Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

liberty is to be served, wherever superstition is to be torn away, wherever the race is to be lifted up--there, I say, will the elements of the soul of her who lies here, the elements of devotion, sincerity, fearlessness, idealism, gleam out purer, stronger, brighter, because she has lived, and been moved by them, and strengthened them in this life. These were the real person, and these deathless. A gift from the past she was, now given to the future. (5)

Insofar as the living embody their beliefs, the dead live on.

De Cleyre also distinguished herself stylistically. Her predilection for writing poetry and short stories shone through in the detailed crafting of her speeches, illustrated by the enumeration in "Why I Am an Anarchist," cited earlier. Quoting from an autobiographical sketch (Wess Papers), Avrich explains:

She considered herself "more of a lecturer than an orator, and more of a writer than either," to quote her own rather modest description. "I am not an orator," she insisted, "and I have a good deal of contempt for extemporaneous speaking, as a rule. It's so disjointed and loaded with repetition. So I usually write my stuff." (41-42)

Consistent with her emphasis on style, she closely guarded her work; editing was not allowed ( Avrich, 1978:79).


CONCLUSION

De Cleyre's distinctiveness as a rhetorician came from her deep understanding of the plight of women and the case she made for anarchism as the solution to women's problems, her use of emotional appeals, her ability to create rhetorical afterlives for those who had died for anarchism, and her stylistic skills.

De Cleyre is a largely untapped feminist resource. As feminism attempts to grapple with the dangers and pleasures of sexuality, it should turn to thinkers of earlier times who analyzed the problems and conditions of women. As Marsh writes: "Among the anarchist women of a century ago we find the kind of serious probing of sexual and familial relationships that could serve as a preface to a new feminist analysis" ( 1978:5).


NOTE
1.
A demonstration on May 4, 1886, in support of demands for an eight-hour working day was organized by anarchists and drew a crowd of some 1,500 people to Haymarket Square in Chicago. When police attempted to break up the demonstration, a bomb exploded and rioting ensued. Seven police officers and four others were killed; more than 100 were wounded. Eight anarchist leaders were tried. No evidence was produced that they had made or thrown the bomb; however, they were convicted of inciting violence. Four were hanged, one committed suicide, and the remaining three--after imprisonment for seven years--were pardoned in 1893 by the governor of Illinois on the grounds that the trial was unjust. See Haymarket Scrapbook, eds. David Roediger and Franklin Rosemont ( Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1986).

-152-

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