thrills. Let us make a Mary Wollstonecraft day! Let it not be said that freethinkers keep warm the memory of a great man alone. Let April 27th be as celebrated as is January 29th. Let us retwine the names of Paine and Wollstonecraft wreathed by Jarvis a century ago. Let the women determine to keep this day, and I am sure the men will be with them.

How many will help to make this woman’s day memorable, this congress memorable, as the birthday of recognition for Mary Wollstonecraft? I appeal to you, women and men! How many will help to let in “the clear light” upon the pure and noble character of this woman, whose dust lies there beyond the water, but whose immortal life beats full and strong in every heart that cries for liberty; full and strong the mother pulses, the first incitations, the centurine out-ripplings? Who, each year, will pluck a white flower from the garden of his heart to lay upon her tomb?

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Mary Wollstonecraft—The Apostle of Woman’s Freedom,” The Boston Investigator 63 no. 32 (November 08, 1893): 1-2.

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Voltairine De Cleyre, “Mary Wollstonecraft” (1894)

For the Boston Investigator.


Mr. Editor:—Yourself and readers will be interested to learn that the plan of establishing a “female saint’s day” among freethinkers, by commemorating the birth of Mary Wollstonecraft, proposed by myself at the international congress of freethinkers, last October, has taken practical form in this city. The Ladies’ Liberal League, of Philadelphia, (which is not, by the way, an auxiliary of the Friendship Liberal League, as state by Mr. Charlesworth in a communication last fall, and I correct the error in the interest of both societies, the former being a much more radical group than the latter), has done itself the honor of being the first society to take up the work of doing justice to that great woman, who was the initiator of the women’s rights movement among the English-speaking people.

On the 24th of April, that being the day nearest to the anniversary of Mary Wollstonecraft’s birthday, (the 27th) in our regular lecture course, your correspondent delivered an address upon her life and work. The hall was crowded with an audience of thoughtful people from all ranks of life, to every one of which some precious sentence has been left by the fiery genius who died just where woman hood “was touching noon, and while the shadows still were falling to the west.”

A fine crayon drawing of that face which Raphael might have worshiped, by Mr. Henry La Rosee, a rising young artist of this city, was displayed upon the platform; and a hundred curious eyes were fastened on that wistful, tender mouth, those great pathetic eyes, which seemed looking from beyond the caverns of death—pleading for a little kindness. This picture has been purchased by the society and will hereafter adorn the walls of its meeting place.

In the course of the address I reviewed the history of her life as teacher, translator and author; dwelt on those sentences in the “Rights of Men,” the “Rights of Woman” and the “French Revolution” which illustrated her love for sincerity, her detestation of tyranny, her fears for the future of man under commercialism, her burning indignation at injustice of whatsoever kind, her hatred of the fripperies of life which degrade the noble ideal of human duties, her contempt for priests and those solemnities of religion which darken humanity’s sunshine, her noble appeal for a stronger, and individualized, womanhood, her large ideas of the benefits of kindness adhered to in the treatment of the criminal classes, her defence of criminals in general as social victims rather than social demons, her magnificent conceptions of Nature as imagined in her Letters from Norway and Sweden. To all these the audience paid the greatest attention, frequently marking with applause those sentiments which found the nearest echoes in their hearts. The facts of her personal experience were also given as evidence that the sentiments she uttered could be lived by and died by; and that though the dust of a century lies upon her coffin and that of her great husband, William Godwin, (whose work “Political Justice” is, as was said by a member on the occasion, a work beside which Paine’s “Rights of Man” is a schoolboy’s production), still out of the grave their principles speak and grow forever in the growing mind of man. At the conclusion of the address numerous short speeches were made by Dr. R. B. Westbrook, Messrs. George Brown, Ralph Raleigh, J. C. Hannon, Mrs. Skinner, Miss Hansen, Miss McLeod and others.

I must also give credit where it is due, and say that much of the success of the evening was due to the untiring efforts of Mr. James B. Elliott, who is perhaps more than myself the originator of this movement. Mr. Elliott has also been for some time engaged in rooting out the history of liberalism in Philadelphia, and when his researches are completed will offer readers of the Investigator some interesting details of the lives and deaths of freethinkers and freethinking societies in this city. He has not found, however, that recognition was given by any of them to Mary Wollstonecraft. Our society is the first. Let me hope that others will follow the example of the Ladies’ League. Let individuals inform themselves concerning her works; buy the “Rights of Woman;” it is in paper, sold for sixty cents by the Humboldt Publishing Co., New York. Write to me for any information on the subject desired; I will be glad to furnish it. Let us have a freethinking woman’s commemoration day as well as a man’s; let us remember Paine’s friend, Mary Wollstonecraft.

Yours for liberty,

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Mary Wollstonecraft,” The Boston Investigator 64 no. 6 (May 12, 1894): 2.

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Voltairine De Cleyre, “Letter from Voltairine De Cleyre” (1891)

For the Boston Investigator.


Mr. Editor:—It is so long since I made my bow to the Investigator that I feel somewhat as if an introduction were necessary in order that my friends my recognize me.

I went out to the land of reputed grasshoppers and hot winds something like a year ago, to a small retreat among the Kansas prairies called Enterprise, and there resigned myself to poetry in the shape of exquisite sunsets, thrice golden moons and brilliant starts, the vast solemnity of the great waving seas of grass, and the extremely prosaic business of getting a living as a piano teacher. Yes, it was poetry and prose mixed; sometimes, when the boys had their lessons, the poetry ran over and tinted the prose to something like rhythmic colors and tones, and quite frequently the prose diluted the poetry till neither one was “any good,” very much like a second pouring of tea, which is neither good water nor good tea. However, I have survived the unpleasant experience, and looking back over my year find that the good outweighed the bad, since I mad many earnest friends, and is not one true friend worth more than the evil of a year?

Kansas with all her bigotry is none the less an enterprising state; which is to say, she is full of radical notions of all kinds—economic, social, political and religious. I had the pleasure of meeting a number of her brightest and most energetic freethinkers at Topeka and elsewhere. I do not know whether the Investigator has received a report of the Ottawa convention of freethinkers. At any rate, it may not be amiss to say that a state organization was effected on September 7th, of which C. K. Levering of Burlington was elected president and Lillie D. White of Halsted, secretary. The association has no platform beyond that of opposition to the church on moral grounds, and leaves to its local societies entire jurisdiction over their own beliefs.

The convention at Ottawa was two-fold in its object: first, it was the annual reunion of the Lucifer Union, which was formed for the purpose of assisting Lucifer financially; and second, as an organization convention. Three days’ meetings were held in Forest Park, and the attendance on Sunday was very large. The park, a beautiful place, by the way, is the annual meeting place of various societies, which endeavor to save souls according to the gospels of their several faiths. Mr. Semple, of Ottawa, determ[in]ing to test the impartiality of the town officials, made application for its use for a freethought convention. After much heated discussion, refusals and persuasions he was finally given the permit, but not until they first gave a promise that “all persons present shall be of good moral character.”

Imagine, will you? Think of the ordinary christian local official stickling about moral character! In my opinion, if they are like any other officials I have ever known, they do not know what moral character is! However, the meetings passed off without disturbance, and it is to be hoped the remarks of Mrs. White, Mrs. Waisbrooker, Mr. Harman, Mr. Cook and Mrs. Semple liberalized them somewhat. Personally, I enjoyed the meetings very much, and the recollection of the pleasant sayings and doing kept me smiling during my long and tiresome ride to Chicago.

There again I found myself with friends, being welcomed at the house of that bright little woman whose name is known all over freethought America and whose recent writings in the Chicago Liberal and the Auditor have touched many a heart to tears. Mrs. Freeman is a sort of mother superior to the Chicago Secular Union, which held quite an interesting discussion, over the somewhat threadbare subject of a protective tariff. I say, threadbare, though properly no question is threadbare so long as such a vast mass of the people can be deceived concerning it. The union appears to be in a prosperous condition, and Mr. Geeting, who does the brunt of the work in the society, is much encourage with its present success.

The following evening a reception was tendered me by Dr. Juliet Severance at her elegant rooms on Warren Ave. Dr. Severance has not fully recovered her physical vigor, which was ravaged by two years’ constant suffering as the result of a broken arm not properly attended. Nevertheless, she has not lost her grace, dignity and ease of manner as a hostess and a woman. Though comparatively a stranger to Chicagoans, having moved there recently from Milwaukee, she nevertheless made all feel at home, and a pleasurable evening was spent by “the crank;” some twenty of him were present, and we sung, played, recited and conversed just like other folks. Mrs. Severance vetoed “isms” at the start, which veto was supplemented by a remark by Mrs. Freeman that “the meeting was not a continuance of the secular union.”

I have observed that such continuations are generally too frequent among us; that we are wont to sacrifice our social natures to a perpetual discussion of theories. This gathering, however, thanks to the good taste of all was entirely free from argument; an evening of pure entertainment, and if we may judge by the crowd which collected outside, our singers and reciters afforded pleasure to some others as well as our little group.

Shall I mention those present? They are too well known to need mention, and yet if someone reads these lines who shall some day wish to meet the members of that happy circle, let me name to him bright-eyed, versatile Mrs. Holmes, Mrs. Ames, who looks at Nature through the medium of Herbert Spencer; to such an extent is my friend devoted to the great sociologist that she contemplates making a sort of Mecca-like pilgrimage to his home some day; she hopes to see him before he dies, and indeed, such persistent spreading of the Spencerian gospel deserves its reward. Geo. Schilling, the generous god-father of the Chicago cranks, casts his benevolent eyes upon the progressive fledglings under his charge, Messrs. Rossner, Trinkhaus and Lund. The editor of the Auditor and his energetic wife, Sarah V. Westrup, tried the various seats in the room, and found them good. M. A. Collins, who has twice been killed by the Chicago dailies, was present, as blithe as ever, “proving in himself,” as Mr. Schilling puts it, “the truth of spiritualism and the physical resurrection.”

We went home early, like good children; but the pleasant feelings remain with us yet; at least they do with men, and always will.

I am back in my own Michigan again; it is two years since I saw her in her dress of green, beautiful in the September sunlight. The papers have put me in nearly every place in the Union where I didn’t belong. I have been dubbed a Pittburger and a Chicagoan when I had not been in either place for a year. I never thought it worth contradiction, deeming the world my home; but some way, down in a corner of men, there is a peculiar affection for the lights and shadows, the green hills and the yellow, dusty road, even the anthills and the ugly, red barns of my own Michigan. Let who can, explain it; I am no believer in patriotism.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Saint John’s, Mich.

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Letter from Voltairine De Cleyre,” The Boston Investigator 61 no. 27 (October 07, 1891): 2.

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Voltairine De Cleyre, “Washington Sights and Sounds” (1890)

For the Boston Investigator.


Mr. Editor:—When Charles Dickens visited us in 1842, he wrote that Washington was rather a city that was “going to be,” than an accomplished fact. Choosing between this opinion and that of a personal friend who declares it is the only city in the United States fit to live in, I should award the palm to Dickens.

Washington is still a largely “going to be” sort of place, a queer mixture of metropolitan airs and country village smells. I had heard so much of its magnificent distances that I was prepared to be tired at the first mention of sight-seeing; I imagined a walk from Fourteenth Street to the Capitol would be an all-day’s tramp, and the Washington Monument a sort of receding mirage that would beckon me through almost interminable space. For the benefit of similar sufferers allow me to say that it’s a piece of unwarrantable deceit. Though the grounds and streets of the Capitol are not “bright and glorious,” they are not “everlasting;” not near so distressingly stretched out as this Quaker City from which I write. It is wonderfully favored in scenic location, and if its people were not all either politicians or dependents of politicians, the one occupied in finding out the best way to blindfold the giant which creates them, the other sneering at them for their finding, Washingtonians might be poets and painters very naturally.

But I have heard before of the corruption of political life and now I know it. We used to say, out in Michigan, that to put any man selling wood would corrupt his morals, let him be never so saintly; he can’t stand the temptation to pile seven-eighths of a cord so as to fill the measure of a cord, and take money for ingenious holes. Alas! the politicians are selling the people holes at tremendous prices, and the various employes of the departments (about the only class of working people in Washington) seem to regard the sum total of officialdom as contained in the word “rotten.”

But lest I be supposed to be indulging in baseless invective of my own invention, come with me to that marble Capitol of which I spoke before, whose beautiful dome rises from the midst of the greenness and bloom which only the South affords in February. The great magnolias are in blossom, the catalpas are opening, and the growth of a blush burns soft and deep where the peach trees blow.

Inside the Hall of the People (I am not sarcastic,) with its wonderful rotunda, its checkered marble floors, its galleries like streets, you see upon the walls, and far up in the dome, beautiful paintings of beautiful women—always women! Liberty’s, Oh! so many of them, always women; angels, always women; muses, graces, Fates, always women, and in the aisle and through the halls and in the corridors and reception rooms, men, men, men!

As we passed into the one pitiful waiting-room which in all the great Capitol is for the living representatives of the pictured guides and goddesses, we heard a he-creature remark to an acquaintance: “As so and so says, ‘I believe my wife is my equal in every respect, except to be a servant to other people!’ ‘By G—d, that’s me!”

Oh, how I wanted to let my tongue loose on that man! How I wanted to ask him whether he preferred his wife to be a servant for the United States at five thousand dollars a year and the difficult duties(?) of misguiding people’s affairs, or working in a choking factory sixty hours a week for $6.00, as a million of the served, who pay the five-thousand, do. I wanted to ask why it was quite proper that wives should work in every department of the public machine, serving the servants, but not at the Capitol? I wanted to ask him of what use any one was in the world if she did not serve some one; anyhow I suppose he would have assured me she was his servant—he had a monopoly on her services, bought and paid for them.

For my part I am glad women have never soiled themselves with the contemptible business of legislation. I hope by the time our equality is recognized, that vast pile will have been turned into an enjoyment hall, really “for the people,” and there will be no more law-making; but as long as those people admit suffrage as a premise, I want them to use a little logic.

I didn’t wonder they were ashamed of the business, when we took seats in the gallery of the House, and watched how a law was made. Imagine an immense school-room, with a desk for each number, a waste-paper basket for each desk, a spittoon, writing materials, etc., and all this seen through a blue cloud which has curled gracefully upward from the illustrious Senators’ mouths, and rests around the heads of “we, the people,” who gaze down. But Oh, the members! Not sitting in their places like well-behaved school boys attending their lessons, but meandering about with (pardon) cuds in their mouths, attending to everyone else’s affairs, and making noise enough to disgrace the gallery gods of a variety theatre. I have been there—and sat it out, the only woman in the crowd; I have been among the lowest “alums” of this or other cities; I have seen the much dreaded emigrant in all his glory, and I have yet to see as disorderly, and apparently, purposeless as assemblage, as the National House of Representatives.

In deprecating this to a friend in a somewhat apologetic tone of voice, I was a mused by a little Spaniard’s enthusiastic description of a device to keep these disorderly members in their seats. The plan was to put a large frame divided into sections, each section containing an indicator, upon the walls of the house, the sum of the sections to equal the sum of the members; the indicator to be connected with an electric button at each desk. One push was to register “yeas,” two, “nays,” three, “don’t vote.” He had also perfected a mechanical plan for determining any tampering, and a scheme to lock the member in his seat while the vote is being registered. His reason for this was purely an economical one. He said:—“When I go dhere and see dhat man cry out, ‘order, order, jhentlemen, and brings down his fist, my grazhus! every time he puts down himself dhat cost fifty dollar, my grazus!’” So much for the Capitol.

One drizzling, misty day, I entertained myself at the National Museum. It’s a fine assemblage of minerals, geologicals, bugs, birds, toads, bears, and (to quote Dickens again) “human bones various.” There were lots of gods too, and one bright-eyed mulatto showed me the devil; like a little girl’s ring, “he was solid brass.” I sat down by a miniature fountain and reflected on the propriety of keeping God in the National Museum, though dear knows it would be sufficient reason for all the decent relics to arise and walk out. The monument! A vast needle of gray stone in the centre of what is “going to be” a beautiful roll of ground, a green gem setting for the silver of the Potomac, with blue Virginia hills behind. But to-day it is overhung by the sad veil of rain, (I used to call it God’s tears when I was pious,) the way is muddy, the Potomac dismal, and the hills somber, and far away.

A party of us crowded in the elevator and went creeping up, up, seeing nothing through the grates of our moving prison save gray walls, sparkling now and then in the electric light, and black numbers which indicated every twenty feet of the ascent. Arrived at the top we each made a wild dive for the window, anxious to dash our eyes upon a scenery which is said to stretch away like a dim picture from that immense height. Lo! formless mist! Nothing but the gray veil we could not tear! I imagined how God must have felt in that immense void from which he “made” things. Only we had the advantage—we had some superb masonry to stand on—he was enthroned on that big shroud of nothing.

Finding there was no view my friend and I concluded to race the elevator down. As we had a nine minutes start, and “the walking is good,” it was not a hard matter. We even found time to stop and admire the stone carvings on blocks presented by different societies in every part of the U. S. One poor old lady who is struggling hard with the world, told me her deceased husband put $600 into the Columbus, (O.,) presentation, saying with half complaining, but not bitter, lips: “I think he might better have left it to me.”

I turned from the sad face to the great gray pile; I thought of the rotted bones sleeping in Mt. Vernon, beyond the somber hills; I wondered if the monument built of living gratitude were not better than that mass of petrified heartache; and as my eyes fell from the aspect to the base, inwardly exclaimed with Anaxagoras, “What an amount of money turned into stone!” Pessimistic reflection no doubt; the proper thing is to admire and be patriotic and feel duly elated at having seen the highest monument in the world erected in my native country. But alas, I am a native of the world and I think more of the world’s people now, than I care for glory or remembrance in the future. When I read of the obelisks, the pyramids, the temples of the ancients, I always think, to what end did those who quarried them with their lives, and cemented them with their sweat and sorrow, rear those vast tombs? To sepulchre the idle; to glorify gods of stone? And I fear our own cannot but impose the thinking in like manner.

Let no one who visits Washington omit the Corcoran Art Gallery. Out of its splendid array of sculpture and painting I have carried the remembrance of a painted sea, whose waves moved upon the canvas like living water, the foremost running in upon the beach in that long shell-like curve which writes great circles in the sand, and the farthest seen, curling its great blue crest to break, while in between floated ridges of sparkling white now and then upthrown like flying hair. One might cool one’s self by that picture on a hot day; the very salt seems to be glistening in the air above it. in one of the side galleries there is the most wonderful moonglimmer I have ever seen outside of a June night on Lake Huron. Through a gap where soft water winds beneath the night shadows of watching hills, the light breaks like a smile between parted lips. It shreds the unmoving leaves, throwing dark doubles downward, and then glints and rests on the long rippling foreground of water, so rarely, so clearly, that gazing you would exclaim, “the ripples move!”

I observe that Miss Leland in her book “Around the World,” lays some severe strictures on ‘the old masters’ for putting on their paints roughly; but I suppose the masters, like these painters of sea and moonlight, worked for effects. Close to one they were very “dauby,” but at the distance necessary to get the perspective they put to shale all the more painstaking works, who fine finishing only rendered them flat and indistinct. I observed the same thing in sculptures. The piece which fixed me longest was the head of the “Veiled Non,” which, near at hand, looked shapeless, rough, and meaningless; but across the gallery the most beautiful features are revealed behind a veil, so filmy and delicate, one needed to touch it to believe it was of stone. In the centre of this gallery and facing the “Nun” is the reputed masterpiece—a cast of Powers’ Greek Slave—it is lovely, but it has the fault of being too perfect, too finished, to arrest the eye at any distance.

I could have spent hours within those fascinating halls, but time, tide, and trains wait for no woman, so went away with a sigh and a resolution to come again some other day. On my way to the depot I say the prettiest little spot in all Washington; a miniature grotto, in a quaint corner of the Capitol grounds, where a wee cascade sang to itself, and jealous rocks shadowed the wonderful greenness that bordered it.

On board the train I reflected: Well, I have seen Washington! It certainly is a novelty; it is different from all other places. It is ornamental if not useful; its papers are more honest than any I have ever met (probably because there are so many women reporters); its people are of many climes and nations; it has no fixed characteristics; its bump of continuity is small; but thank goodness it isn’t pious!

Of course I didn’t see a quarter of what was to be seen, but enough to justify the above conclusions which severally occupied my mind for different lengths of time until our “limited express,” on hour late, landed me at Chestnut Street in the midst of a whirl of snow. It was cold snow, just as cold as flies up North; but not cold enough to chill the remembrance of the pleasant friendships made, and the warm heart-wishes for all the bright radicals I met at the Capitol. Le me close by extending them to all who read these lines.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Philadelphia, Pa.

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Washington Sights and Sounds,” The Boston Investigator 60 no. 6 (May 14, 1890): 1.

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Voltairine de Cleyre, “Are they Fallen?” (1902)

Are They Fallen?

I am not sure that the wisest policy for me, having said my say on the subject of fallen women, would not be to display a “masterly inactivity.” I have little taste for controversy, and generally feel that when one has made a strong statement of a case (at least as strong as the writer’s ability permits) the best thing to do is to let others do the arguing. However, as I feel that the point that I am urging in this discussion is, though the curious bias which the continuously negating attitude gives to the human mind, entirely missed by L. H. Earle, and not altogether dealt fairly with by C. L. James, I shall try once more to make myself clear.

Kate Austin in the article which Miss Earle approves without having any very distinct notion of, had said that the only way to treat fallen women was to refuse to recognize that they were fallen. Now this is to me the ne plus ultra of folly; it is the same as saying, Refuse to acknowledge that a lunatic is insane, refuse to acknowledge that a small-pox patient is ill, refuse to acknowledge that—that C. L. James is a sage, a master of the pen, or that Laura Earle is equally masterful in evoking the power of a concert piano! It is the same as saying, Refuse to acknowledge a fact. I wrote that I did simply to protest against the topsy-turvying of facts by those who, having gotten a protest in their heads proceed to cry “no” in advance to every conservative proposition concerning social uses.

A question had been raised by Dr. Clymer as to a practical means of ameliorating the lives of fallen women. Kate Austin objected to the word and the treatment, as I have said. Now I believe, if a sick person is to be treated at all, the first thing is to recognize that he is sick. I am aware that there is a class of metaphysicians, including some very good, clever and interesting persons, who hold that Kate Austin’s method is the correct one; they would say, “The patient is not ill; it is merely an erroneous condition of mind; illness has no real existence; let us declare health instead of recognizing illness.” But I am positive that C. L. James would resent being put in their company, and a little more than inclined to believe that Kate Austin and Laura Earle would do the same. When it is once admitted that the patient is sick, the special symptoms and the causes must be sought, if the case is to be treated. That is another matter, and one with which it was not, and is not, my purpose to deal otherwise than by the slight allusion at the close. I mentioned the causes of prostitution in my article as evil material conditions and bad heredity, and I blame the double victim no more than I blame the sneak-thief or the rapist, who is, nevertheless, a very unwholesome and revolting character. I maintain that it is not necessary to confuse all distinctions between clean and unclean conduct in order to preserve one’s character as radical, nor to confound the recognition of such distinctions with the idea of blame.

But blame is not now the point. The point is, are women who drown themselves in the slime of every species of bestiality fallen or not? Let us see how my opponents deal with it. it is with a shade of regret that I, a woman writing in the journal which has ever put forth the highest claims for the equality of feminine powers, observe that the criticism of the woman, Laura Earle, is scarcely equal either in matter or in temper to that of the man, C. L. James; there is that in it which gives me the uneasy sensation I used to feel when our lamented friend Susan Patton arose “to speak in meeting,”—a something which the orthodox used to attribute to the woman suffragists as “shrieking,” but which is probably better qualified by Shakespeare as “over-earnestness.”

Miss Earle’s reply to the question “Are they fallen?” is, “Prostitution is a trade.” Sequential! “Is this water in the glass bad?”—“The furnishing of this water is a trade!”

“Will Miss de Cleyre class herself with society in—” certain condemnations? Well to paraphrase a witty saying of Frank Stephens, I go with society just as far as society goes with me; and if it shall happen that society condemns anything which my conscience doesn’t approve, I shall not be scared from my position by being told that society is not on my side.1 However, in the particular condemnation in question,—that of “all women who from whatever motive have illicit relations with man” well—it depends on the motive. If the motive is money, then I do; if the motive is mere lechery, then I do. The ideal of independent, clean, strong, womanhood is too dear to me to enjoy having it mixed up with money-getting or bestiality. Though mark, I believe every woman should have the freedom to be as mean and low as she likes; only I’m not going to be forced into commending or condoning her for it. (Please keep separate the idea of disapprobation of the action or the character, and blame of the individual for doing what he does or being what he is.)

But as to other motives—love, sympathy, fellowship, normal sex-life, without the unclean lips or hands of Church and State being called into witness—I have stood for these things too many years to think it necessary for me to answer the question. Miss Earle knows it.

And at this point I perceive that the criticisms of Earle and James overlap each other, so to speak. I have said that C. L. James is a sage; and no doubt all our readers have observed that his is likewise a modest man. It gives me pleasure to say it, for I have owed Comrade James a compliment these several years and shall be glad to be out of debt. He will recall that some time since he congratulated me in Lucifer on having become less dogmatic than formerly. I would have wished to say as much of him, but dared not; though I would not say “dogmatic” either, but rather “strong,” as one of his learning and literary ability has a right to be without losing his claim to genuine modesty. Yet (if he will pardon me) it may be that there are times when it is as well to forego the unlimited exercise of our rights.

Nevertheless, modest as he is, he is a man; and being a man, he could not forbear that confession which few men of proper parts could ever forbear to make,—modestly but with de realization—that he has a very wide acquaintance with “women of this kind.” I have often wondered at this singular manifestation of masculine pride which makes the most unassuming gentleman wish to present himself in this particular matter as “a bold, bad man.” For we are precluded from supposing, as we might have done, that Comrade James cultivated this extensive acquaintance as a severe study in degeneracy, etc., by the suggestive clause “if such knowledge is rarely acquired without some experiences which may excite regret, the remedy is to make a good use of it at last.” We, at least, have no cause to complain, who without moral contamination to ourselves get the purified results of Comrade James’ regrettable experience; and I think he should consider himself absolved.

The conclusion from the observations made during these considerable excursions into the realms of the demi-monde is, that the majority of prostitutes belong to the “Born Criminals” or to the “Criminaloids;” from which I infer that they are not fallen because they were never anywhere to fall from. This is emphasizing the case of “bad heredity.” Comrade James is of the opinion that some of them may be raised, provided the moral derrick is perpetually in action! Well, there may be some persons in the world (and for all I know Dr. Clymer may be one), who find their true sphere of activity in furnishing such continuous leverage to those who, left to themselves, naturally gravitate toward the bottom. It may be a very useful service; but so far as my observation of strong people furnishing moral force to weak ones goes, it is generally a miserable failure. The strong one wastes his life in a futile attempt to impart character to those who would feel a great deal more comfortable if left to their own fluttering devices. The “dwarfish moral ‘organs,’” upheld by external force, maintain a hesitant and halting struggle against “the enormous sensual and emotional” ones, and in the secrets of the little fluctuating brain there is dislike ripening into rankling hatred of that strong soul which plays the moral Czar over it. History records that the Empress Theodora, who had been a prostitute but who was nothing if not strong, built a home for her old companions and thither transported five hundred prostitutes. They were fed, housed, dressed, and attended, but no men were permitted in the place. The result was that the majority committed suicide, and the rest soon moped to death. No doubt these women hated Theodora well for her service.

And now Comrade James, apparently to establish that not all prostitutes are necessarily degraded, works on of his controversial miracles. I have often admired the way in which he, in dealing with any flightily inclined or ill-informed opponent, seizes him by the feet and nails him down with thousand pound facts, which stand there stiff and rigid and immovable as—well as “good facts should.” But when these facts are to be used to assist Mr. James’ side of the argument, lo! they become as agile as fairy-tales, as nimble as quicksilver, and they leap about and about, here, there, everywhere, to prove what a wizard can do with them. For instance, Mr. James has a theory that illegitimate children are more brilliant than those born in wedlock; and I remember catching my breath in reading an article of his on the subject some time back, in which Moses, Jesus, and Shelley, were lumped together in with a number of other notable and real characters who would likely have been shocked to read such information in print, as specimens of proof. Moses, of whom the very sympathetic historian Renan writes: “What are we to think of the man who has come to stand out as a colossus among the great mythical figures of humanity? …. Moses is completely buried by the legends which have grown up over him, and though he very probably existed, it is impossible to speak of him as we do of other deified or transformed men.” (Italics mine). Yet Comrade James, when it suits his purpose, uses this mythical personal and one of the most widely diffused birth legends which has attached itself to his name in common with so many others, as if he and it were indisputable facts.

And Jesus!

And now, mixed up with Aspasia, Agnes Sorel, et al., Magdalene! Around whom floats the legendary light reflected from 2000 years of Christian myth-making!

Even Fantine, one of the most unreal of all the unreal creations of the sublime romanticist, becomes a controversial weapon, pointed with a sarcasm which is assumed to fit! I am supposed to be very sympathetic with “Borioboola Gha—because it costs nothing,” and very flint-hearted towards the broken reeds of Philadelphia. It must e that the disposition which led Comrade James to dignify Luccheni as the reincarnation of the Monster Slayer while Czolgosz was labeled “a crank,” creates this distance theory of sympathy of his, which he, feeling, naturally attributes to others. Fantine is an idealism, an exaggeration, like all Hugo’s characters; she is good medicine for those who need to learn that prostitution has other causes than innate total depravity; she has a softening influence on the “unco guid” who have to be overdosed in order to feel at all; but she is a poor reply to a fact.

As to the really historic figures catalogued together with Magdalene, Aspasia, Phryne, Agnes Sorel, Lady Hamilton, and the multiple spelled “Afra, Aphra, Aphara, Ayfara” Behn,—does Comrade James, in company with Miss Earle, really insist on savoring the prostitute class by flinging them in too? Dr. Sanger says that Agnes Sorel lived with Charles VII eighteen years, that she was a kind, good woman, and otherwise of irreproachable character. It is a little difficult to imagine a good woman in love with a king, still it is not altogether impossible; and eighteen years is, from the king’s side, pretty good evidence that there was a higher feeling that kings usually experience towards their mistresses. I think it was a case of honest, unbought affection.

Lady Hamilton and Lord Nielson loved each other; the fact that they were lord and lady is, of course, somewhat against them; still lords and ladies do, occasionally, have some overwhelming attachments which make them cast conventions aside; the woman did not sell, the man did not buy; as far as I can learn it was a case of remarkably pure and beautiful love.

As to the sprightly “Afra,” she appears to have been one of those singular border-line characters who was somewhat of a prostitute some of the time, but who was most of the time a piece of strong independent womanhood, varietist by inclination, but not selling herself.

For Aspasia and Phryne, they belong to an organization of society so different from our own as to require judging by a different standard, a society in which the respectable woman was so hedged about restrictions that it was precisely women with acute intellects and strong characters who became hetaerae;—these were by no means prostitutes in the ordinary sense; rather were they the free women of Athens—at least the nearest approach to the type of free womanhood with the race had attain in that age.

And now, let us once for all “put things in the proper boxes.” Let us recognize that there is a difference between those who disregard law, convention, and religion, because they understand them, and live above them, and those who, while recognizing their authority weakly live below them. Let us distinguish too between those who, even while recognizing the law as in general justified, yet for peculiar reason which overweigh the balance, choose to set them aside in a particular instance, and those who habitually lapse from their own standards of right. Else we shall soon be shaking up the names of Heloise and George Eliot together with those of Mr. James’ considerable acquaintances. Had I been for using his argument I think that genuine prostitute, Lily Langtry, would have served my purpose better. But who wants her mixed with the gracious Heloise?

A little parallelism. Says Comrade James: “Miss de Cleyre’s idea that there is a point at which prostitution becomes incorrigible…. is a mistake just like the temperance lecturer’s dogma that a drunkard is merely a moderate drinker come to maturity.”

“Degeneracy, measured by its physical stigmata, does not keep pace with the assumed heinousness of the crime but with its inveteracy. It is more pronounced among pilferers, tramps, prostitutes, …. than among murders.” … It appears to me this latter paragraph is an admission that inveteracy has just the effect I claimed it had, namely to degenerate the victim below the possibility of moral reform, and that, notwithstanding an occasional John B. Gough, the temperance lecturer is right.

While Miss Earle and Mr. James are at one in the matter of confusing real prostitutes with convention-breakers, they are quite opposed in their method of considering them after all. Miss Earle recognizes the class and the “sacred taboo;” Mr. James will [have] none of the class, he will have the individual only.

Without adopting the suggestion that I enlarge my acquaintance with prostitutes, I think I may, upon the strength of present observations, “venture to predict” that on any occasion those who refuse to recognize the fallenness of the prostitute may have to put their theories in practise, they will find there is another person who has something to say, and she may say it in a way to necessitate a revision of their previous intentions. She has a very direct idea of the adaptation of means to ends herself, and makes all who come in contact with her feel its force. Treat them as other people? Certainly: as other people without whom you have no wish to pursue an acquaintance—unless you desire to have, like Comrade James, a number of regrettable experiences to acknowledge.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “Are they Fallen?,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 6 no. 29 (July 31, E. M. 302 (C. E. 1902): 224-226.


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Emma Goldman, “Walt Whitman” (incomplete manuscript)


Last summer I listened to the reading of a very fine paper on Walt Whitman, at the Public Library of the city.

I was struck by what seem[ed] to me a futile attempt on the part of some of the men who participated in the discussion to contrast Walt Whitman with some European poets. Not that Whitman was the greatest of all times or all nations. I even think some of his biographers have rendered the poet of Leaves of Grass scant services when they proclaimed him greater than Homer and Socrates.

The difference between Walt Whitman and the Europeans is the difference between youth and old age. Europe is old, firmly set in the groove of traditions, hemmed and hedged in by parchments, by learning derived in grey institutions, taught by grey decrepit gentlemen.

Walt Whitman is hewn from the rocks of gigantic mountains, of the depth of the Arizona canyons, the rush of the Niagara, the freshness of the open air. “Leaves of Grass” is a child of nature, carried sky-ward by its strong wings, giving forth out of its pure lungs the song of freedom, the song of the ecstasy of love, the delight of passion—the song of humanity which embraced all and understood all.

Unlike European poets with their roots in a decaying civilization, Walt Whitman was the singer of a new world—a culture in the making—America, a giant, savage, seeking expression. Whitman was therefore unlike other poets, a pioneer unique both in form of his art and in the ideas and feeling his poetry conveys.

One of the gentlemen at that lecture who, as I understand, is one of your Classicists, highly respectable and very much of the old order, repudiated Whitman as confused and vulgar and assured the audience that in England those who like Swinburne first gloried in Whitman, soon would have none of him because of his vulgarity.

Among other things, this critic of Whitman said “Fancy saying to the King of England: ‘Hello George’ and to the Prime Minister: ‘Hello Stanley.’“ Such familiarity is artificial, false, unreal.”

The old gentleman showed utter lack of grasp of the breadth of Walt Whitman’s outlook on life, his all-embracing kinship with his fellowman, his utter abhorrence of a civilization which separated the human race in kings and subjects, in rich and poor, in high and low.

Whitman saw in man not the artificial garment, not the trappings which alienates man from man and man from himself, but the name human soul stripped of all pretense, bombast, falsehoods and hypocrisy. It is this quivering, yearning, feeling, suffering human soul which to Walt Whitman represented at once the highest majesty and the humblest child of nature. Whitman’s familiarity was therefore as much part of his untrammeled being as the very air his lungs inhaled. There was no artifice about it. It was his boundless love for all living things which made Whitman so unconscious and nonchalant. It was the complete lack of understanding for Whitman as rebel and poet which decided me to speak on the subject.

Perhaps it is inevitable that so great a creative artist as Whitman should call forth violent attractions and repulsions. Certain it is that some of the friends of this poet as well as all of his enemies, have overdrawn their pictures. To call Walt Whitman a saint or to estimate him greater than Homer and Socrates seems as one-sided as to say that he is no poet at all—that he was the incarnation of the devil. To me the greatness and supremacy of Walt consists in the fact that he was human, all to human. It is the essentially human in him which makes his work “Leaves of Grass” the most human document in literature. For did he not himself tell us of “Leaves of Grass:” “He who touches this touches a man.” There is certainly no other work which touches man as this extraordinary book. It is indeed not a book but a living human being with all its contradictory impulses, emotions, thoughts and aspirations.

Mr. Louis Untermeyer, in his anthology of the best American poetry is right when he calls Whitman the “Poet emancipator” of America. He closed the door on the “Brahmins” and the “gentlemen of Boston.” The Civil War and Whitman together placed Longfellow, Bryant, Whittier, Lowell, Emerson and their like, farther back in time, as time is reckoned by the spirit of an age. “He led the way toward a wider aspect of democracy: he took his readers out of dusty, lamp-lit libraries into the coarse sunlight and the buoyant air……The cosmic and the commonplace were synonymous to him…. he transmuted, by the intensity of his emotion, material which has been hitherto regarded as too unpoetic for poetry.” He was the great figure of the age in which American literature suddenly become intensely American.

It seems almost incredible that at this late day there should still be people who have never heard of Walt Whitman. It is therefore necessary to give a very brief biographical outline of the man and his work.

Walt Whitman was born at Paumanok, Long Island, New York State, in May 1819. On both sides he came of substantial family. His father was descended from English settlers of the seventeenth century, sturdy independent farmers, who lived a hardy outdoor life; his mother had Dutch blood in her veins, though it was blended with a typical Quaker stock, with its noble traditions of simplicity, dignity, and spirituality. Whitman held firmly to the belief that he owed much to his ancestry, ‘to the tenacity and central bones structure’ as he calls it, ‘of his English forebears; and still more to those qualities which came to him from his mother’s side. “The best of every man” he said, “is his Mother”, and the influences of his early life were both vital and permanent.

“At the age of eleven he was errand boy to a lawyer, and two years later he had begun his long connection with journalism. Then in 1836, there was a brief phase of journalism in New York; but he soon returned to his native Long Island, where he spent four or five years as a teacher with at least one interval during which he ran a newspaper of his own. Reminiscences of him at this time speak of the force and charm of his personality as already conspicuous.”

Mr. John Baily, one of Whitman’s biographers, and by far not favorable to Walt, nevertheless admits that what made him the man and the poet he became was no following of any hero or master, but his own peculiar genius which enabled him to observe, absorb and even love all sorts and conditions of things and people, human, animal and vegetable, in that hurrying and already crowded life of New York and its neighborhood. And not merely to absorb. There was in his genius resistance as well as adaptability, and in spite of his universal interests and sympathies he remained an individualist, a heretic, a rebel: in a word, himself.

It was in January 1848 that he resigned his editorship of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and almost immediately he left the world and neighborhood in which he had been brought up, having accepted an engagement on a newspaper in New Orleans. He stayed at New Orleans only a few months, but during that time he appears to have had an experience which affected his whole life. As Walt Whitman has left not a scrap of paper to tell us anything about this affair, and as he went to his grave without having breathed a word even to his most devoted friend Horace Traubel, though he did on several occasions say he would tell him this great secret, no one can really say anything about this affair.

Mr. Bins, another of his biographers, will have it that Whitman “formed an intimate relationship with some woman of higher social rank than his own,” and that she became the mother of a child who was his, and perhaps of others later on. There was no marriage: and the extreme reticence of Whitman, the least reticent of men, on the whole subject suggests that it was in her interest, or at her desire, or owning to the pressure of her family, that there was no marriage, and that the whole story was kept so secret. Near the end of his life he wrote a letter to John Addington Symonds about it and mentioned a grandson with whom he was in frequent communication. He said in this letter that he had had six children; and Traubel notes that in his later years he made frequent allusions to his fatherhood. When his grandson came to visit him in this last illness Trouble regretted that he had not been there and met the young man: “God forbid,” said Whitman. Evidently there was some mystery which will probably never be penetrated now.”

This experience was however very decisive in Whitman’s life, for very soon after his return he began to write “Leaves of Grass.” In 1855 appeared the first edition which brough the poet nothing in material results. Instead it marked the beginning of many years of calumny, vile attack, and bitter opposition. Also it brought him something which was balm to his aching souls, a letter from Emerson. This is the letter.

Page 118

Concord, Mass.
July 21st, 1855.

Dear Sir:—I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of ‘Leaves of Grass.’ I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed. I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets the demand i am always making of what seems the sterile and stingy Nature, as if too much handiwork or too much lymph in the temperament were making our Western wits fat and mean. I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things, said incomparably well, as they must be. I find the courage of treatment which so delights us, and which large perception only can inspire.

I greet you at the beginning of a great career, which yet must have had a long foreground somewhere, for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, namely, of fortifying and encouraging.

I did not know, until I last night saw the book advertised in a newspaper, that I could trust the name as real and available for a post-office.

I wish to see my benefactor, and have felt much like striking my tasks, and visiting New York to pay you my respects.

R. W. Emerson

Whitman published this letter in the second edition of “Leaves of Grass” and was roundly denounced by man people for what they called a breach of privacy and taste. These wiseacres could not grasp that the encouraging greeting from Emerson must have been like manna to the famished should of the poet who found himself so alone and misunderstood in his first sublime attempt. Besides, Whitman was too natural to care about silly etiquette. He probably thought that Emerson, being a public man and writing about a public work, did not intend the letter to remain unknown. The fact is Emerson minded it less than the barking dogs who fell on Walt Whitman.

In 1860, when Walt lived in Boston to supervise the third enlarged edition of “Leaves of Grass,” he was a frequent visitor of Emerson. On one occasion Emerson spent two hours with Walt in a long walk, trusting to convince him of the need of eliminating his poems on sex. Walt listened attentively and in the end refused. Twenty-eight years later he said to Traubel: “I never regretted my decision.”

Then came an event which tried his spirit as well as his body, the Civil War in 1862. He went to the font not as a soldier but first in search for his brother George, who had been wounded. He remained as a nurse.

He was charged with cowardice because he did not enlist. As if it did not require greater courage to stand out against a popular war wave.

Walt said: “I had my temptations, but they were not strong enough to make me go. I could never think of myself as firing a gun or drawing a sword on another man.”

Walt did greater work than killing his fellows. He nursed them back to life and heath, or gave them love and cheer to the end.

The effect Walt Whitman had on the sick is vividly described by his valiant friend, O’Connor:

“Never shall I forget one night when I accompanied him on his rounds through a hospital, filled with those wounded young Americans whose heroism he has sung in deathless numbers. There were three rows of cots, and each cot bore its man. When he appeared, in passing along, there was a smile of affection and welcome on every face, however wan, and his presence seemed to light up the place as it might be lit by the presence of the Son of Love. From cot to cot they called him, often in tremulous tones or in whispers; they embraced him, they touched his hand, they gazed at him. To one he gave a few words of cheer, for another he wrote a letter home, to others he gave an orange, a few comfits, a cigar, a pipe and tobacco, a sheet of paper or a postage stamp, all of which and many other things were in his capacious haversack.—From another he would receive a dying message for mother, wife, or sweetheart; for another he would promise to go an errand; to another, some special friend, very low, he would give a manly farewell kiss. He did the things for them which no nurse or doctor could do, and he seemed to leave a benediction at every cot as he passed along. The lights [8] had gleamed for hours in the hospital that night before he left it, and as he took his way towards the door, you could hear the voice of many a stricken hero calling, “Walt, Walt, Walt, come again! come again!”

Whitman spent ten years in Washington. He went there early in 1863. In January 1873 he had a paralytic stroke which, with his mother’s death occurring soon after, brought his life and work at Washington to an end, and sent him to spend elsewhere his remaining nineteen years, a broken man who only enjoyed intervals of heath, a martyr also in his turn to the cause for which he had seen so man young men die. But, dearly as he paid for them, he would never for a moment have said that those years at Washington had not been a thousand times worth while.

While in Washington he was first given a clerkship in the Indian Bureau of the Deparment of the Interior. But not for long. Somebody called the attention of his official chief, the Secretary of the Interior, one Harlan, to the fact that Whitman was the author of “Leaves of Grass.” Mr. Harlan was a strict Methodist; and the result of a perusal of a copy of that work which Whitman had in his desk and was using in the preparation of a new edition was a note that “the service of Walter Whitman will be dispensed with from and after this date.” The dismissal did him no particular harm, as O’Connor persuaded the Attorney-General to transfer him to his own department. It led O’Connor to write The Good Gray Poet, an impassioned defense of Whitman.

Unlike most other interpreters of Whitman, O’Connor took “Leaves of Grass,” as Walt told Traubel many years later, “not as an isolated fact but as a fact related to all other facts; he looked upon it as a new dispensation, an avatar, an incarnation.” Leaves of Grass “was not a literarybut a historic, a human, fact.” O’Connor took the largest view. “Shakespeare was to him an era—only to be studied in that light.” “The meanings of Leaves of Grass could only be read in the meanings of its age.”

In 1871 Walt brought out a fifth edition of “Leaves of Grass” containing his new poems, among them his stirring poem of Lincoln.

After his mother’s death Walt lived with his brother George in Camden for a while. The stroke kept him confined for a considerable time, but his spirit soared on. “Prayer to Columbus,” “The Song of the Redwood Tree,” and “The Song of the Universal” were created during that period.

In 1876 “Leaves of Grass” was published in England by his devoted friends, Rosetti and others. Long before this, his poems gained for himself the passionate championship and devotion of an outstanding woman in England, Anne Gilchrist.

In the same year appeared “Two Rivulets,” which included “Passage to India” and some new pieces both of prose and verse, and a later edition was assailed by the Boston District Attorney soon after it appeared, and therefore abandoned by the publishers.

In 1882 he issued the final edition of the Leaves, now separated from the prose; at the same time he published the prose volume, Specimen Days. In 1886 he had another paralytic attack, and lay for some days apparently dying. But he once more partially recovered, and before the year was out was able to enjoy the publication of November Boughs, which again included both prose and verse. This was the last volume but one, the last of all being Good-byte, My Fancy, which appeared late in 1891, a few months before his death. All the poems are not incorporated in Leaves of Grass. Whitman died March 27th, 1892.

“In 1880 he paid a visit to Canada as the guest of his friend and biographer Dr. Bucke. There he showed all his old eager interest both in nature and in men, and he was equally full of that intensity of life which is the hall-mark of genius, whether he was listening to birds, learning the names of […]

[pages 10-11 are missing]

[…] drive us into an inevitable resentment, then revolt, of some sort. The prospect of it all would make me shudder if I didn’t know that something must happen—that we can’t push on much farther in this direction.”

“I want the people: most of all the people: the crowd, the mass, the whole body of the people: men, women, and children: I want them to have what belongs to them: not a part of it, not most of it, but all of it: I want anything done that will give the people their proper opportunities—their full life: anything, anything: whether by one means or another, I want the people to be given their due.”

“My general position is plain: the people: all the people: not forgetting the bad with the good: they are to-day swindled, robbed, outraged, discredited, despised: I say they must assert their priority—that they come first: not the swells, the parlors, the superiors, the elect, the polished: no, not them: the people, the fraternal eternal people: evil and righteous, no matter: the people.”

“I want the arrogant money powers disciplined, called to time: I think I shall rejoice in anything the people do to demonstrate their contempt for the conditions under which they are despoiled.”

Walt said: “We need most of all to be saved from ourselves: our own hells, hates, jealousies, thieveries: we need most to be saved from our own priests—the priests of the churches, the priests of the arts: we need that salvation the worst way.” Traubel replied: We still have the priests of commerce to contend with.” “So we have: doubly so: the priests of commerce augmented by the priests of churches, who are everywhere the parasites, the apologists, of systems as they exist.”

And in his prose works Walt Whitman summarizes the condition of his time in these words:

“The best class we show, is but a mob of fashionably dressed speculators and vulgarians. True, indeed, behind this fantastic farce, enacted on the visible stage of society, solid things and stupendous labors are to be discovered, existing crudely and going on in the background, to advance and tell themselves in time. Yet the truths are none the less terrible. I say that our New World democracy, however great a success in uplifting the masses out of their sloughs, in materialistic development, products, and in a certain highly deceptive superficial popular intellectuality, is, so far, an almost complete failure in its social aspects, and in really grand religious, moral, literary, and aesthetic results.”

Walt Whitman’s penetrating eye saw fifty years ago what the mass of his countrymen still do not see. Certainly his poem song of democracy is more than ever a dream in America and in the rest of the world democracy is a delusion and a snare, cast out on the dust-heap. In its stead dictatorship, black and red-shirted, stalks about as the new deity worshipped by the “mob of respectably dress’d speculators and vulgarians.”

Yet it is none the less true that Walt Whitman was among the few of his time to see clearly and to cry out against the evils with all the intensity of his poetic soul. He was indeed the Prophet.

The political and economic conditions facing Walt Whitman were not the only evils against which he thundered. There was Puritanism, polluting the very main-springs of life—sex. Not that we are already free from the purists scourge. But seventy-five years ago when Walt Whitman’s song of sex was given to the world Puritanism reigned supreme, besmirching, degrading and outraging all that makes for health and beauty and naturalness. Walt’s was a voice in dense wilderness, the first to cry out for the liberation of sex; the first to tear off the Puritanic rags which disfigured the bodies of men and women. Especially woman, who even more than man, was bound to the block of Puritanism. No song of sex was ever written that can compare with the purity, wholesomeness, elemental sweep as the song contained in “The Children of Adam.” If Walt Whitman had written nothing else but “A Woman Waits for Me,” or “One Hour to Madness and Joy,” he would have gained for himself a niche among the immortals, not only as poet but as the great liberator of the human body—the fearless innovator of what has come to be recognized by all modern scientisits as the very basis of all life—the most impelling force of our thoughts and actions.


A woman waits for me, she contains all, nothing is lacking,

Yet all were lacking if sex were lacking, or if the moisture of the right man were lacking.

Sex contains all, bodies, souls,

Meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations,

Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk,

All hopes, benefactions, bestowals, all the passions, loves, beauties, delights of the earth,

All the governments, judges, gods, follow’d persons of the earth,

These are contain’d in sex as parts of itself and justifications of itself.

Without shame the man I like knows and avows the deliciousness of his sex,

Without shame the woman I like knows and avows hers.

And in his prose, Walt writes:

“I look at the girls—at the childless women—at the old maids, as you speak of them: they lack something: they are not completed: something yet remains undone. They are not quite full—not quite entire: the woman who has denied the best of herself—the woman who has discredited the animal want, the eager physical hunger, the wish of that which though we will not [15] allow it to be freely spoken of is still the basis of all that makes life worth while and advances the horizon of discovery. Sex: sex: sex: whether you sing or make a machine, or go to the North Pole, or love your mother, or build a house, or black shoes, or anything—anything at all—it’s sex, sex, sex: sex is the root of it all: sex—the coming together of men and women; sex; sex.”

Now there is not a Biologist, and sex psychologist who does not take the view of the man who seventy-five years ago, was hounded from pillar to post. What he was made to suffer we have from his own mouth and recorded by Horace Traubel in his talks with Whitman in Camden.

“It is the thing in my work which has been most misunderstood — that has excited the roundest opposition, the sharpest venom, the unintermitted slander, of the people who regard themselves as the custodians of the morals of the world. Horace, you are too young to know the fierceness, the bitterness, the vile quality, of this antagonism — how it threw aside all reserves and simply tore me to pieces metaphorically without giving me half a chance to make my meanings clear. You have only heard the echoes of that uproar: it’s bad enough, still, to be sure — bad enough even in its echoes: but we have to some extent worn the enemy out — have in some part won our contention.”

Perhaps this mad onslaught on Walt Whitman may explain his reticence as regards the nature of his Calamus poems. That they are homo-sexual only prejudice will deny. Fact is that nearly all biographers of Whitman have either ignored the nature of these poems or have apologized for them. Prof. Hallaway does so in a very recent work. This merely goes to prove how slowly people develop from their inhibitions.

Walt Whitman believed in the equality of the sexes—he wanted woman to be as free and equal as the man. He saw woman take her place in literature, art , political and social life to “show what are her inner potencies, powers, attributes.” He is supposed to have had a violent love affair in New Orleans, and according to his own admission to Addington Synmond, he was the father of six children. Finally he has been reported by Dr. Bucke as saying that he never married because he wanted to retain his independence. All that no doubt, is true, but does not disprove the fact that Walt Whitman was strongly intermediate in his sexual feelings. Proof for that are his poems and even more so his letters to Peter Doyle, the car conductor, he met when the latter was a boy of eighteen—a friendship which lasted for years and which was imbued with much fervor and passion.

No letters written to women, not even to Anne Gilchrist, his English admirer, contain anything like the ardor Whitman’s letters to Doyle contain.

Fact is, Whitman wrote very few letters to women or if he did, he has destroyed them for very few could be found.

Anne Gilchrist, from the first time she read “Leaves of Grass” became Whitman’s most fiery defender and champion. Gradually her admiration for the poet ripened into an elemental, passionate love as often happens in the dangerous age of women. Anne Gilchrist poured her very soul into her let’s to Walt. But they elicited no response. He admired her, considered her one of the finest women of her age, was deeply grateful to her for her championship. When Mrs. Gilchrist came to America, settled in Philadelphia, Walt Whitman spent much time with her and her children in a delightful companionship. But his love was not for her, nor for any woman. His love was for Peter Doyle and other men who had been in his life. All Whitman’s companions, from earliest boyhood to his death, were men—even his nurses were man, although he often said that women, and not men, make the best nurses.

Why enlightened people should still find it necessary to deny and cover up a dominant trai[t] which was part of the greatest art period of the world, namely, Greek civilization, or which was inherent in such immortal souls as Plato, Socrates, Sappho, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, if his sonnets are indication, or Wagner, Oscar Wilde, Addington Symond, Edward Carpenter, I cannot understand. Sex variation is still very much of a mystery. All we know about it is that in certain periods of life—the adolescent stage—nearly everything is intermediate. The love of girls for girls, or girls for their favorite woman-teachers, and that of boys for boys and their favorite male teacher, are a common occurrence.

To be sure in some cases this trait remains all through life. But while the intermediate sex stream like all sex is of physical origin, it does not always express itself physically. It may turn into a very ardent friendship, often more lasting and endure in than the love for woman.

I am not concerned in that so much as I am concerned in the cause of the universal, all-embracing capacity for love in the man and poet, Walt Whitman. The more I read his works and the more I have studied what has been written about him, the clearer it is to me that it was his sex differentiation which enriched his nature, hence enriched his knowledge of and his understanding for human complexities. Walt Whitman’s idea of universal comradeship was conditioned in his magnetic response to his own sex. So was his extraordinary sensitiveness to the nature of woman conditioned in the fact that he had considerable femininity in him. All combined went to make up his greatness as poet and rebel and needs no apology or defense.

How truly universal was Whitman’s love can be adduced from his beautiful attitude to the outcast—the criminal, the prostitute—to every derelict made by man’s inhumanity to man.

He sang:


You felons on trial in courts,

You convicts in prison-cells, you sentenced assassins chain’d and handcuff’d with iron,

Who am I too that I am not on trial or in prison?

Me ruthless and devilish as any, that my wrists are not chain’d with iron, or my ankles with iron?

You prostitutes flaunting over the trottoirs or obscene in your rooms,

Who am I that I should call you more obscene than myself?

O culpable! I acknowledge—I expose!

(O admirers, praise not me—compliment not me—you make me wince,

I see what you do not—I know what you do not.)

Inside these breast-bones I lie smutch’d and choked,

Beneath this face that appears so impassive hell’s tides continually run,

Lusts and wickedness are acceptable to me,

I walk with delinquents with passionate love,

I feel I am of them – I belong to those convicts and prostitutes myself,

And henceforth I will not deny them—for how can I deny myself?


Be composed—be at ease with me—I am Walt Whitman, liberal and lusty as Nature,

Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you,

Not till the waters refuse to glisten for you and the leaves to rustle for you, do my words refuse to glisten and rustle for you.


By the city dead-house by the gate,

As idly sauntering wending my way from the clangor,

I curious pause, for lo, an outcast form, a poor dead prostitute brought,

Her corpse they deposit unclaim’d, it lies on the damp brick pavement,

The divine woman, her body, I see the body, I look on it alone,

That house once full of passion and beauty, all else I notice not,

Nor stillness so cold, nor running water from faucet, nor odors morbific impress me,

But the house alone-that wondrous house—that delicate fair house—that ruin!

That immortal house more than all the rows of dwellings ever built!

Or white-domed capitol with majestic figure surmounted, or all the old high-spired cathedrals,

That little house alone more than them all-poor, desperate house!

Fair, fearful wreck – tenement of a soul – itself a soul,

Unclaim’d, avoided house-take one breath from my tremulous lips,

Take one tear dropt aside as I go for thought of you,

Dead house of love-house of madness and sin, crumbled, crush’d,

House of life, erewhile talking and laughing-but ah, poor house, dead even then,

Months, years, an echoing, garnish’d house—but dead, dead, dead.

Where are the Christians, Puritans, humanitarians, who can equal this in humanity, kinship, understanding? There are none, none. Today man is more blood-thirsty and venomous than at any time. More lashes, more prisons, more punishment, torture, outrage is the daily cry in press, pulpit and the platform.

Democracy as conceived and sung by Walt Whitman, is still far from come. Whatever some of her admirers have once thought of democracy, they have recanted, sacrificed to the rule of dictatorship. Mr. George Bernard Shaw and many others have now become the pall-bearers of democracy, slain by the Tcheka and Fascism.

What Walt Whitman wrote to a European Revolutionair[e], holds good for the revolutionair[e] of the whole world today.

The battle rages with many a loud alarm and frequent advance and retreat,

The infidel triumphs, or supposes he triumphs,

The prison, scaffold, garrote, handcuffs, iron necklace and leadballs do their work,

The named and unnamed heroes pass to other spheres,

The great speakers and writers are exiled, they lie sick in distant lands,

The cause is asleep, the strongest throats are choked with their own blood,

The young men droop their eyelashes toward the ground when they meet;

But for all this Liberty has not gone out of the place, nor the infidel enter’d into full possession.

When liberty goes out of a place it is not the first to go, nor the second or third to go,

It waits for all the rest to go, it is the last.

When there are no more memories of heroes and martyrs,

And when all life and all the souls of men and women are discharged from any part of the earth,

Then only shall liberty or the idea of liberty be discharged from that part of the earth,

We need Walt Whitman now more than ever. We need his indomitable courage, his beautiful comradeship, his stirring song, that we may not falter in our efforts to build the new life out of the ruins of the old, for the new city stands

Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,

Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place,

Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,

Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,

Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons,

Where fierce men and women pour forth as the sea to the whistle of death pours its sweeping and unript waves,

Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside authority,

Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President, Mayor, Governor and what not, are agents for pay,

Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,

Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,

Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,

Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,

Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men;

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L. M. S., “A Word on Martyrs’ Mistakes,” (1888)


A Woman’s Comment on a Man’s Sentimentality and Long-Range Sympathy.

There should be no more of mere sentiment and gush concerning the martyrdom of our comrades from writers and speakers who claim to be fighting for freedom and justice. Either they believe in their innocence and the injustice of their sentences or they do not, and beautiful laudations and flowery eulogies do not set well with paltry excuses for their “mistakes” or vague suggestions that justice would have been better attained if their punishment had been a little less severe. What advantage to our cause comes from such conglomeration? A Talmage or Field could say as much. A Gary or a Grinnell could say they were brave men, they were intelligent men, they were men who seem devoted to an idea they thought a true one, and that their deaths were heroic, and yet not injure their positions in the least. Indeed, Gary paid them a compliment something like this.

Is a professed agitator assisting the cause by blossoming out in beautiful literary roses with a sharp thorn peeping from beneath every one? If he merely wishes to grace the English language let him choose another subject and leave our martyrs to those who believe in them.

“Our boys” were indicted and tried for murder. Because they held certain opinions dangerous to the existence of the privileged classes a perjured judiciary, against all evidence, sentenced and executed them for a murder of which the most malicious among them knows they were not guilty. Either one believes this is a monstrous injustice and a blow at free thought and free speech or he does not. If he does our martyrs “mistakes” have nothing to do with the question and should not be dragged in with their praises. It at least is not supposed that the “mistakes” palliated the terrible wrong or excused the class that took their lives. If one does not so believe let him abuse or keep a shamed silence, as do the powers that be since their mighty deed was done, and at least be consistent.

They made no “mistakes” in their public efforts for humanity; the very things which are deemed “mistakes” are what they clung to with all the glorious intelligence and determination of their grand natures to the last. They sealed those “mistakes” with their lives. They never retracted, or repented, or faltered in their convictions, and if one step in their course while toiling for liberty was a mistake, then that noble meeting of death, which the enthusiasm of their belief but intensified, was also a grand “mistake.”

And who is to judge how much of the truths of liberty they understood? “By their fruits shall ye know them.” When there can be shown a “wiser understanding” that has accomplished the work, that has spread the light, shaken society to its very center, and consecrated that work with a martyr’s death, as have these our beloved brothers, we will meekly bow our heads to that superior “understanding.” But not until then.

L. M. S.

L. M. S., “A Word on Martyrs’ Mistakes,” The Alarm, second series, 1 no. 8 (February 11, 1888): 3.

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L. M. S., “A Story of a Giant” (1887)


A Parable Not Laid Down in the Gospels, but Which Will Bear Careful Reflection.

Is a Straight-Jacket the Best Remedy for the Contortions and Writhings of the Blind Samson of Modern Industry?

Once upon a tine there lived a great, strong, patient giant who faithfully served some young princes of the realm.

The princes ordered him about, sent him out on all sorts of perilous errands, rode upon his shoulders, and loaded him with burdens to carry, as though he were a pack-horse. They knew he was so strong that he could have annihilated them with his thumb and forefinger, but they laughed at the idea, for he had so long obeyed their every word; he had been so patient, so stupid and uncomplaining, and he believed implicitly in the divine right of the young princes to rule him, they scouted the suggestion that his strength might some day prove dangerous to them. So that they fed him three times a day a huge solid meal and give him a rude place to sleep in at night he seemed content.

But as the princes grew older and more conscious of their power they grew more insolent and exacting. They began to torment and tease the poor old giant, to keep back part of his food, and to beat and whip him with their sticks.

Sometimes he growled and looked menacingly out of this great, sleepy-looking eyes. Then they reminded him of his duty to them, his masters, and threatened him with vague and unknown torments if he dared resist them, and so quieted him again. But their own cruelties multiplied day by day. The life of the great, patient giant became a burden to him, but still he plodded on, for he was proud of being called a good, obedient and orderly giant, and would not forfeit the name even to resent his own wrongs. And still they starved and beat and loaded him with burdens, and taunted him with his inability to feel himself better. When he sat down to his meager meal, looking hungry and disconsolate, they asked him why he hadn’t saved enough out of his last meager meal to make this one sufficient, and sometimes the stupid giant sighed and thought he had been dreadfully extravagant somehow.

Just outside his miserable shed were great storehouses of food which he had garnered and preserved, and which he could have obtained with one turn of his brawny hand. But the young princes had forbidden it, and he thought he must respect their commands.

But one day he became exasperated, and before a roomful of courtiers and subjects he told the princes they were wronging him, and that it might be dangerous to continue their course. He demanded the right to be decently provided for in return for his services, and if not complied with something terrible might happen to them.

The princes were so angry and astonished at the giant’s audacity that they ordered his tongue cut out, so that he might never say such words again. Wiser men expostulated with the princes, telling them there was danger in going too far, and that it was best to gag him for the rest of his natural life. It was of no use—the princes were determined.

Even to this the great giant submitted without hurting his tormenters, believing that his rights would be recognized some times, if he were only patient and orderly.

Then the princes said: “There! Didn’t I tell you so? We knew we could carry out our will without any trouble or disturbance. See how powerful and great we are? The giant dares not resist us—he is but a coward after all.”

And so the lot of the poor dumb giant was harder than ever. He could not cry out, and the followers of the princes believed he was cowardly, and so heaped upon him any wrong they saw fit. Some few pitied him, but consoled themselves with the idea that the giant must have deserved it or he would not have received such treatment; of course, the princes could not be wrong.

And what was the end?

At last the giant grew insane over his terrible treatment, and was no longer responsible for his acts. He rushed into the princes’ palace one day like a wild beast, and with one sweep of his great arms crushed the life out of the princes, courtiers, and followers; with another the walls of the palace were demolished and laid in a heap of ruins, with the blood of he tyrannical princes oozing up through it.

The fields of grain were destroyed and the storehouses thrown into the sea with another wild rush of the raving giant. Everything fell before him, and when there was no longer a living thing to destroy he tore a huge mountain up by its roots from the bowels of the earth and hurled it over his head, and so died.

And the whole country became a black, desolate, and lifeless desert.

L. M. S.

L. M. S., “A Story of a Giant,” The Alarm, second series, 1 no. 3 (December 3, 1887): 1.

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Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Sorrows of the Body”

I have never wanted anything more than the wild creatures have,—a broad waft of clean air, a day to lie on the grass at times, with nothing to do but slip the blades through my fingers, and look as long as I pleased at the whole blue arch, and the screens of green and white between; leave for a month to float and float along the salt crests and among the foam, or roll with my naked skin over a clean long stretch of sunshiny sand; food that I liked, straight from the cool ground, and time to taste its sweetness, and time to rest after tasting; sleep when it came, and stillness, that the sleep might leave me when it would, not sooner—Air, room, light rest, nakedness when I would not be clothed, and when I would be clothed, garments that did not fetter; freedom to touch my mother earth, to be with her in storm and shine, as the wild things are,—this is what I wanted,—this, and free contact with my fellows;—not to love, and lie and be ashamed, but to love and say I love, and be glad of it; to feel the currents of ten thousand years of passion flooding me, body to body, as the wild things meet. I have asked no more.

But I have not received. Over me there sits that pitiless tyrant, the Soul; and I am nothing. It has driven me to the city, where the air is fever and fire, and said, “Breathe this;—I would learn; I cannot learn in the empty fields; temples are here,—stay.” And when my poor, stifled lungs have panted till it seemed my chest must burst, the Soul has said, “I will allow you, then, an hour or two; we will ride, and I will take my book and read meanwhile.”

And when my eyes have cried out with tears of pain for the brief vision of freedom drifting by, only for leave to look at the great green and blue an hour, after the long, dull-red horror of walls, the Soul has said, “I cannot waste the time altogether; I must know! Read.” And when my ears have plead for the singing of the crickets and the music of the night, the Soul has answered, “No: gongs and whistles and shrieks are unpleasant if you listen; but school yourself to hearken to the spiritual voice, and it will not matter.”

When I have beat against my narrow confines of brick and mortar, brick and mortar, the Soul has said, “Miserable slave! Why are you not as I, who in one moment fly to the utterest universe? It matters not where you are, I am free.”

When I would have slept, so that the lids fell heavily and I could not lift them, the Soul has struck me with a lash, crying, “Awake! Drink some stimulant for those shrinking nerves of yours! There is no time to sleep till the work is done.” And the cursed poison worked upon me, till its will was done.

When I would have dallied over my food, the Soul has ordered, “Hurry, hurry! Do I have time to waste on this disgusting scene? Fill yourself and be gone!”

When I have envied the very dog, rubbing its bare back along the ground in the sunlight, the Soul has exclaimed, “Would you degrade me so far as to put yourself on a level with beasts?” And my bands were drawn tighter.

When I have looked upon my kind, and longed to embrace them, hungered wildly for the press of arms and lips, the Soul has commanded sternly, “Cease, vile creature of fleshly lusts! Eternal reproach! Will you forever shame me with your beastliness?”

And I have always yielded: mute, joyless, fettered, I have trod the world of the Soul’s choosing, and served and been unrewarded. Now I am broken before my time; bloodless, sleepless, breathless,—half-blind, racked at every joint, trembling with every leaf. “Perhaps I have been too hard,” said the Soul; “you shall have a rest.” The boon has come too late. The roses are beneath my feet now, but the perfume does not reach me; the willows trail across my cheek and the great arch is overhead, but my eyes are too weary to lift to it; the wind is upon my face, but I cannot bare my throat to its caress; vaguely I hear the singing of the Night through the long watches when sleep does not come, but the answering vibration thrills no more. Hands touch mine—I longed for them so once—but I am as a corpse. I remember that I wanted all these things, but now the power to want is crushed from me, and only the memory of my denial throbs on, with its never-dying pain. And still I think, if I were left alone long enough—but already I hear the Tyrant up there plotting to slay me.—“Yes,” it keeps saying, “it is about time! I will not be chained to a rotting carcass. If my days are to pass in perpetual idleness I may as well be annihilated. I will make the wretch do me one more service.—You have clamored to be naked in the water. Go now, and lie in it forever.”

Yes: that is what it is saying, and I—the sea stretches down there——

Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Sorrows of the Body,” Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre (Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1914): 451-453.

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Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Reward of an Apostate” (1908)

I have sinned: and I am rewarded according to my sin, which was great. There is no forgiveness for me; let no man think there is forgiveness for sin: the gods cannot forgive.

This was my sin, and this is my punishment, that I forsook my god to follow a stranger—only a while, a very brief, brief while—and when I would have returned there was no more returning. I cannot worship any more,—that is my punishment; I cannot worship any more.

Oh, that my god will none of me? That is an old sorrow! My god was Beauty, and I am all unbeautiful, and ever was. There is no grace in these harsh limbs of mine, nor was at any time. I, to whom the glory of a lit eye was as the shining of stars in a deep well, have only dull and faded eyes, and always had; the chiseled lip and chin whereover runs the radiance of life in bubbling gleams, the cup of living wine was never mine to taste or kiss. I am earth-colored, and for my own ugliness sit in the shadow, that the sunlight may not see me, nor the beloved of my god. But, once, in my hidden corner, behind the curtain of shadows, I blinked at the glory of the world, and had such joy of it as only the ugly know, sitting silent and worshiping, forgetting themselves and forgotten. Here in my brain it glowed, the shimmering of the dying sun upon the shore, the long gold line between the sand and sea, where the sliding foam caught fire and burned to death. Here in my brain it shone, the white moon on the wrinkling river, running away, a dancing ghost line in the illimitable night. Here in my brain rose the mountain curves, the great still world of stone, summit upon summit sweeping skyward, lonely and conquering. Here in my brain, my little brain, behind this tiny ugly wall of bone stretched over with its dirty yellow skin, glittered the far high blue desert with its sand of stars, as I have watched it, nights and nights, alone, hid in the shadows of the prairie grass. Here rolled and swelled the seas of corn, and blossoming fields of nodding bloom; and flower-flies on their hovering wings went flickering up and down. And the quick spring of lithe-limbed things went scattering dew across the sun; and singing streams went shining down the rocks, spreading bright veils upon the crags.

Here in my brain, my silent unrevealing brain, were the eyes I loved, the lips I dared not kiss, the sculptured heads and tendriled hair. They were here always in my wonder-house, my house of Beauty, the temple of my god. I shut the door on common life and worshiped here. And no bright, living, flying thing, in whose body Beauty dwells as guest, can guess the ecstatic joy of a brown, silent creature, a toad-thing, squatting on the shadowed ground, self-blotted, motionless, thrilling with the presence of All-Beauty, though it has no part therein.

But the gods are many. And once a strange god came to me. Sharp upon the shadowy ground he stood, and beckoned me with knotted fingers. There was no beauty in his lean figure and sunken cheeks; but up and down the muscles ran like snakes beneath his skin, and his dark eyes had somber fires in them. And as I looked at him, I felt the leap of prisoned forces in myself, in the earth, in the air, in the sun; all throbbed with the pulse of the wild god’s heart. Beauty vanished from my wonder-house; and where his images had been I heard the clang and roar of machinery, the forging of links that stretched to the sun, chains for the tides, chains for the winds; and curious lights went shining through thick walls as through air, and down through the shell of the world itself, to the great furnaces within. Into those seething depths, the god’s eyes peered, smiling and triumphing; then with an up-glance at the sky and a waste-glance at me, he strode off.

This is my great sin, for which there is no pardon: I followed him, the rude god Energy; followed him, and in that abandoned moment swore to be quit of Beauty, which had given me nothing, and to be worshiper of him to whom I was akin, ugly but sinuous, resolute, daring, defiant, maker and breaker of things, remoulder of the world. I followed him, I would have run abreast with him; I loved him, not with that still ecstasy of flooding joy wherewith my own god filled me of old, but with impetuous, eager fires, that burned and beat through all the blood-threads of me. “I love you, love me back,” I cried, and would have flung myself upon his neck. Then he turned on me with a ruthless blow, and fled away over the world, leaving me crippled, stricken, powerless, a fierce pain driving through my veins—gusts of pain!—And I crept back into my old cavern, stumbling, blind and deaf, only for the haunting vision of my shame and the rushing sound of fevered blood.

The pain is gone. I see again; I care no more for the taunt and blow of that fierce god who was never mine. But in my wonder-house it is all still and bare; no image lingers on the blank mirrors any more. No singing bell floats in the echoless dome. Forms rise and pass; but neither mountain curve nor sand nor sea, nor shivering river, nor the faces of the flowers, nor flowering faces of my god’s beloved, touch aught within me now. Not one poor thrill of vague delight for me, who felt the glory of the stars within my finger tips. It slips past me like water. Brown without and clay within! No wonder now behind the ugly wall; an empty temple! I cannot worship, I cannot love, I cannot care. All my life-service is unweighed against that faithless hour of my forswearing.

It is just; it is the Law; I am forsworn, and the gods have given me the Reward of An Apostate.

[Voltairine de Cleyre], “The Reward of an Apostate,” Mother Earth 2 no 11 (January, 1908): 522-524. [published anonymously]

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