Voltairine de Cleyre

Voltairine de Cleyre

Firestorm Books & Coffee is dedicated to the legacy of Voltairine de Cleyre, "the most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced."

Born Nov. 17, 1866 in Leslie, Michigan, Voltairine de Cleyre was a prolific writer and speaker who championed the causes of anarchism, free thought and feminism.

Horrified by the hanging of the Haymarket Martyrs in 1887, Voltairine embraced anarchism, dedicating herself to the cause of liberty and the abolition of its principle foe, the state. Writing in defiance of social convention and the Comstock laws, under which early feminists were imprisoned for obscenity, she took aim at the institution of marriage, pornography, rape and gender roles. Her whole life, wrote biographer Paul Avrich, "was a revolt against this system of male domination which, like every other form of tyranny and exploitation, ran contrary to her anarchistic spirit."

Initially a proponent of individualist anarchism, Voltairine's philosophy evolved over time leading her to embrace mutualism and eventually become a principle advocate of "anarchism without adjectives," an ecumenical approach placing economic questions second to the abolition of coercive authority.

Plagued by poverty, illness and depression, Voltairine survived adverse love affairs, two suicide attempts and a failed assassination that left her with chronic pain (she refused to prosecute her assailant). Despite these hardships she authored hundreds of poems, essays and stories before her untimely death at the age of 45. These works have recently enjoyed a renewed interest, resulting in the publication of several anthologies.

"...a brilliant mind, a fervent idealist, an unflinching fighter, a devoted and loyal comrade."
Emma Goldman, on Voltairine, 1932

Illustration by Clifford Harper <3

Further Reading

"The paramount question of the day is not political, is not religious, but is economic. The crying demand of today is for a circle of principles that shall forever make it impossible for one man to control another by controlling the means of his existence."
Voltairine de Cleyre, 1890