My dissertation examines how anarchists in the United States attempted to align their personal lives with their political values during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century. Anarchism is a political philosophy that views hierarchy as the root of many social problems, and seeks to free humans from systems of power such as the State. During the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, the anarchist movement was perhaps best-known for a series of politically-motivated bombings and assassinations in the US and Europe, but this form of what was known as “propaganda by deed” represented only one aspect of the movement. In addition to a strong presence in the labor movement and immigrant communities, anarchists attempted to reimagine sexuality and gender roles as practices that contributed to liberation rather than women’s oppression.
Some anarchists believed that, in order to bring about a large-scale revolution, one must also revolutionize their personal life and live according to anarchist principles. Their actions toward this goal included practicing free love, reimagining gender roles and relationships, and experimenting with new forms of education and child-rearing. The day-to-day realities of free love praxis can illuminate the ways in which gender norms shaped radical movements.
My dissertation argues that, although anarchists sought to revolutionize intimate life in opposition to the state, their families and relationships were nevertheless heavily shaped by gender norms and American ideals of domesticity. By studying anarchism on this micro scale, I seek to uncover the ways in which the complexities of individual relationships shaped the development of anarchist ideology and how radicals attempted to live out their ideals in a society that opposed them. While both men and women participated in free love, the burdens associated with this lifestyle—particularly pregnancy and social stigma—fell heavier on women. Furthermore, women were often expected to contribute to the revolution through domestic and emotional labor rather than intellectually. Many seemingly-radical men maintained patriarchal relationships within their households, and I argue that this unwillingness to cede patriarchal power was based on both social norms of manhood and a refusal to be inconvenienced at home. Revolutions in personal life were further hindered by competing visions of anarchist futures. I argue that despite their radicalism, anarchist ideas of gender and family were often informed by mainstream social norms and desires. This research explores intimate life as a site of both political stasis and revolutionary transformations.
Note: My dissertation is not yet available in the ProQuest database, but if you are at Penn State you can find it here: https://etda.libraries.psu.edu/catalog/16223ljg178 . If you are not at PSU and would like a copy, feel free to email me.