“Voltairine De Cleyre at Greensburg” (1893)

For the Boston Investigator.


Mr. Editor:—In the little city of Greensburg, some thirty miles east of Pittsburgh, there are a few brave, strong souls who are making war on God and his adjutants with a zeal which only those who have a principle at heart can do. About a month ago your subscriber, being invited to deliver a lecture under the auspices of their union, found herself shaking hands with the ungodly trinity of officers one April night, after a long day’s ride though the perpetual wonder of the Alleghany mountains.

Very sad, gray-brown, sorrowful mountains they had seemed to me all day, for just before leaving Philadelphia I had learned that my dear friend, teacher and comrade, Dyer D. Lum, was lying dead in New York; and wherever I looked the memory of the pleasant gray eyes, now closed forever, and the kind voice, hushed beneath the finger of death, haunted me, and colored all with somber shadows.

But as much as it is possible for the living to do for the mourner my welcoming friends did for me to make my sorrow less.

Five years ago, one June day, I had entered Greensburg before, and found all the work resting upon the shoulders of two men, Harrison Null and John S. Byers.

Now, however, there are some newer faces, enthusiastic and devoted—ready to do anything possible for the advance of liberalism. Among these are Mr. Sol Marks, a business man who isn’t afraid to be a freethinker for fear of “hurting his business,” Mr. J. P. Leasure, Mr. Weibel, Mr. Adamson, Mr. MacIntyre and a number of radical women, among whom I particular remember Mrs. Marks, Mrs. Beatty and Mrs. Byers.

Unfortunately, however, the work, as in all organizations, is left principally to a few, and these few naturally have a tendency to get discouraged when the others become indifferent.

I wish I knew some genuine remedy for the “innocuous desuetude” so often evinced by many of our liberals. I wish I knew something that would fire them with the grandeur of our liberty ideal, and make them willing to work for it. Unfortunately, I don’t. But in the midst of this doleful reflection it is not displeasing to remember that the majority of the earnest religionists are in all probability cogitating over the same problem, for I observe that people will be indifferent in church, as out of it.

My lecture was delivered as Zeannette, about four miles from Greensburg, in the Opera House there. There was a very good audience, and a very attentive one; and although the report of the Zeannette Star declared that they had no use for freethinkers in general, and the Greensburg Liberal Union and myself in particular, I have been invited to speak there again, whenever convenient, with the assurance of a full house.

Quite unwittingly I ran against the Sunday law, and in consequence might have been arrested had not the people been about as astonished at my action as I was at the law. Living in Philadelphia, where literature is constantly sold on Sundays, I quite forgot the blue laws, and offered some books and leaflets for sale. (I think I should have done precisely the same if I had not forgotten). However, there were plenty of people to buy, and although a policeman, constable and magistrate were present, our transactions were no interrupted. Not being able to understand in what way I had injured those people who did not buy, or wanted to buy, I saw no reason for the outburst of sanctimony in the next day’s Star, which declared that my “audacity” should have been punished.

During the week we had several talks at the cosy little hall of the Liberal Union in Greensburg, and many pleasant memories do I bring away with me of the bright faces and earnest voices I met there.

On Sunday, April 16th, I returned to my old field, Pittsburgh, among the ranks of whose workers there still clings to me a more homelike feeling than in any others. The old faces, the old places, how dear they are! To be sure, many things have changed; some have done the long way of all flesh; some have married; and here and there new faces fill in the old frames. But the old “war-horses” are there yet, and they haven’t stopped the fight, and they don’t intend to.

Condemned to torture both myself and my audience with a hoarse voice, the lecture was hardly the most desirable thing to listen to. But it was a means of calling out the every-interesting, ever-amusing Mr. Thresher, who takes particular delight in making his own professed religion ludicrous.

After the meeting a new organization, a “Topolobampo Club,” organized for the purpose of studying the principles of A. K. Owen’s “Integral Co-operation,” was formed. Whether Mr. Owen’s plan be a correct one or no, it is a good sing that people are beginning to dream that they may find a way out of their troubles by mutual self-help rather than by the dictum of priests and politicians.

V. de Cleyre.

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Voltairine De Cleyre at Greensburg,” The Boston Investigator 63 no. 7 (May 17, 1893): 3.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.