Voltairine de Cleyre in “Lucifer the Light-bearer”

[ A FIRST LETTER TO “LUCIFER” ]

Phila., March 5, ’90.

Dear Sir: I have for some time contemplated sending you a line, to let you know that I, at least, do not belong to that ultra-fine class of reformers who are afraid of facts. Certainly I do not make the sex question the prime issue, for the reason that I believe sexual freedom to be impossible short of economic independence; nevertheless I honor you for your fearlessness in fighting the battle which you believe to be most necessary; and certainly any one who takes the slightest pains to examine every day cases in his own neighborhood will be assured that you have ample justifications for your attacks on the marriage system. Indifferent, comparatively speaking as my own investigations have been, I have known of sexual outrages that were enough to make

“Each particular hair to stand on end
Like quills upon the fretful porcupine.

In every case, however, the terrible economic slavery of the woman held her to her chains. I feel how idle words must sound to you unaccompanied by practical proofs, and greatly regret my inability to render you financial assistance. Yet I trust you will not deem me the less.

Sincerely your friend,

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Since writing the preceding I have learned of your second arrest. Can you send me the Markland and O’Neill letters? I have never seen either. While it is certain that this persecution is causing you much unmerited suffering, it is a comfort to remember that “the angle of reflection is always equal to the angle of incidence;” every time they open their mouths against you they make ten converts for you. That is rather cold comfort to any but a martyr spirit, but I believe yours is such.

V. de C.

Voltairine de Cleyre, [letter to Moses Harman], Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 7 no. 41 (March 21, 1890): 3.


DID NOT FRIGHTEN HER.

Phila, Pa., April 10, ’90.

My Dear Mr. Harman: I do not want to impose myself while so may other are keeping you busy, but feel that I ought to write you my thanks for copies of “obscene” articles sent, and to assure you that neither the Markland or O’Neill letters have frightened me at all. They “made me mad,” it is true,—mad at the men for being tyrants and at the women for being cowards, but I know that such “madness” is extremely foolish. As for getting on the stilts of propriety at you for publishing them, well—I forbear to comment. Mr. McDonald says that “there is not a court in the country which would not,” etc. I wonder if Mr. McD. would care to parade such things in court, if he were a woman thus abused. He shrinks fearfully from the statements in Lucifer—would he care to face a court full of jeering lawyers, a cross examiner whose business it is to make the witness a liar, and the usual roomful of the curious? The machinery of the court is not over respectful of sensitiveness. Dr. O’Neill’s statements are not surprising to one who has rummaged the lives of the miserable, especially in cities. That there are, not one, but hundreds of such cases beneath our eyes each day, is not difficult to discover. That you have the courage to publish these few, thus arousing the ignorant concerning the horrible outrages of woman slavery, is much to your credit. You see I told you every word of persecution made ten converts, and by your last issue it seems you have never received so many letters of commendation. One gray-haired old lady of seventy, who read the letters—a somewhat prudish old lady, too—was horror struck at the revelations; but it did not even occur to her that you ought to be censured, or Dr. O’Neill.

Nor can I see the slightest reason for the holy withdrawal of the orthodox Freethinkers. I have seen literature that was genuinely “obscene;” about its nature there could be no possible doubt; well—I didn’t have to read it. If anyone wanted the stuff, and could find some one else to pander to his villainous “taste” enough to print it, it was not my affair. Still I can understand how the believers in the moral efficacy of “law,” could wish to punish both author and printer; but I see no earthly excuse in your case. Between your enemies and your half breed friends it is simply malevolence and cowardice. As for the matter of “taste,” the actions of tyrants are not usually very “tasty;” when one prints a paper, the object is to make one’s point. If people’s “taste” has to be shocked in order to make it most forcibly, so much the worse for the people. They flogged a woman to death in Siberia; the action wasn’t in very “good taste,” but the “tasty” people of the United States do not hesitate to denounce it. The czar they rage at is no worse than that husband who filled his wife’s throat with chancree. On the whole I should prefer the flogging.

I have not written this for publication, but you may publish it if your wish.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “Did Not Frighten Her,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 7 no. 45 (April 18, 1890): 3.


  • Voltairine de Cleyre, Sex Slavery: A Lecture, Lucifer the Light-bearer, New series, 8 no. 8 (August 29, 1890) 4; 8 no. 9 (September 5, 1890): 1, 4; 8 no. 10 (September 19, 1890): 1, 4.
    • Sada Baily Fowler, “Remarks,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New series, 8 no. 10 (September 19, 1890): 1, 4.

COURTING

Philadelphia, Pa., Sept. 15, ’90.

A friend and myself undertook that serious affair the other day, and the results being peculiar I want to take the public into my confidence. People usually prefer privacy on such occasions, but we got into a roomful all intent on the same errand. Specified, the errand was this: The famous “Kreutzer Sonata” was to be tried. Tolstoi, voice by Robert Arundel, was to justify himself before Judge Arnold; the prosecuting attorney, over the heads of a few poor itinerant booksellers, was to tear the asceticism of Galilee in rags, and the public was anxious.

But, as usual, the legal disputants wanted delay, and instead of the shade of Tolstoi cowled and gowned, there in broad daylight walked the ghost of the Markham letter. Or was it its ghost? Anyhow in the broken voice and the shadowed eyes of the mournful mother whose grandchildren were the subject of the legal wrangle, one saw the form of a dead woman brutalized on her dying be by her inhuman master.

This man, named Wallington, was fighting for the custody of his three children. Their mother, whose suffering life ended some few months ago, with the dying words: “O mother! You’ll never know what I suffered from that husband,” had borne him five children in eight years. The oldest of these he had endeavored to outrage. There in the crowded court room, before the insulting taunts of the opposing lawyer, shrouded in her black robe of sorrow, the mother of the dead woman related the soul-sickening story; and the lawyers said, “Speak out; speak plain.”

O, when the women are dead how they like to harrow up the things that murdered them! And they told her to “be calm, be calm”!

Dr. Pratt testified that the conduct of this brute in sexual matters had undoubtedly hastened the woman’s death. When asked of what Mrs. Wallington died, Mrs. Caldwell replied” “Well, there never was anything in particular. She died of a complication of difficulties.” And there sat the judge and the lawyers, and the mixed audience, with many children, horror-struck by the fearful story, but not once was it mentioned that Mrs. Caldwell was “obscene.” I am sure no man looking at her white, tear-marked face would have had a lascivious tendency aroused, and no child become desirous of being outraged because it heard the hideous revelation. I am not so sure that the women present were made more patient slaves thereby; I am almost certain of the reverse. Anyhow it was all very plain, and nobody was sent to prison. Mr. Wallington was told he could not have his children till he had more money to support them with, and the crowd dispersed.

My friend and I came out musing on the delicate irony of “events” which had put the case of Wallington on the list with the trial of the “Kruetzer Sonata”; that the same judge who royally disregards the sexual murder of a mother and bases his denial of the care of children upon lack of funds, will in a week be requested to pronounce the teachings of Jesus—absolute continence—obscene!

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “Courting,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 8 no. 12 (October 10, 1890): 1.


“JUSTICE IS BLIND.”

Aye, and deaf and dumb in Kansas! For what, save utter deafness to all justice, could lead a judge to so far forget the dignity of authority as to sentence any living being without first asking the question: “Have you anything to say which sentence should not be pronounced against you?” True, the question is often a farce. I venture to say that not once in five hundred times is the sentence altered thereby; but true also we are treading upon dangerous times when judges no longer respect even the form of justice.

You all know, comrades, what a mockery was the trial of the Eight in Chicago. You know that before Capt. Black had opened his lips in their defense they were already hung. But you know that Gary, shameless as he was, did not dare sentence them, before they had spoken. Though he was cruel enough to deny Parsons a brief rest of fifteen minutes, yet he did not shorten his address. That task was left to the hangman. Their speeches went “before the higher court” and ere the grass was green upon their graves, thousands who had cried “crucify” were silent, reading the indictment of Society in the printed words that stood, an everlasting echo of the voices which might never speak again. But this man Phillips has sunk his self-respect to be guilty of the sin of the executioner: To damn his victim to silence while protest yet lay warm behind his lips, unspoken. And upon this man Moses Harman, has again fallen the command, “Hush! Nay, stones shall make you hush.” True, the sentence is not as inhuman as that of Foster; probably on that account the indignation will be less. Yet if it were but for a day, there deserves to be such indignation as would depose from the bench a man who could thus shamelessly disregard the right of the accused to be heard in his own defense.

Oh, the irony of it! To imprison a man to whom the U. S. Marshal can say, “Go about your business! I shall know where to find you when I want you.” As they crucified Christ, who said: “Whom seek ye?” The answered Jesus of Nazareth. And he said I am he. The he asked again “Whom seek ye?” And again they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered: “I am he. If, therefore, ye seek me let these go their way.” “Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? Daily I say with you teaching in the temple and ye laid no hold on me.” They crucified this gentle man. Humanity is wont to do so with its saviors.

As they hung Parsons, who of his own free will, walked into court one morning, saying “I am here.” They hung this gentle man. Humanity is wont to do so with its saviors.

So now they imprison Moses Harman, who says “At the appointed hour I shall go back to the felon garb.” And taking the word of this criminal (?) as more than the bonds of a thousand other men, they say: “When I want you I shall know where to find you.”

Ah! Humanity is wont to do so with its saviors!

Justice is dumb. But some day her gagged mouth will be unbound.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Justice is Blind,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 8 no. 26 (January 31, 1891): 2. [The same issue contains a report on a lecture by VdC.]


For Lucifer

KEEP TO THE POINT.

Editor Lucifer: I was glad to read your recent suggestion to contributors, that they confine their papers to a discussion of the question which is supposed to be the aim of Lucifer. “Division of Labor” is one of the processes of evolution even in reform journalism. When one employs a dressmaker, it is disappointing to find that in place of making dresses well she “makes at” coats, skirts, trousers, cloaks, hats, and a proportionate amount of dresses. I have often had similar feelings in looking over the columns of Lucifer. There was a llittle money reform, land reform, religious reform, ethical reform, spelling reform, and a similar amount of sex reform.

Many things dabbled in, and none determinedly kept to. It is true there is ample need of reform in every one of these lines; but why make Lucifer, which is supposed to be devoted to sex reform, the vehicle of it all? Truly its own field is wide enough. There are enough ugly facts to be detailed, enough vices in the theory of woman-slavery to be exposed, enough of its inevitable consequences to point out, without leaving this vineyard where

“The harvest is great and the laborers are few,”

to go roaming all over the domain of man’s miseries, and endeavoring to crowd a panacea for all into the columns of a four-page weekly. This, to say nothing of the articles totally irrelevant to anybody or anything, and the columns used to express what might have been said in a paragraph, have been, I believe, one of the serious mistakes of Lucifer; and I am glad to have grounds for hoping that there will be less of it in the future.

As I inwardly paint the picture of the present state of things, as I see you, like the victim of the guillotine with neck bent waiting for the axe to fall, as I shiver at the thought of the somber walls which may soon, very soon, open to receive you, and perhaps never to let you out; as I realize that over and above your personality this means another phase of the eternal battle for liberty, a phase in which the cry of woman is heard at last, no longer in tones supplemental to those of her lord, but for her long sacrificed and meagred self, I realize most strongly the necessity of wasting no space upon side issues, and demanding of every one his strongest and most concentrated words. Keep to the point.

V. de Cleyre.

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Keep to the Point,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 8 no. 29 (February 27, 1891): 1.


It is my intention to join Lucifer club soon. What plans have you for the Lawrence meeting? Should be glad to meet you.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine De Cleyre, [Lucifer Club Column], Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 8 no. 30 (March 6, 1891): 3.


  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Gates of Freedom,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 8 no. 35 (April 10, 1891): 1, 4; 8 no. 36 (April 17, 1891): 1; 8 no. 37 (April 24, 1891): 1; 8 no. 38 (May 8, 1891): 1; 8 no. 39 (May 15, 1891): 4; 8 no. 40 (May 22, 1891): 1; 8 no. 41 (May 29, 1891): 1.

  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Tired Out,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New Series, 8 no. 45 (June 26, 1891): 1.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “A Criticism Answered,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 8 no. 51 (August 21, 1891): 3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, [letter], Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 8 no. 51 (August 21, 1891): 3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Blind!,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 8 no. 52 (August 28, 1891): 1.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Moral Obligations of Freethinkers,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 9 no. 6 (October 30, 1891): 1. [synopsis]
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Freedom for Mothers,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 9 no. 10 (December 18, 1891): 1, 4.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, 1, Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 9 no. 18 (February 26, 1892): 3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “His Confession,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer (April 7, 1893) 2
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Defines Her Position,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New series 10 no. 24 (May 19, 1893): 3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Unchaining the Lower Animal,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New series 10 no. 31 (July 14, 1893): 3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Dualism vs. Variety Once More,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 10 no. 35 (August 25, 1893): 3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Miss de Cleyre Concludes,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 10 no. 39 (September 22, 1893): 2-3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “To the Readers of Lucifer,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 11 no. 3 (January 26, 1894): 3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Acknowledgement,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 11 no. 5 (February 9, 1894): 3.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Relation of Sex in Humanity,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 11 no. 12 (April 13, 1894): 1; 11 no. 13 (April 20, 1894): 1; 11 no. 14 (April 27, 1894): 1; 11 no. 15 (May 11, 1894): 1; 11 no. 16 (May 25, 1894): 1; 11 no. 17 (June 1, 1894): 1; 11 no. 18 (June 15, 1894): 1.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “What Women Are Doing in Phila.,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 11 no. 26 (August 31, 1894): 1.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Does Not Agree with Elmina,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 11 no. 30 (October 5, 1894): 1.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, [letter to the editor], Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 11 no. 33 (November 9, 1894): 4.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Burial of My Past Self,” Lucifer the Light-bearer, New series, 12 no. 1 (May 17, 1895): 1.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Mary Wollstonecraft,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 12 no. 1 (May 17, 1895): 3-4.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Miss de Cleyre Thinks the Woman Did Not,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 12 no. 1 (July 26, 1895): 1.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Repudiate the Debt,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, New Series, 13 no. 20 (October 23, 1895): 1.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Priestly Control over Women,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, 3rd series, 2 no. 14 (April 6, 1898): 109-110.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Gospel of Sex According to William Platt,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, 3rd series, 2 no. 19 (May 14, 1898): 149-150.

Voltairine de Clayre, 620 N. 8th, St., Phil.—The controversial tone of the letter of C. F. Hunt concerning Mr. Whittick’s “Invariable Unit of Value,” in Lucifer No. 727, and particularly the last sentence. “If he succeeds with his abstract unit of value I shall expect to see him paint his house with abstract color,” obliges the conclusion that Mr. Hunt is unaware that for more than a year our comrade Whittick has occupied that “dark and narrow house” that is painted not otherwise than in abstract color.

I am no partisan of his “Invariable Unit,” (much less of Mr. Hunt’s variable unit), and of the book I say “Let the dead bury the dead;” but it comes over me with an unpleasant jar when I read a jest addressed to emptiness, and I think Mr. Hunt may feel the impropriety himself, learning that he spoke to silent ears.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “Various Voices,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 2 no. 38 (September 28, E. M. 298 (C. E. 1898): 311.


  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “An Announcement,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer 3rd series, 3 no. 20 (May 27, 1899): 6.
  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Morton and His Critics,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer 3rd series, 4 no. 13 (April 7, 1900): 102.

In Re Free Juries.

BY VOLTAIRINE DE CLEYRE.

Doubtless my comrade Kate Austin is amply able to support her position concerning the ownership of children; therefore I do not wish to interfere in that discussion, particularly as it appears to me one of the questions that will never be equitably settled in advance by theory, but will in free society settle itself, instance by instance, as need arises. But I do wish, as an anarchist, to utter a strenuous protest against Mr. Brinerhoff’s Free Jury!

When in the name of sense did this get to be Anarchism? Mothers are supposed to secure the passage of laws, laws are to be passed upon by juries, juries are to be composed of the good old legal number twelve, “chosen by the whole community!” “Presumable unanimity of the community.” People’s own bodies not to be under their unlimited control; libertarians intending to subject the mother (presumably others) to the rule of juries! Where has Mr. Brinkerhoff been getting this sort of thing? From Lysander Spooner and Victor Yarros?

Well, I register my disclaimer; I declare that in my view this idea is as far from Anarchism as the statute book itself, and I would suggest a—“free vote” of Anarchists as to whether this jury scheme is compatible with Anarchism. I suggest that every anarchistic reader of Lucifer write a simple yes or no to the question, and let us have the list. Let us known “where we are at” in this business.

But let nobody suppose I am proposing a decision to be set down as “anarchistic law” to which the minority is expected gracefully to conform. I merely want to know how much of a hold the jury idea has on people,—on avowed Anarchists.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “In Re Free Juries,” Lucifer 3rd series, 4 no. 28 (July 21, 1900): 219.


“The Free Jury.”

BY VOLTAIRINE DE CLEYRE.

Concerning the “Free Jury,” Mr. Brinkerhoff says it is a part of Anarchy’s political system; it might as well consist of twenty-four as twelve, only that would cost more; the jury would be chosen by lot out of the name of the entire community, and if their judgment were not unanimous it would be because the community was not unanimous and the person on trial would go unpunished; that the only alternative of the Free Jury is lynch law, etc.

First, I would say Anarchy, being a negation, has not and cannot have a political system. Anarchists may voluntarily group themselves and devise systems of a sort which do not involve their imposition upon others not in the consenting group; but anarchy itself cannot be a positive political (or any other sort of) system.

Second. If the jury may as well be twenty-four only that it would cost more, it may as well be one which would cost a great deal less; if the community is unanimous one will do as well as the whole; if the community is not unanimous there is no way of finding it out except by the vote not of twelve, twenty-four, or forty, but of every separate member. The notion that by fixing upon any certain number of names to be drawn at random from a box, you are certain of getting the same diversity of opinions to be obtained by consulting the whole community, is to suppose a miraculous intelligence in the Box for sorting out names.

Third. If Mr. Brinkerhoff proposes this jury idea merely as an improvement on present methods leading to more freedom, then I would say to him as I say to so many Single Taxers who declare they believe in anarchy ultimately and the single tax as a practical means of getting there, that in order to get people impressed with the advantages of that reform sufficiently to make it practiced at all they will first need to convince a majority of the people of its efficacy; they will then need a long season of experience to satisfy them that there is something better—the old difficulties of tinkering details and changing persons will follow until it at last dawns upon them that the thing itself is imperfect; then all agitation and education for complete liberty to follow. This is the “step by step” method. But why not try to teach the best thing first? It will save time in the end.

Why worry to provide half-principled means of protecting society from the invasions which are the legitimate product of existing conditions, when it is certain that anarchy can never be attained until a large number of people have resolved to do away entirely with those conditions? There will always be tinkerers enough among the semi reformers. Let us occupy ourselves with making non-invaders.

But if he considers such a plan compatible with anarchism itself, then I am bound to repeat, not as I see it. On the contrary it appears to me a fruitful source of tyrannies and frauds.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Free Jury,” Lucifer 3rd series, 4 no. 34 (September 1, 1900): 267.


  • Voltairine de Cleyre, “Love in Freedom,” Lucifer 3rd series, 4 no. 29 (July 28, 1900): 219-220.

The Hopelessly Fallen.

I generally like what Kate Austin says and always admire the spirited way she says it; but I feel move to write a word of disagreement with her and others concerning this attitude towards “fallen women.” I do not know just what class of persons are included in that category; but from K. A.’s general blunt, straightforward, non-equivocating nature, and her strong determination to apply her faith under all circumstances, I suppose she means all, beginning with the young girl who has once deviated from the rigid line of conventional morality, and been found out, to the inmates of the vilest brothel.

Now I can be think that had she lived in a city, where she must inevitably sooner or later, have seen prostitutes at their trade, that she would be compelled to admit either that their native morality was of such a low type that they never could fall, or that they had certainly fallen.

A week ago, at the corner of two busy streets not far from where I write, a woman in a most shocking state of intoxication, her face bleeding from a fisticuff fight with other inmates of the house, with no clothing but a long draggled torn chemise, rushed into the street, and commenced shouting abuse at everything and everybody; a policeman arrested her; he was as decent about it as the case allowed, did no clubbing, used no bad language; the crowd that always collects at such a scene gathered rapidly; at the patrol box, the woman jeered and mocked the policemen, and finally taking in her fingers the mass of corrupt matter, blood, etc., streaming from her nostrils smeared it on the policeman’s back. “—— you,” he growled, “stop that!” She laughed with the satisfaction of oen who has done something “smart,” and winked at the crowd. When the patrol wagon came she got in lightly and gaily as her drunken reel permitted, and calling to the crowd: “Ta—ta; see you again,” was driven away.

Now what is the use of pretending to yourself that such a creature has not fallen? And she is the very ordinary type of the prostitute. In her infinite degradation, she has one compensation: she does not care. She is light-hearted about it. In her sober state, she eats her dinner, and if in company with one of her kind discusses “the points” of her latest mail acquisition. I have heard one say to another: “She can’t have that old man—that old man’s mine.” If she is alone, she manages by every species of vulgar ribaldry to draw attention to herself. If she gets herself put out, perhaps arrested, so much the better. She has no sense of shame at being frowned or stared at; she feels complimented by it; she has advertised herself. If she finds a young man easy with his money and soft-heated she devises melting stories, which an hour later in company with some old bald-headed customer she laughs at; or she drugs him and steals his watch.

If Carrie Nation comes to pray, they all kneel down and shed tears and are pious beyond conception; when she is gone they imitate her and get especially drunk to celebrate the event. You can no more talk reform to such women than to the paving stones. You cannot talk anything to them. They understand nothing but how to get a drink and how to “make something.” To do something outrageous, shocking, attention-drawing—that is their trade. The foulness of their language is simply the index of their thoughts, if what goes through their brain can be called thoughts! It matters not how they came to be so, if you are going to do anything with them at all you must begin by understanding that they are so; that they are fallen to an almost unfathomable gulf of degradation.

It is useless to fly out with, “the respectable married prostitute is just as bad.” Whether she is or not, is not to the point; it cures nothing; it does not alter this case. And my own personal belief, from much witnessing and much reflecting, is that for women who have become confirmed prostitutes there is no help. They do not want to be helped. They do not admire your society. They do not like your company. They do not want you. They like drinking, gambling, eating, and wallowing. They see others who are a little older than themselves, hideous, diseased, beggars; they hear these old hags proclaiming themselves cheap at the corner of the saloon, and boasting how high-priced they were once. But not one of them all but imagines she is gifted with a cunning to outwit that fate; and they reason no further.

For the young woman who has made the mistake of deviating fro her own rule of right-doing, the remedy is to give her a better rule if her mind is capable of receiving it—a knowledge of sexual physiology and it demands; if not, then let her stick fast to her religion and its promise of forgiveness to the transgressor. For the beginning in the bargain and sale business, even, it may be that much might be done, if she has any real character, firmness, decision. But for these others it seems to me, that nature having mercifully administered the antidote of utter moral paralysis and rot in return for their physical degradation, the most sensible thing is to let them alone. You will not make a drunken man sober by telling him that he is; you will not make the prostitute self-respecting by talking to her as if she were Leo Tolstoi. Let them both alone; that is what they want of you. And spend your efforts where they will be of some possible avail. Undoubtedly these poor wretches are the victims of economic conditions, of sexual superstitions, of religious lies, of bad heredity. While these institutions flourish, for every one you try to save, a hundred new ones will be made. Go your way and try rather to give light to the young, and let those others alone to die upon the wheel whose revolutions hurt you far more to look upon than them who are bound upon it. They are fallen; they are felled; snapped off from all moral life at the root. Such is our society. Smile.

Voltarine de Cleyre.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Hopelessly Fallen,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 6 no. 21 (June 5, E. M. 302 (C. E. 1902): 161.


Are They Fallen?

I am not sure that the wisest policy for me, having said my say on the subject of fallen women, would not be to display a “masterly inactivity.” I have little taste for controversy, and generally feel that when one has made a strong statement of a case (at least as strong as the writer’s ability permits) the best thing to do is to let others do the arguing. However, as I feel that the point that I am urging in this discussion is, though the curious bias which the continuously negating attitude gives to the human mind, entirely missed by L. H. Earle, and not altogether dealt fairly with by C. L. James, I shall try once more to make myself clear.

Kate Austin in the article which Miss Earle approves without having any very distinct notion of, had said that the only way to treat fallen women was to refuse to recognize that they were fallen. Now this is to me the ne plus ultra of folly; it is the same as saying, Refuse to acknowledge that a lunatic is insane, refuse to acknowledge that a small-pox patient is ill, refuse to acknowledge that—that C. L. James is a sage, a master of the pen, or that Laura Earle is equally masterful in evoking the power of a concert piano! It is the same as saying, Refuse to acknowledge a fact. I wrote that I did simply to protest against the topsy-turvying of facts by those who, having gotten a protest in their heads proceed to cry “no” in advance to every conservative proposition concerning social uses.

A question had been raised by Dr. Clymer as to a practical means of ameliorating the lives of fallen women. Kate Austin objected to the word and the treatment, as I have said. Now I believe, if a sick person is to be treated at all, the first thing is to recognize that he is sick. I am aware that there is a class of metaphysicians, including some very good, clever and interesting persons, who hold that Kate Austin’s method is the correct one; they would say, “The patient is not ill; it is merely an erroneous condition of mind; illness has no real existence; let us declare health instead of recognizing illness.” But I am positive that C. L. James would resent being put in their company, and a little more than inclined to believe that Kate Austin and Laura Earle would do the same. When it is once admitted that the patient is sick, the special symptoms and the causes must be sought, if the case is to be treated. That is another matter, and one with which it was not, and is not, my purpose to deal otherwise than by the slight allusion at the close. I mentioned the causes of prostitution in my article as evil material conditions and bad heredity, and I blame the double victim no more than I blame the sneak-thief or the rapist, who is, nevertheless, a very unwholesome and revolting character. I maintain that it is not necessary to confuse all distinctions between clean and unclean conduct in order to preserve one’s character as radical, nor to confound the recognition of such distinctions with the idea of blame.

But blame is not now the point. The point is, are women who drown themselves in the slime of every species of bestiality fallen or not? Let us see how my opponents deal with it. it is with a shade of regret that I, a woman writing in the journal which has ever put forth the highest claims for the equality of feminine powers, observe that the criticism of the woman, Laura Earle, is scarcely equal either in matter or in temper to that of the man, C. L. James; there is that in it which gives me the uneasy sensation I used to feel when our lamented friend Susan Patton arose “to speak in meeting,”—a something which the orthodox used to attribute to the woman suffragists as “shrieking,” but which is probably better qualified by Shakespeare as “over-earnestness.”

Miss Earle’s reply to the question “Are they fallen?” is, “Prostitution is a trade.” Sequential! “Is this water in the glass bad?”—“The furnishing of this water is a trade!”

“Will Miss de Cleyre class herself with society in—” certain condemnations? Well to paraphrase a witty saying of Frank Stephens, I go with society just as far as society goes with me; and if it shall happen that society condemns anything which my conscience doesn’t approve, I shall not be scared from my position by being told that society is not on my side.1 However, in the particular condemnation in question,—that of “all women who from whatever motive have illicit relations with man” well—it depends on the motive. If the motive is money, then I do; if the motive is mere lechery, then I do. The ideal of independent, clean, strong, womanhood is too dear to me to enjoy having it mixed up with money-getting or bestiality. Though mark, I believe every woman should have the freedom to be as mean and low as she likes; only I’m not going to be forced into commending or condoning her for it. (Please keep separate the idea of disapprobation of the action or the character, and blame of the individual for doing what he does or being what he is.)

But as to other motives—love, sympathy, fellowship, normal sex-life, without the unclean lips or hands of Church and State being called into witness—I have stood for these things too many years to think it necessary for me to answer the question. Miss Earle knows it.

And at this point I perceive that the criticisms of Earle and James overlap each other, so to speak. I have said that C. L. James is a sage; and no doubt all our readers have observed that his is likewise a modest man. It gives me pleasure to say it, for I have owed Comrade James a compliment these several years and shall be glad to be out of debt. He will recall that some time since he congratulated me in Lucifer on having become less dogmatic than formerly. I would have wished to say as much of him, but dared not; though I would not say “dogmatic” either, but rather “strong,” as one of his learning and literary ability has a right to be without losing his claim to genuine modesty. Yet (if he will pardon me) it may be that there are times when it is as well to forego the unlimited exercise of our rights.

Nevertheless, modest as he is, he is a man; and being a man, he could not forbear that confession which few men of proper parts could ever forbear to make,—modestly but with due realization—that he has a very wide acquaintance with “women of this kind.” I have often wondered at this singular manifestation of masculine pride which makes the most unassuming gentleman wish to present himself in this particular matter as “a bold, bad man.” For we are precluded from supposing, as we might have done, that Comrade James cultivated this extensive acquaintance as a severe study in degeneracy, etc., by the suggestive clause “if such knowledge is rarely acquired without some experiences which may excite regret, the remedy is to make a good use of it at last.” We, at least, have no cause to complain, who without moral contamination to ourselves get the purified results of Comrade James’ regrettable experience; and I think he should consider himself absolved.

The conclusion from the observations made during these considerable excursions into the realms of the demi-monde is, that the majority of prostitutes belong to the “Born Criminals” or to the “Criminaloids;” from which I infer that they are not fallen because they were never anywhere to fall from. This is emphasizing the case of “bad heredity.” Comrade James is of the opinion that some of them may be raised, provided the moral derrick is perpetually in action! Well, there may be some persons in the world (and for all I know Dr. Clymer may be one), who find their true sphere of activity in furnishing such continuous leverage to those who, left to themselves, naturally gravitate toward the bottom. It may be a very useful service; but so far as my observation of strong people furnishing moral force to weak ones goes, it is generally a miserable failure. The strong one wastes his life in a futile attempt to impart character to those who would feel a great deal more comfortable if left to their own fluttering devices. The “dwarfish moral ‘organs,’” upheld by external force, maintain a hesitant and halting struggle against “the enormous sensual and emotional” ones, and in the secrets of the little fluctuating brain there is dislike ripening into rankling hatred of that strong soul which plays the moral Czar over it. History records that the Empress Theodora, who had been a prostitute but who was nothing if not strong, built a home for her old companions and thither transported five hundred prostitutes. They were fed, housed, dressed, and attended, but no men were permitted in the place. The result was that the majority committed suicide, and the rest soon moped to death. No doubt these women hated Theodora well for her service.

And now Comrade James, apparently to establish that not all prostitutes are necessarily degraded, works on of his controversial miracles. I have often admired the way in which he, in dealing with any flightily inclined or ill-informed opponent, seizes him by the feet and nails him down with thousand pound facts, which stand there stiff and rigid and immovable as—well as “good facts should.” But when these facts are to be used to assist Mr. James’ side of the argument, lo! they become as agile as fairy-tales, as nimble as quicksilver, and they leap about and about, here, there, everywhere, to prove what a wizard can do with them. For instance, Mr. James has a theory that illegitimate children are more brilliant than those born in wedlock; and I remember catching my breath in reading an article of his on the subject some time back, in which Moses, Jesus, and Shelley, were lumped together in with a number of other notable and real characters who would likely have been shocked to read such information in print, as specimens of proof. Moses, of whom the very sympathetic historian Renan writes: “What are we to think of the man who has come to stand out as a colossus among the great mythical figures of humanity? …. Moses is completely buried by the legends which have grown up over him, and though he very probably existed, it is impossible to speak of him as we do of other deified or transformed men.” (Italics mine). Yet Comrade James, when it suits his purpose, uses this mythical personal and one of the most widely diffused birth legends which has attached itself to his name in common with so many others, as if he and it were indisputable facts.

And Jesus!

And now, mixed up with Aspasia, Agnes Sorel, et al., Magdalene! Around whom floats the legendary light reflected from 2000 years of Christian myth-making!

Even Fantine, one of the most unreal of all the unreal creations of the sublime romanticist, becomes a controversial weapon, pointed with a sarcasm which is assumed to fit! I am supposed to be very sympathetic with “Borioboola Gha—because it costs nothing,” and very flint-hearted towards the broken reeds of Philadelphia. It must e that the disposition which led Comrade James to dignify Luccheni as the reincarnation of the Monster Slayer while Czolgosz was labeled “a crank,” creates this distance theory of sympathy of his, which he, feeling, naturally attributes to others. Fantine is an idealism, an exaggeration, like all Hugo’s characters; she is good medicine for those who need to learn that prostitution has other causes than innate total depravity; she has a softening influence on the “unco guid” who have to be overdosed in order to feel at all; but she is a poor reply to a fact.

As to the really historic figures catalogued together with Magdalene, Aspasia, Phryne, Agnes Sorel, Lady Hamilton, and the multiple spelled “Afra, Aphra, Aphara, Ayfara” Behn,—does Comrade James, in company with Miss Earle, really insist on savoring the prostitute class by flinging them in too? Dr. Sanger says that Agnes Sorel lived with Charles VII eighteen years, that she was a kind, good woman, and otherwise of irreproachable character. It is a little difficult to imagine a good woman in love with a king, still it is not altogether impossible; and eighteen years is, from the king’s side, pretty good evidence that there was a higher feeling that kings usually experience towards their mistresses. I think it was a case of honest, unbought affection.

Lady Hamilton and Lord Nielson loved each other; the fact that they were lord and lady is, of course, somewhat against them; still lords and ladies do, occasionally, have some overwhelming attachments which make them cast conventions aside; the woman did not sell, the man did not buy; as far as I can learn it was a case of remarkably pure and beautiful love.

As to the sprightly “Afra,” she appears to have been one of those singular border-line characters who was somewhat of a prostitute some of the time, but who was most of the time a piece of strong independent womanhood, varietist by inclination, but not selling herself.

For Aspasia and Phryne, they belong to an organization of society so different from our own as to require judging by a different standard, a society in which the respectable woman was so hedged about restrictions that it was precisely women with acute intellects and strong characters who became hetaerae;—these were by no means prostitutes in the ordinary sense; rather were they the free women of Athens—at least the nearest approach to the type of free womanhood with the race had attain in that age.

And now, let us once for all “put things in the proper boxes.” Let us recognize that there is a difference between those who disregard law, convention, and religion, because they understand them, and live above them, and those who, while recognizing their authority weakly live below them. Let us distinguish too between those who, even while recognizing the law as in general justified, yet for peculiar reason which overweigh the balance, choose to set them aside in a particular instance, and those who habitually lapse from their own standards of right. Else we shall soon be shaking up the names of Heloise and George Eliot together with those of Mr. James’ considerable acquaintances. Had I been for using his argument I think that genuine prostitute, Lily Langtry, would have served my purpose better. But who wants her mixed with the gracious Heloise?

A little parallelism. Says Comrade James: “Miss de Cleyre’s idea that there is a point at which prostitution becomes incorrigible…. is a mistake just like the temperance lecturer’s dogma that a drunkard is merely a moderate drinker come to maturity.”

“Degeneracy, measured by its physical stigmata, does not keep pace with the assumed heinousness of the crime but with its inveteracy. It is more pronounced among pilferers, tramps, prostitutes, …. than among murders.” … It appears to me this latter paragraph is an admission that inveteracy has just the effect I claimed it had, namely to degenerate the victim below the possibility of moral reform, and that, notwithstanding an occasional John B. Gough, the temperance lecturer is right.

While Miss Earle and Mr. James are at one in the matter of confusing real prostitutes with convention-breakers, they are quite opposed in their method of considering them after all. Miss Earle recognizes the class and the “sacred taboo;” Mr. James will [have] none of the class, he will have the individual only.

Without adopting the suggestion that I enlarge my acquaintance with prostitutes, I think I may, upon the strength of present observations, “venture to predict” that on any occasion those who refuse to recognize the fallenness of the prostitute may have to put their theories in practise, they will find there is another person who has something to say, and she may say it in a way to necessitate a revision of their previous intentions. She has a very direct idea of the adaptation of means to ends herself, and makes all who come in contact with her feel its force. Treat them as other people? Certainly: as other people without whom you have no wish to pursue an acquaintance—unless you desire to have, like Comrade James, a number of regrettable experiences to acknowledge.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “Are they Fallen?,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 6 no. 29 (July 31, E. M. 302 (C. E. 1902): 224-226.


  • [Voltairine de Cleyre], “Some Nihilists I Have Met,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 6 no. 27 (July 17, E. M. 302 (C. E. 1902): 208-209; 6 no. 28 (July 24, E. M. 302 (C. E. 1902): 216-217. [republished anonymously]

A Correction.

Dear Lillian: Lucifer makes me say: “If it shall happen that Society condemns anything which my conscience doesn’t approve, I shall not be scared from my position by being told that Society is NOT on my side.” It should read “that Society is on my side.” Every radical claims to be brave enough to stand against society; what I was claiming was to stand with it when it went my way. Please make correction in Lucifer.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “A Correction,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 6 no. 30 (August 7, E. M. 302 (C. E. 1902): 237.


Good News from Voltairine de Cleyre.

A letter in Miss de Cleyre’s familiar writing was received a few days ago. Though it was not written for publication, we feel justified in quoting from it, as the writer is known and admired and loved by many of our readers. The letter is dated Dec. 31. She says:

“Your kindly letter cheered me in the first days of my recent accident. I have been sitting up for three days now, and hope to go home at the end of the week. Whether any of the bullets may have to be extracted later is a matter for my surgeon to decide. Being shot is a very curious sensation!

“The boy who did it is, and has been, ever since I knew him, weak in the head-piece. I hope you paid no attention to the nonsense which I am told appeared in the papers about love-stuff. Nothing of the kind. He had always a mild, gentle, and generous disposition but troubled with fits of melancholy. And though he used to talk all sort of nonsense, I never thought he would ever handle weapons of any kind.

“He was brought up just as most of our Russian Jewish boys, and there is nothing in his antecedents to explain his craziness. Nor had he any ‘bad habits.’ That he is crazy is sure. I wish I could save him from prison or from a State Asylum; but I don’t know how I can.”

The Philadelphia papers devoted many columns to the affair, and many absurd statements and conjectures were made. Of course it is the business of reporters to make a “good story,” and pander to the morbid tastes of the public. Thus the reports relating to the love-sick youoth, were to be “taken with a grain of salt.”

Jesus told us to forgive those who injure us.

McKinley said,” Do not let them hurt him,”—meaning the mob—but had no word of protest against legally-wreaked vengeance.

Voltairine de Cleyre “true to her principles” (as the Philadelphia press expressed it) philosophically decided that her assailant was mentally irresponsible, and will do what she can to save him from punishment.

William McKinley, the politician: Voltairine de Cleyre, the Anarchist. Which most consistently obeyed Jesus’ precept?

L. H.

Lillian Harman, “Good News from Voltairine de Cleyre,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 6 no. 52 (January 8, E. M. 303 (C. E. 1903): 412-413.


Voltairine de Cleyre, Phila., Pa.:—I see by Lucifer that a very foolish man has been writing to the Boston “Traveler” about myself and poor little Herman Helcher. The quantity of folly people will write is limitless, it seems. The trouble is they all write before they know any facts, and it sounds so comical to the one who does know the facts!

Voltairine de Cleyre, “Various Voices,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 7 no. 9 (March 12, E. M. 303 (C. E. 1903): 70.


  • Moses Harman and Voltairine de Cleyre, “Voltairine de Cleyre to Her Critics,” Lucifer the Light-Bearer, Third Series, 7 no. 10 (March 19, E. M. 303 (C. E. 1903): 73-74.
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2038 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.