Voltairine De Cleyre, “Letter from Voltairine De Cleyre” (1891)

For the Boston Investigator.


Mr. Editor:—It is so long since I made my bow to the Investigator that I feel somewhat as if an introduction were necessary in order that my friends my recognize me.

I went out to the land of reputed grasshoppers and hot winds something like a year ago, to a small retreat among the Kansas prairies called Enterprise, and there resigned myself to poetry in the shape of exquisite sunsets, thrice golden moons and brilliant starts, the vast solemnity of the great waving seas of grass, and the extremely prosaic business of getting a living as a piano teacher. Yes, it was poetry and prose mixed; sometimes, when the boys had their lessons, the poetry ran over and tinted the prose to something like rhythmic colors and tones, and quite frequently the prose diluted the poetry till neither one was “any good,” very much like a second pouring of tea, which is neither good water nor good tea. However, I have survived the unpleasant experience, and looking back over my year find that the good outweighed the bad, since I mad many earnest friends, and is not one true friend worth more than the evil of a year?

Kansas with all her bigotry is none the less an enterprising state; which is to say, she is full of radical notions of all kinds—economic, social, political and religious. I had the pleasure of meeting a number of her brightest and most energetic freethinkers at Topeka and elsewhere. I do not know whether the Investigator has received a report of the Ottawa convention of freethinkers. At any rate, it may not be amiss to say that a state organization was effected on September 7th, of which C. K. Levering of Burlington was elected president and Lillie D. White of Halsted, secretary. The association has no platform beyond that of opposition to the church on moral grounds, and leaves to its local societies entire jurisdiction over their own beliefs.

The convention at Ottawa was two-fold in its object: first, it was the annual reunion of the Lucifer Union, which was formed for the purpose of assisting Lucifer financially; and second, as an organization convention. Three days’ meetings were held in Forest Park, and the attendance on Sunday was very large. The park, a beautiful place, by the way, is the annual meeting place of various societies, which endeavor to save souls according to the gospels of their several faiths. Mr. Semple, of Ottawa, determ[in]ing to test the impartiality of the town officials, made application for its use for a freethought convention. After much heated discussion, refusals and persuasions he was finally given the permit, but not until they first gave a promise that “all persons present shall be of good moral character.”

Imagine, will you? Think of the ordinary christian local official stickling about moral character! In my opinion, if they are like any other officials I have ever known, they do not know what moral character is! However, the meetings passed off without disturbance, and it is to be hoped the remarks of Mrs. White, Mrs. Waisbrooker, Mr. Harman, Mr. Cook and Mrs. Semple liberalized them somewhat. Personally, I enjoyed the meetings very much, and the recollection of the pleasant sayings and doing kept me smiling during my long and tiresome ride to Chicago.

There again I found myself with friends, being welcomed at the house of that bright little woman whose name is known all over freethought America and whose recent writings in the Chicago Liberal and the Auditor have touched many a heart to tears. Mrs. Freeman is a sort of mother superior to the Chicago Secular Union, which held quite an interesting discussion, over the somewhat threadbare subject of a protective tariff. I say, threadbare, though properly no question is threadbare so long as such a vast mass of the people can be deceived concerning it. The union appears to be in a prosperous condition, and Mr. Geeting, who does the brunt of the work in the society, is much encourage with its present success.

The following evening a reception was tendered me by Dr. Juliet Severance at her elegant rooms on Warren Ave. Dr. Severance has not fully recovered her physical vigor, which was ravaged by two years’ constant suffering as the result of a broken arm not properly attended. Nevertheless, she has not lost her grace, dignity and ease of manner as a hostess and a woman. Though comparatively a stranger to Chicagoans, having moved there recently from Milwaukee, she nevertheless made all feel at home, and a pleasurable evening was spent by “the crank;” some twenty of him were present, and we sung, played, recited and conversed just like other folks. Mrs. Severance vetoed “isms” at the start, which veto was supplemented by a remark by Mrs. Freeman that “the meeting was not a continuance of the secular union.”

I have observed that such continuations are generally too frequent among us; that we are wont to sacrifice our social natures to a perpetual discussion of theories. This gathering, however, thanks to the good taste of all was entirely free from argument; an evening of pure entertainment, and if we may judge by the crowd which collected outside, our singers and reciters afforded pleasure to some others as well as our little group.

Shall I mention those present? They are too well known to need mention, and yet if someone reads these lines who shall some day wish to meet the members of that happy circle, let me name to him bright-eyed, versatile Mrs. Holmes, Mrs. Ames, who looks at Nature through the medium of Herbert Spencer; to such an extent is my friend devoted to the great sociologist that she contemplates making a sort of Mecca-like pilgrimage to his home some day; she hopes to see him before he dies, and indeed, such persistent spreading of the Spencerian gospel deserves its reward. Geo. Schilling, the generous god-father of the Chicago cranks, casts his benevolent eyes upon the progressive fledglings under his charge, Messrs. Rossner, Trinkhaus and Lund. The editor of the Auditor and his energetic wife, Sarah V. Westrup, tried the various seats in the room, and found them good. M. A. Collins, who has twice been killed by the Chicago dailies, was present, as blithe as ever, “proving in himself,” as Mr. Schilling puts it, “the truth of spiritualism and the physical resurrection.”

We went home early, like good children; but the pleasant feelings remain with us yet; at least they do with men, and always will.

I am back in my own Michigan again; it is two years since I saw her in her dress of green, beautiful in the September sunlight. The papers have put me in nearly every place in the Union where I didn’t belong. I have been dubbed a Pittburger and a Chicagoan when I had not been in either place for a year. I never thought it worth contradiction, deeming the world my home; but some way, down in a corner of men, there is a peculiar affection for the lights and shadows, the green hills and the yellow, dusty road, even the anthills and the ugly, red barns of my own Michigan. Let who can, explain it; I am no believer in patriotism.

Voltairine de Cleyre.

Saint John’s, Mich.

Voltairine De Cleyre, “Letter from Voltairine De Cleyre,” The Boston Investigator 61 no. 27 (October 07, 1891): 2.

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