Voltairine de Cleyre, “Kate Austin” (1902)

Kate Austin

“It’s aw a muddle.” That’s how I feel, thinking of the death of her. Why should she have died, she who was so full of energy and purpose, and so many to live on who are not now, and never were, and never will be anything but aimless, listless, useless, lumps of organized dust! The old, old question,—as senseless and as useless as aught a human being can ask, and bound to beget the answer, “There is no sense at all in anything. ‘It’s aw a muddle.’”

I never knew her. I always dreamed I should know her some day. From the time she wrote to me in much, far too much, sorrow for a trifling injustice she had done me—and that only because she was steadfast for the honor of the workers, and jealous of a single contemptuous word against them—until yesterday, I always thought I should one day look into her face and tell her how much I admire her for her fearlessness and her truth. Now I never shall—never, anywhere. And by so much my life is made less.

I did not believe she would die. Even when I saw the word “consumption” in Free Society. Does it always seem like that? That those we want to live, must life? That it is not possible they should go? Even tho we know the disease spares no one whom it seizes.

And yet I had a premonition of it—not death, but great illness. Some weeks ago when I criticized an article of hers in Lucifer and she did not reply, I said to a friend: “Why does she not reply? It is not Kate Austin’s way to be silent. I am sure she is sick.”

But when I saw her last article on Czolgosz I thought I was mistaken. It was so full of rebellion, so like the last letter she had written me. It did not sound like who wrote from a bed. That last letter! It was just after my “Rocket of Iron” appeared, and she wrote to me: “Did you mean our Leon? It was an October vision.” And then she wrote how she had sorrowed for the boy, the boy whom all had cursed, who to the last had been outraged by his jailers, and, worst of all, outraged in thought by those who should have understood him

And I think from then on she was more of a revolutionist than ever. I could not always go with her. We cannot go all the way with any other living soul. At some point we shall always be alone. But even when I could not go with her, I could admire her. She never went weakly. Even to the edge of death her heart was strong. In her, as in him she mourned in her last words to all of us, “were incarnate the vital forces of our movement,”—the never-ending movement of the ages toward human liberty.

Voltairine de Cleyre.


Voltairine de Cleyre, “Kate Austin,” Free Society 9 no 48 (November 30, 1902): 2.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2119 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.