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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 96

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This is the grave of Voltiarine de Cleyre.

Born in 1866 in Leslie, Michigan and named after Voltaire, her father placed her in a convent at the age of 12 so she could get the best education possible. It turned her into an atheist. That was not the intent of her family, but they were very political to begin with, with connections with abolitionists before the war. The family was very poor and this also contributed to her radicalization. She moved to Grand Rapids as a young adult and became part of the freethinking movement. After the murder of the Haymarket martyrs in 1887, de Cleyre committed to anarchism because she lost her last remaining faith in the government. She moved to Philadelphia where she became of the nation’s most articulate advocates of anarchism. In doing so, she maintained an ecumenical approach to the subject, refusing to commit to a particularly brand of the ideology; I wish we had more of this on the left, past and present. All of this made her uncomfortable with a more class-consciousness vision of anarchism and she did not much get along with Emma Goldman because of the latter’s enthusiasm for the destruction of property. She mothered a child in 1890 out of wedlock with another free-thinker after agreeing he would have nothing to do with his upbringing. She gave the influential 1895 lecture “Sex and Slavery,” which argued that the legal ability of husbands to rape their wives was a form of slavery. The North Carolina legislature should be locked in a room and forced to read it.

She had a lot of health issues, particularly crippling depression. She died of meningitis in 1912, only 45 years old.

Voltairine de Cleyre is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois.

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