In commemoration of Voltairine de Cleyre (1866-1912)
Emma Goldman’s Memorial Tribute to Voltairine de Cleyre (1932), an excerpt:
The first time I met her — this most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced — was in Philadelphia, in August 1893. I had come to that city to address the unemployed during the great crisis of that year, and I was eager to visit Voltairine of whose exceptional ability as a lecturer I had heard while in New York. I found her ill in bed, her head packed in ice, her face drawn with pain. I learned that this experience repeated itself with Voltairine after her every public appearance: she would be bed-ridden for days, in constant agony from some disease of the nervous system which she had developed in early childhood and which continued to grow worse with the years. I did not remain long on this first visit, owing to the evident suffering of my hostess, though she was bravely trying to hide her pain from me. But fate plays strange pranks.
In the evening of the same day, Voltairine de Cleyre was called upon to drag her frail, suffering body to a densely packed, stuffy hall, to speak in my stead. At the request of the New York authorities, the protectors of law and disorder in Philadelphia captured me as I was about to enter the Hall and led me off to the Police Station of the City of Brotherly Love. The next time I saw Voltairine was at Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary. She had come to New York to deliver her masterly address, “In Defense of Emma Goldman and Free Speech,” and she visited me in prison. From that time until her end our lives and work were frequently thrown together, often meeting harmoniously and sometimes drifting apart, but always with Voltairine standing out in my eyes as a forceful personality, a brilliant mind, a fervent idealist, an unflinching fighter, a devoted and loyal comrade. But her strongest characteristic was her extraordinary capacity to conquer physical disability — a trait which won for her the respect even of her enemies and the love and admiration of her friends.
Also see our Commemoration of Voltairine’s birthday CLICK HERE with testimonials from her many fans and friends
From Paul Avrich’s biography of Voltairine:
Voltairine de Cleyre “died on Thursday morning, June 20, 1912, just after 11 o’clock.
On Sunday, June 23rd, she was buried in the Waldheim Cemetery , beside the graves of the Haymarket anarchists whose martyrdom had inspired her life. Two thousand mourners attended, among them representatives of the Workmen’s Circle, the Bohemian Bakers’ and Turners’ Unions, the Jewish Cabinetmakers’ Union, the Women’s Progress Society, and the English, Hungarian, Czech, and Italian branches of the I.W.W. (including William D. Haywood, Vincent St. John, and William Trautmann). Voltairine’s mother and sister came from St. Johns to attend the burial. ‘As my sister lay in her casket,’ Addie recalls, ‘Mrs. Lucy Parsons stood beside her and arranged a spray of red carnations on it; and a hush fell on the crowd.’ A small simple stone marks her grave, inscribed with her name and dates; and when comrades visit the Haymarket monument, ‘they lovingly remember Voltairine de Cleyre.’
On the evening of the funeral, a memorial meeting was held in Philadelphia, arranged by the Radical Library, with George Brown and Chaim Weinberg among the speakers. On the stage hung a large picture of Voltairine decorated in red and black. The next day, a similar gathering took place on the Lower East Side in New York, where Alexander Berkman, Harry Kelly, and Saul Yanovsky addressed a hushed audience. In Los Angeles, Regeneration declared that ‘the Mexican peon has lost a true and powerful friend’”…
“Edited by Alexander Berkman, with a biographical sketch by Havel, the Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre, ‘an arsenal of knowledge for the student and soldier of freedom,’ appeared in 1914 under the imprint of the Mother Earth Publishing Association.
For the next few years memorial meetings were held in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles on the anniversary of Voltairine de Cleyre’s death. Her poem ‘The Hurricane’ was set to music by George Edwards, who had offered Emma Goldman the use of his Musical Institute of San Diego during the free-speech fight of 1912. Leonard Abbott included Voltairine in his lecture course on radical literature at the Ferrer Center in New York. And her poems were recited at children’s entertainments at the Ferrer Colony in Stelton, whose main street was named in her honor. ‘She has left the stage,’ said her Chicago comrade Jay Fox, ‘but her memory will linger long, like the odor of a fragrant rose crushed at full bloom; like the impress of a great thought flashed on the mind.’ The most moving tribute, however, came from Will Duff in Glasgow: ‘Voltairine, I am pleased to have been your friend and comrade, for you were one of the bravest, truest, and sweetest women that ever lived. You need no stone nor funeral bell; you are tombed in the true hearts that loved you well.’”