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Poetry

Voltairine de Cleyre

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Voltairine de Cleyre was a prominent American feminist anarchist active during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Despite (or, perhaps, because of) her childhood experience of being placed in a Catholic convent school, de Cleyre became a member of the anticlerical Freethought movement. Later, she became a member of the American anarchist movement after becoming outraged at the way defendants were sentenced at the 1886 Haymarket Affair trials. Influences on de Cleyre’s beliefs and writings included Mary Wollstonecraft and her lover and fellow anarchist Dyer Lum. She also shared a respectful disagreement with her fellow feminist anarchist Emma Goldman, who eventually came to praise her as “the most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced.”

Prominent themes in de Cleyre’s poetry include the Haymarket Affair and its aftermath (e.g. “At the Grave in Waldheim”), anti-clericalism (e.g. “The Gods and the People”) and women’s liberation (e.g. “Betrayed”). While largely ignored during most of the 20th century, interest in de Cleyre and her poetry has revived during the late 20th century, thanks in part to Paul Avrich’s 1978 biography, An American Anarchist: The Life of Voltairine de Cleyre.

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