Voltairine de Cleyre (17 November 1866 – 20 June 1912) was an American anarchist, known for being a prolific writer and speaker, and opposing state capitalism, the state itself, marriage and the domination of religion over sexuality and women's lives. She began her activist career in the freethought movement. De Cleyre was initially drawn to individualist anarchism but evolved through mutualism to an "anarchism without adjectives", prioritizing a stateless society without the use of force above all else. She was a contemporary of Emma Goldman, with whom she maintained a relationship of respectful disagreement on many issues. Many of her essays were in the Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre, published posthumously by Mother Earth in 1914.
Voltairine de Cleyre Home Page, by Sharon Presley
Website of the Voltairine de Cleyre Society; includes biography page, text of many of her essays, information on Presley's book about Cleyre and links to recommended resources
Voltairine de Cleyre is one of the most brilliant writers in the 19th/early 20th century libertarian tradition – a really provocative and constantly experimental thinker about the nature of freedom, and the author of some really important essays on libertarian feminism. There are some excellent recent collections of her writing, in particular The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader (from AK Press, ed. A. J. Brigati) and Exquisite Rebel: The Essays of Voltairine de Cleyre – Anarchist, Feminist, Genius (from SUNY Press, eds. Crispin Sartwell and Sharon Presley).
For example, on reading a newspaper headline [about] the Haymarket protesters ... the teenaged individualist-feminist Voltairine de Cleyre had exclaimed aloud, "They ought to be hanged!" She keenly and instantly regretted the words, and assumed the opposite position with equal vehemence. Fourteen years later, de Cleyre remained sorely haunted by her words ... Much of de Cleyre's political activity in the ensuing years can be seen as an attempt to expiate her sin. Her most passionate addresses were delivered as lectures at the yearly memorials to the Haymarket martyrs that she attended.
Introducing Revisionism: An interview with James J. Martin, by Michael Hardesty, Peter Kuetzing, John McCarthy, Steven Springer, Reason, Jan 1976
Topics discussed include: World War II vs. Vietnam War revisionism, genocide, the definition of "aggression" between nations, the Cold War, Lysander Spooner vs. Benjamin Tucker on natural rights, the Columbus complex and individualist anarchism
... the writings of the woman radical named Voltairine de Cleyre ... a very much neglected and overlooked lady revolutionist and thinker of great importance in this country. ... [she] advanced the notion that at bottom, if you kept going down to the bottom, in an attempt to search out the reason for the existence of this or that individual attitude towards ethical, philosophical and related questions, you got back down to a biological basis—what she called temperament—which was not capable of being understood or measured by any kind of rational approach; and that it was a genetic factor.
However the most famous of the individualist anarchist feminists was Voltairine de Cleyre ... Though she later declared herself an "anarchist without adjectives," her individualist spirit continued. Her essay "Sex Slavery" was the most systematic statement of the social construction of gender (before such a term even existed) since Sarah Grimke's essays ... Though she was not alone in this belief, many mainstream feminists and most male anarchists bought into the traditional stereotypes of women as weaker ... This radical aspect of her ideas has been insufficiently appreciated, even by people who are familiar with her.
The libertarian I'd like to discuss today was something of a star in that first libertarian movement, though her works and even her name are pretty close to forgotten today. Voltairine de Cleyre was born November 17, 1866, just after the end of the American Civil War, in a town called Leslie, in rural Central Michigan, about 20 miles south of Lansing. ... Voltairine never wrote a book, but certain of her essays are really neglected classics. Her essay 'Anarchism and American Traditions,' for example, appeared originally in 1908 and 1909 in the pages of Mother Earth, Emma Goldman's anarchist magazine. It is a true gem.
In An American Anarchist: the Life of Voltairine de Cleyre (Princeton University Press, 1978), Avrich makes that legend come alive, revealing not only Voltairine de Cleyre the anarchist but Voltairine de Cleyre the person as well. ... Born in a small village in Michigan in 1866, Voltairine, plagued all her life by poverty, pain and ill health, died prematurely at the age of 45 in 1912. The short span of her life, ending before the great events of the 20th century, is, in Avrich's opinion, the major reason why Voltairine de Cleyre has been overlooked, unlike the longer-lived Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman.
Anarchism, Free Society, 13 Oct 1901
Examines various economic propositions for anarchism (socialist, communist, individualist and mutualist) and opines that all could be tried out
It no longer seems necessary to me, therefore, that one should base his Anarchism on any particular world conception; it is a theory of the relations due to man and comes as an offered solution to the societary problems arising from the existence of these two tendencies of which I have spoken. ... Anarchism, alone, apart from any proposed economic reform, is just the latest reply out of many the past has given, to that daring, breakaway, volatile, changeful spirit which is never content.