Ambiguous Anarchist – Unambiguous Opponent of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement
Contributed by Lawrence Glynn, Professor Emeritus, Delta College, University Center, Michigan
Who was this mysterious woman whose enigmatic beliefs and behaviors were a puzzle to friends and foes alike? Lucy Parsons (1886-1937) began her speeches: “I Am an Anarchist!” Yet, she never hurled a bomb or threatened harm to any of her self-selected enemies.
Lucia Taliaferro was born enslaved in Virginia in 1851. In 1872 she became Lucy Parsons when she married a former Confederate soldier, Albert Parsons, in Texas. Albert helped to implement Reconstruction [1866- 1872] in Texas. When Texas Democrats regained power and passed an anti-miscegenation law in 1873, Albert and Lucy moved to Chicago. They had two children by 1881.
Albert, as a Socialist Party candidate, personally attempted to run for local and state offices three times and failed each time. In 1881, as a couple, they abandoned “ballot-box politics” and became active anarchists. After six years of anarchistic agitation, Albert and three other anarchists were executed on November 11, 1887 as part of the Haymarket affair. Lucy considered their fate judicial murder. History has validated her claim that the Haymarket Square trial was unjust. Thereafter, Lucy’s career as an avenging angel of their martyrdom began.
Lucy Parsons had a limited formal education, but was a lifelong learner. She achieved recognition as an entrepreneur, women’s union organizer, writer, editor, publisher, orator and agitator for revolution. Parsons tried a variety of anarchisms – socialist, Marxist and syndicalist. After 50 years of mutations in her agitation for change, she gave up on anarchism as a means to achieve her mission.
Parsons criticized the woman’s suffrage movement and mocked suffragists as “dupes.” She was no friend of the legendary champions of woman’s suffrage. However, Parsons did not become a supporter of the “antis” in the National Association of Women Opposed to Woman’s Suffrage or the auxiliary, the Men’s Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. Her cooperation with the suffragist, Jane Addams, confounded many of her fellow anarchists. Parsons admired Addams’ commitments to women, children and immigrants at Hull House. Parsons and Addams were in sync on anti-imperialism. Both women fought for equal legal rights and economic opportunities for women. Addams’ staunch public defense of the constitutional rights of free speech, press and assembly for all Americans included anarchists. Addams believed that democracy and social ethics were symbiotic. Parsons was not convinced. She continued to subvert the woman’s suffrage movement and criticize capitalists.
Parsons was no fan of electoral politics and considered the “sacred franchise” that most Americans revered, to be foolish and futile. She was merciless in condemning union leaders who made alliances with political parties. Parsons said this about the political methods of capitalists in “The Humbug Ballot” (September 10, 1905): “The fact is money and not votes is what rules the people. And the capitalists no longer care to buy the voters, they simply buy the ‘servants’ after they had been elected to ‘serve’. The idea that the poor man’s vote amounts to anything is the veriest delusion. The ballot is only the paper veil that hides the tricks.” Parsons had a coterie of acolytes who recited her speeches against capitalists and church and state leaders. They echoed her grievances on the venality of politics and the false faith of voters in the ballot.
After her funeral on March 13, 1942, Parsons’ reputation began to fade. She was almost forgotten except by her most devoted admirers. However, by the 1970s, Parsons’ reputation began to be re-contextualized. In 1976, Carolyn Ashbaugh’s book, Lucy Parsons, American Revolutionary and Marjorie Woodruff’s “Spiral,” a 1995 public art exhibit in Chicago, brought a re-examination of Lucy Parsons’ career.
In 2004, City of Chicago officials made a commitment to build a pocket park near Parsons’ last neighborhood. It was completed in 2012. A plaque was unveiled with the title, “Lucy Ella Gonzales Parsons Park.” It listed her many accomplishments in Chicago from 1873-1942. On May 1, 2017, an historical street marker, “Lucy Ella Gonzales Parsons Honorary Way” was erected near the Avondale neighborhood where Parsons and her companion of 34 years, George Markstall, had lived.
Later, in December 2017, evidence emerged from Jacqueline Jones’ book, Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical, that no such real person existed with the name Lucy Ella Gonzales Parsons. Parsons had fabricated an origins story about being a Mexican American with a lineage to the pre-Columbian Aztecs.
Parsons had used prevarications and put-ons as well as brave tactics to advance her cause. Yet, by the time of her death on March 7, 1942, she had not succeeded. She failed to get a majority of Americans to assent or vote for her quixotic goal, restoration of “paradise” on earth. Moreover, her hubris provoked this nemesis: only a minority of zealots believed her prediction of glory days after the revolution. Most Americans were unambiguous. They refused to join her gospel chorus for revolution.
Ahrens, Gale, ed. Lucy Parsons: Freedom, Equality Solidarity. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr publishing Company, 2003.
Ashbaugh, Carolyn. Lucy Parsons: American Revolutionary. Chicago, IL: Charles H. Kerr publishing company, 1976.
Conkling, Winifred. Votes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot. New York, NY: Workman, 2018.
Fraser, Steve. The Age of Acquiescence, the Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company, 2015.
Gates, Jr., Henry L. and Robbins, Hollis, eds. The Portable Nineteenth Century African American Woman Writers. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2017.
Gilpin, Toni. The Long Deep Grudge: A Story of Big Capital, Radical Labor and Class War in the American Heartland. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2020.
Godier, Susan and Pastorello, Karen. Women Will Vote, Winning Suffrage in New York State. Ithaca, NY:Cornell University Press, 2017.
Greer, T.S., ed. Selected Words and Writings of Lucy Parsons, A Lifelong Anarchistic! Colorado Springs, CO: Ignacio Hills Press, 2010.
Hunter, Tera W. Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the 19th Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, February 18, 2017.
Jones, Jacqueline. Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2017.
Knight, Louise W. Jane Addams, Spirit in Action. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010.
Meacham, Jon and McGraw, Tim. Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made a Nation. New York, NY: Random House, 2019.
Schultz, Rima Lunin and Hast, Adele, eds. Women Building Chicago 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary. Bloomington, IN: University Press, 2001.
Anash, Ama. “Votes for Women means Votes for Black Women”. National Woman’s History Museum, August 16, 2018.
Bachrach, Julia. “Her Story: Chicago Women in History”. Blog/2018/8/30
Blackwell, Alice Stone, “Why Women Should Vote”. Library of Congress, Votes for Women (1848-1921).
Catt, Carrie C. and Shuler, Nettie R. “Women’s Suffrage: The Fighting Forces 1916”. Infoplease, FEN Learning, Sandbox Networks. 2019.
Gaskell, Tamara, ed. “Series: The 19th Amendment and Women’s Access to the Vote Across America”. National Park Service, 2020.
George, Robert P. and Saunders, William L. “Republicans and the Relics of Barbarism”. National Review, August 30, 2004.
Grossman, Ron and Dardick, Hal. “Honored by City, Still Disdained by Cops”. Chicago Tribune, May 13, 2004.
Halker, “Bucky” Clark. “Labor Songs”, Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2004.
Halliburton, Kent Allen. “Lucy Parsons-Anarchism and a Life Dedicated to the Working Class” https://refuse to cooperate 4.blogspot.com. Dec 7, 2018.
Higbie, Tobias. “Women’s Trade Union League”, Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2004.
Huebner, Jeff. “Dangerous Women”. Chicago Reader.com. September 7, 1995.
Hunter, Tera, W. “Latina heroine or black radical? The complicated story of Lucy Parsons”. Washington Post, January 12, 2018.
Jacob, Mark. “Lucy Parsons’ bio reveals new facts about the birth, ethnicity of the ‘Goddess of Anarchy”. Book review, Chicago Tribune, November 15, 2017.
Jones, Jacqueline. “’Anarchist’ is often hurled as a slur. But can anarchists teach us something about democracy?”. Washington Post, January 11, 2018.
Jones, Jacqueline. “The Enigmatic Anarchist”, Jacobin Magazine, January 16, 2018, (unknown interviewer).
Kerr, Austin, ed. “Address of Frances E. Willard, President of the Woman’s National Council of the United States”, February 22-25, 1891. Library of Congress server in Women’s Suffrage collection.
Lewis, Ann. National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, “The Woman Patriot: A national newspaper for home and national defense against woman suffrage, feminism and socialism (Washington, DC 1921-1927)”. Woman’s Suffrage Collection, May 2015.
Lewis, Jone Johnson. “National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage”, Thought Co., January, 31, 2019.
McClendon, III, John. “Lucy Parsons (1853-1942) Anarchist, socialist, communist, journalist, poet”, Notable Black American Women, Book II, New York, Gale Research (1996).
McKean, Jacob, “A Fury for Justice: Lucy Parsons and the Revolutionary Anarchists Movement in Chicago” (Senior thesis in History, University of Southern California), October, 17, 2006.
Michaels, Debra. “Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930)”. National Women’s History Museum: Washington, D.C., 2015.
Michals, Debra, ed. “Lucretia Mott 1793-1880”. National Women’s History Museum, 2017.
Miller, Cait. “Polarizing Political Issues: The Anti Suffrage Rose”. Library of Congress, Woman’s Suffrage in Sheet Music. March 27, 2019.
Muller, Samantha. “The Women Who Said ‘NO!’: A Look at Women, Language, and the Images Surrounding the United States Anti-Suffrage Movement”. New Errands: The Undergraduate Journal of American Studies, North America, December 4, 2016.
Olsen, Leisel. “Anarchists” in Encylopedia of Chicago 2004, Newberry Library, Institute for Research and Education, Chicago Studies Program.
Origjanska, Magda. “Women against a woman’s right to vote: The leaders of the anti-suffragette movement”. Vintage News, August 4, 2017.
Parsons, Lucy. “The Negro: Let Him Leave Politics to the Politician and Prayer to the Preacher”, Alarm, April 3, 1886.
Parsons, Lucy, Life of Albert R. Parsons (Chicago, 1889) “Haymarket Martyr Albert Parsons’ Last Words to His Wife”. historymatters.gmu.edu/d/46/.
Rosenthal, Keith. “More Dangerous than a Thousand Rioters”. Joan of Mark blogspot, September 6, 2011.
Russwurm, Steve. “Roman Catholics in Chicago’s Labor History”. Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2004.
Ruthchild, Rochelle, G. “Misbehaving Women and the Russian Revolutions of 1917”. Newsnet, March, 2017.
Sklar, Katherine, K. and Dias, Jill. “How did the National Woman’s Party Address the Issue of the Enfranchisement of Black women, 1919-1924?”. Alexander Street, A Proquest Company, 1997.
Stern, Carly. “How the Red Scare Weakened Radical Feminism”. OZY: The Daily Dose, January 18, 2019.
Vorel, Jim. “How Beer Barons Fought Against Woman’s Suffrage and We Got Prohibition as a Result”. Paste Magazine, 2018.
Vorel, Jim. “How Progressives, Racists, Xenophobes and Suffragists Teamed Up to Give America Prohibition”. Paste Magazine, February 25, 2019.
Weatherford, Doris. “Mary Ashton Rice Livermore (1820-1905), American Suffragist and Social Reformer”. Essay in American Women’s History: An A to Z of people, organizations, issues, and events. Prentice-Hall, 1994.
WHEREAS Magazine. “Stories from the People’s House (/Blog/OHH-blog) “Jeannette Rankin and the Women’s Suffrage Amendment”. January 10, 2018.
Williams, Casey. “Whose Lucy Parsons? The Mythologizing and Re-appropriation of a Radical Hero”. Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, Number 47, Summer, 2007.