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Gates of Freedom

Voltairine de Cleyre and the Revolution of the Mind

Eugenia C. DeLamotte

Publication Year: 2004

The question of souls is old; we demand our bodies, now. These words are not from a feminist manifesto of the late twentieth century, but from a fiery speech given a hundred years earlier by Voltairine de Cleyre, a leading anarchist and radical thinker. A contemporary of Emma Goldman---who called her "the most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced"---de Cleyre was a significant force in a major social movement that sought to transform American society and culture at its root. But she belongs to a group of late-nineteenth-century freethinkers, anarchists, and sex-radicals whose writing continues to be excluded from the U.S. literary and historical canon. Gates of Freedom considers de Cleyre's speeches, letters, and essays, including her most well known essay, "Sex Slavery." Part I brings current critical concerns to bear on de Cleyre's writings, exploring her contributions to the anarchist movement, her analyses of justice and violence, and her views on women, sexuality, and the body. Eugenia DeLamotte demonstrates both de Cleyre's literary significance and the importance of her work to feminist theory, women's studies, literary and cultural studies, U.S. history, and contemporary social and cultural analysis. Part II presents a thematically organized selection of de Cleyre's stirring writings, making Gates of Freedom appealing to scholars, students, and anyone interested in Voltairine de Cleyre's fascinating life and rousing work. Eugenia C. DeLamotte is Associate Professor of English, Arizona State University.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

Part One: Revolution of the Mind

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pp. 1-2

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pp. 3-13

Voltairine de Cleyre belongs to a group of writers in the United States—late-nineteenth-century freethinkers, anarchists, and sex radicals—who are excluded not only from the canon in general but even from the most progressive textbook anthologies. This exclusion renders their achievements invisible...

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1. Freeing Thought

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pp. 14-41

“The history of intellectual progress is written in the lives of infidels,” freethinker Robert Ingersoll proclaimed in 1894 (“Voltaire” 177). In the hundreds of works Voltairine de Cleyre published from the 1880s until her death in 1912—poems, sketches, essays, lectures, pamphlets, translations...

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2. Fated Fruit

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pp. 42-79

De Cleyre’s position on the means by which “the dream of social order without government” could be realized belongs to a late-nineteenth-century anarchist debate too complex to be rendered here in full, but its broad outlines are necessary to frame clearly her particular version...

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3. Sex Slavery

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pp. 80-123

De Cleyre was not one of the great original theorists of anarchism at its most general level, although many of her lectures are brilliant and cogent syntheses of ideas drawn from her extensive reading of anarchist theory. She should be recognized, however, as a major—perhaps the major—theorist...

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4. Refashioning the Mind

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pp. 124-152

To go free, “beyond the bounds of what fear and custom call the ‘possible,’” was de Cleyre’s lifelong project, and the project of inspiring such freedom in her readers animates all of her narrative and rhetorical strategies. Central to this project was the challenge of getting rid of...

Part Two: Selected Writings of Voltairine de Cleyre

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pp. 153

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Section One: De Cleyre's Lifework: Hope, Despair, Solidarity

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pp. 155-162

De Cleyre was a voluminous letter writer, and her letters are a microcosm of the strengths that characterize her work in every other genre; in them, in fact, we see much of the literary potential that she herself felt she never fully developed. To supplement the biographical sketch in the...

The Burial of My Past Self

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pp. 163-164

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New and Strange Ideas

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pp. 165-167

Dearest Mother,
After six long weeks I received your most truly welcome note, which wasn’t cross as I feared it would be.
Well I’m glad you’re not angry at me, and I don’t intend, I assure you, to do any more harm than the ordinary individual. ...

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Civilizing the World

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pp. 168-173

Dear Addie:
This is the last day of my vacation. I have been a “half-timer” now for ten weeks, but the worship of Mammon11 declares I must start in “full time” tomorrow. So I’m taking my last day to write you, for the Keeper of Mysteries only knows whether I’ll get another chance this year or not. ...

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To Print the Force of My Will

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pp. 174-177

Dearest Mother:—
I’m like yourself, blue, these last weeks; due I presume mostly to the weather, which probably exerts on human beings the same sort of influence it does on everything else,—a repressive, deadening sort of one. ...

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Do You Remember . . . ?

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pp. 178-180

Dear Old Girl:—
Your second letter came to-day. I was going to answer the first one any how today. . . . every day I thought to answer it, but some way I couldn’t make up my mind to write until I had settled whether to come back or not. ...

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Possessed by Barren Doubts

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pp. 181-185

Dear Comrade:—
I am infinitely ashamed of myself for not having answered your letter of Dec. 12 before this; the trouble is I took the advice you gave literally; do you remember what you wrote? “The best thing it seems to me would be for you to drop letter writing and discuss the whole question”...

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Impractical! Hell!

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pp. 186-188

Dearest Sister: Your letters just came this morning. . . .
Well, if things cannot be arranged for Detroit,—(or even for Mother to board even at $4.50) then I shall have to give up my western idea42 and go and stay with her for a year. ...

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Report of the Work of the Chicago Mexican Defense League

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pp. 189-191

About the middle of May, 1911, a few comrades in Chicago, responding to the appeal of the Junta of the Mexican Liberal Party, took up the task of informing themselves as to the underlying causes of the great revolutionary struggle in Mexico, and of spreading that information among...

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Section Two: Freedom, Justice, Anarchism

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pp. 192-194

As the letters in the preceding section show, from de Cleyre’s earliest days as a freethought agitator in Grand Rapids her attention was fixed on the inequality, desperation, and crime bred by the violence inherent in any so-called social “order” not founded on liberty. ...

The Hurricane

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pp. 195-196

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A Rocket of Iron

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pp. 197-199

It was one of those misty October nightfalls of the north, when the white fog creeps up from the river, and winds itself like a corpse-sheet around the black, ant-like mass of human insignificance, a cold menace from Nature to Man, till the foreboding of that irresistible fatality...

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Appeal for Herman Helcher

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pp. 200

Dear Comrades,
I write to appeal to you on behalf of the unfortunate child (for in intellect he has never been more than a child) who made the assault upon me. He is friendless, he is in prison, he is sick;—had he not been sick in brain he would never have done this thing. ...

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The Chain Gang

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pp. 201-204

It is far, far down in the southland, and I am back again, thanks be, in the land of wind and snow, where life lives. But that was in the days when I was a wretched thing, that crept and crawled, and shrunk when the wind blew, and feared the snow. So they sent me away down there to the...

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The Commune Is Risen

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pp. 205-209

Never since those lines were sung by the great unknown poet, whose heart shone red through his words, has the pulse of the world beat so true a response as it is beating now. We do not stand to-day as mourners at the bier of a Dead Cause, but with the joy of those who behold it living in the Resurrection. ...

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Section Three: On Women, Sexuality, and the Body

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pp. 210-218

“The questions of souls is old; we demand our bodies, now.” De Cleyre wrote these words in 1890; they could just as easily have been written in 1970, in any manifesto associated with the second wave of feminism. Although the anarchist feminism of Emma Goldman had a significant...

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Selling Their Bodies

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pp. 219-221

My Dearest Little Sis,
I’m so ashamed of myself to think I haven’t answered your New Year’s letter. It was such a nice letter too; so full of good things. But do you know I have on the average two letters every day and one’s postage bill gets to be quite an item. . . .

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Sex Slavery

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pp. 222-234

Night in a prison cell! A chair, a bed, a small washstand, four blank walls, ghastly in the dim light from the corridor without, a narrow window, barred and sunken in the stone, a grated door! Beyond its hideous iron latticework, within the ghastly walls,—a man! ...

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The Gates of Freedom

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pp. 235-250

“They have rights who dare maintain them.” This is my text.
And the purpose of my lecture is threefold. First to state the facts concerning the actual of [sic] status of woman in relation to society as a whole—what position she really holds in human economy. ...

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The White Room

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pp. 251-253

It was an artist’s masterpiece. He had wrought it all with his own hands, after his idea, which grew as he wrought. It was not square nor long nor round, nor any regular shape, such as we are used to thinking of rooms; it was wider here and narrower there, and had strange turns and...

Mary Wollstonecraft

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pp. 254-255

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If I Had Married Him

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pp. 256-259

Dearest Mother:
Yes, I did forget to enclose the Bentley letter last time—or rather I looked in the envelope and tho’t I saw it inside and let it go without further examination. It’s in this time sure. ...

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The Past and Future of the Ladies' Liberal League

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pp. 260-270

I have assumed a serious and severe office that of historian and prophet. But, pardon me, I intend to be neither serious nor severe; for this is an occasion rather for exchanging greetings and putting ourselves in good humor than being serious, and my talk will be somewhat governed thereby. ...

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The Case of Woman vs. Orthodoxy

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pp. 271-283

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”90 Thus descended the anathema from the voice which thundered upon Sinai; and thus has the curse gone echoing...

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The Woman Question

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pp. 284-285

“A section of Anarchists say there is no ‘Women Question,’ apart from our present industrial situation. But the assertion is mostly made by men, and men are not the fittest to feel the slaveries of women. Scientists argue that the nutritive functions of society are best performed by...

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The Heart of Angiolillo

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pp. 286-294

Some women are born to love stories as the sparks ›y upward. You see it every time they glance at you, and you feel it every time they lay a finger on your sleeve. There was a party the other night, and a four-year old baby who couldn’t sleep for the noise crept down into the parlor half...

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The Death of Love

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pp. 295-298

A very miscellaneous set of reasons, those which Lucifer has received as to why love dies. May I add one more to the assortment? And may I preface that it seems to me all the answers I have read are open to the same criticism, viz: that of hunting with a telescope for reasons of all sorts of doubtful probability...

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The Hopelessly Fallen

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pp. 299-301

I generally like what Kate Austin says and always admire the spirited way she says it; but I feel moved to write a word of disagreement with her and others concerning this attitude towards “fallen women.”129 I do not know just what class of persons are included in that category...

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They Who Marry Do Ill

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pp. 302-313

Let me make myself understood on two points, now, so that when discussion arises later, words may not be wasted in considering things not in question:
First—How shall we measure doing well or doing ill; Second—What I mean by marriage. ...

Notes to Part 1

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pp. 314-321

Works Cited

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pp. 322-331

Selected Index of Names

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pp. 332-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026289
E-ISBN-10: 0472026283
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472068678
Print-ISBN-10: 0472068679

Page Count: 348
Illustrations: 3 B&W photographs and 2 illustrations
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Anarchism -- United States.
  • Feminism and literature -- United States.
  • Women and literature -- United States.
  • Feminists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Women anarchists -- United States -- Biography.
  • De Cleyre, Voltairine, 1866-1912.
  • Women authors, American -- Biography.
  • De Cleyre, Voltairine, 1866-1912 -- Criticism and interpretation.
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