Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Case of the Imprisoned Italians in Philadelphia” (1908)

ALL readers of Mother Earth are familiar with the story of last February’s “riot,” and the subsequent arrest, trial, and discharge of H. Weinberg and myself. What they are not so familiar with is the case of the four Italian “rioters,” who were railroaded through the courts and sentenced most mercilessly by Judge Von Moschzisker. Three of these men were Social Revolutionists, the fourth an Anarchist; the latter received a five year sentence.

During all the time that money was being raised for our defense, little or nothing was said about these, the worst sufferers in the whole affair; and not until after our case was settled, did the Defense Committee endeavor to find out anything concerning the condition of their families. I take my personal share of blame for this; I listened to indefinite stories that they were being helped by certain charitable rich women, and did not take the time to verify or disprove them. My comrades did the same.

After the settlement of our case, it was resolved to see what could be done for the prisoners. We learned that owing to their lawyers’ not having taken exception to any of the Judge’s rulings, it was not possible to secure a new trial; we could only appeal to the Board of Pardons.

At the business meeting at which this matter was discussed, the old Defense Committee concluded its existence, and a new committee was selected. Of the money received by the old Committee, $26.64 remained, which was to be turned over to the new Committee for the benefit of the prisoners or the support of their families.

There had been collected by the Jewish Freie Arbeiter-Stimme a very considerable sum, which had not been turned over to the Philadelphia treasurer, and which the management decided not to turn over for the benefit of the Italians, reporting that letters from the donors charged them not to do so. Another considerable sum was collected by the Anarchist Federation, this time with the express understanding that it was to go to all the arrested who needed it.

Of this last, I, acting as treasurer of the new Committee, received $150.00 from Alexander Berkman.[note]The Federation had previously—last March—forwarded $125.00 to Natasha Notkin, the treasurer of the former Committee. Since the receipt of this appeal by Comrade De Cleyre, the Federation sent her $50.00. A. B.[/note]

Meanwhile I made inquiry as to the pardon proceedings, and our lawyer undertook the matter, thinking the necessary expense of copying records, trips to Harrisburg, etc., would not be more than $100.00 This amount I paid him. Having at length learned the address of the two families resident in this city—a third is in Italy, and the fourth prisoner unmarried—I sought them out. I found each of the families, consisting in one case of a mother and three children (one a month old), the other a mother with three children and about to give birth again (twins have since been born), living in one room. No rich women had done anything for them or been near them; only poor Italian comrades, almost as poor as themselves. To each I gave $5.00, money which had been given to me for them by a Catholic priest! The Committee then decided to send each of the two families $3.00 a week, as long as we had funds. The fifty dollars sent from New York has now been thus used up. Of the $26.64 left in the former treasurer’s hands I have received $14.64, six of which has already gone to the families. I sent $5.00 to the family in Italy. The pardon case comes before the Board on the 21st of October. And now we suddenly are met by the fact that Judge Von Moschzisker, through an unusual proceeding, has made necessary an outlay of nearly a hundred dollars more,—copy of a certified type-written record of over 150 pages.

This, then, is the situation. There is not a cent for the purpose in my hands. Those who had charge of the funds have decided to use them for other purposes. I now make appeal for this purpose, with the assurance that all money sent to me will be accounted for strictly, and not one cent be given for anything but the purpose designated. Send money directly to me.

Are these people, because they are poor and unknown, to be left the victims of this injustice, when hundreds of dollars were raised for us, because we were better known? Our need was not so great as theirs, for all we lost was a few days’ work. These men’s families are starving.

At all events the case will go before the Pardon Board; but I ask you, who read, to help bear the extra cost.



531 N. Marshall St., Philadelphia.

Voltairine de Cleyre, “The Case of the Imprisoned Italians in Philadelphia,” Mother Earth 3 no. 8 (October 1908): 324-326.

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