1. Education

Lucy Parsons

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Lucy Parsons

Lucy Parsons, arrested 1915 in Hull House protest

Courtesy Library of Congress

About Lucy Parsons:

Known for: early socialist activist "of color"; a founder of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, the "Wobblies"); widow of executed "Haymarket Eight" figure, Albert Parsons
Occupation: writer, anarchist, radical organizer
Dates: about March 1853? - March 7, 1942
Also known as: Lucy González Parson, Lucy Gonzalez Parson, Lucy González, Lucy Gonzalez, Lucy Waller

About Lucy Parsons:

Lucy Parsons' origins are not documented, and she told different stories about her background so it's difficult to sort fact from myth. Lucy was probably born a slave, though she denied any African heritage, claiming only Native American and Mexican ancestry. Her name before marriage to Albert Parsons was Lucy Gonzalez. She may have been married before 1871 to Oliver Gathing.

Albert Parsons:

In 1871, the dark-skinned Lucy Parsons married Albert Parsons, a white Texan and former Confederate soldier who had become a radical Republican after the Civil War. Ku Klux Klan presence in Texas was strong, and dangerous for anyone in an interracial marriage, so the couple moved to Chicago in 1873.

Socialism in Chicago:

In Chicago, Lucy and Albert Parsons lived in a poor community and became involved in the Social Democratic Party, associated with Marxist socialism. When that organization folded, they joined the Workingmen's Party of the United States (WPUSA, known after 1892 as the Socialist Labor Party, or SLP). The Chicago chapter met in the Parsons home.

Lucy Parsons began her career as a writer and lecturer, writing for the WPUSA's paper, the Socialist, and speaking for the WPUSA and the Working Women's Union.

Lucy Parsons and her husband Albert left the WPUSA in the 1880s and joined an anarchist organization, the International Working People's Association (IWPA), believing that violence was necessary for working people to overthrow capitalism, and for racism to be ended.

Haymarket:

In May, 1886, both Lucy Parsons and Albert Parsons were leaders of a strike in Chicago for an eight-hour work day. The strike ended in violence and eight of the anarchists were arrested, including Albert Parsons. They were accused of responsibility for a bomb which killed four police officers, though witnesses testified that none of the eight threw the bomb. The strike came to be called the Haymarket Riot.

Lucy Parsons was a leader in the efforts to defend the "Haymarket Eight" but Albert Parsons was among the four who were executed. Their daughter died shortly after.

Lucy Parsons' Later Activism:

She started a paper, Freedom, in 1892, and continued writing, speaking, and organizing. She worked with, among others, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. In 1905 Lucy Parsons was among those who founded the Industrial Workers of the World, starting an IWW newspaper in Chicago.

In 1914 Lucy Parsons led protests in San Francisco, and in 1915 organized demonstrations around hunger that brought together Chicago's Hull House and Jane Addams, the Socialist Party, and the American Federation of Labor.

Lucy Parsons may have joined the Communist Party in 1939 (Gale Ahrens disputes this common claim). She died in a house fire in 1942 in Chicago. Government agents searched her home after the fire and removed many of her papers.

Background, Family:

  • parents unknown
  • possibly born a slave on a plantation in Texas (she denied having African heritage)

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Albert Parsons (married 1871; printer; former Confederate soldier; radical Republican, later labor union activist and socialist and anarchist)
  • children: Albert Richard (1879-?) and Lula Eda (1881-1889)
  • may also have been married to Oliver Gathing before her marriage to Albert Parsons

Lucy Parsons Resources

  • Ashbaugh, Carolyn. Lucy Parsons, American Revolutionary. 1976.

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