Lucy Parsons 1 — Stuart Lindsley 0
It would, of course, be exciting to discover a woman in my family tree with a traceable record of something newsworthy and positive; political campaigning or activism, for instance. I don’t need an “extraordinary” hook in order to find someone’s life interesting – if anything, the opposite is true – but just once, it would be nice to find a woman who generated press coverage without having to be murdered, or embroiled in a custody battle with a toddler-kidnapping ex-husband. (So far I’ve found only two female ancestors with significant presence in newspaper records, and those were the disheartening reasons).
As if to emphasise the futility of my wistful longing for a Pankhurst-style mould-breaker, I’ve found in the New York Times archive what might be regarded as the polar opposite: a great-great-grandfather who tried to prevent one such prominent woman making a perfectly legal speech on his property in Orange, New Jersey, in 1886. Oh, Stuart Lindsley. How you disappoint me!
A really good thing that’s come out of this discovery is that I’ve been moved to read up on Lucy Parsons, of whom I knew almost nothing before looking into the 19th-c. Lindsleys and their jaw-dropping-sense-of-entitlement antics*. Parsons was a far more significant and powerful figure than that NYT article implies, with its suggestion of a slightly oddball type speaking to an unimpressive crowd – see also here, where it gets all excitable and breathlessly calls her a “dusky representative of Anarchy”:
You’d never guess it from reading that, but her life and work had a really huge impact on the US labor movement, as well as on the broader fight for gender, race and class equality. So yes, a win, really; an interesting bit of family history research has indirectly raised my awareness of this fascinating woman.
That Wikipedia link I’ve put on her name above is a reasonable starting point for reading about Parsons, but interested parties could also have a look at this ACME Journal paper co-written by feminist geographer Altha J Cravey; it’s a quick read and presents some thought-provoking ideas. Or there’s a blog post here by Michelle Diane Wright, who is working on a biography of Parsons; she has some nice images, too. Or have a look at the Lucy Parsons Center website or the Lucy Parsons Project.
For anyone too busy to click, a short biography: Lucy Parsons was a woman of mixed race, born (probably into slavery) in Texas; she became, early on, a committed labor activist and outspoken advocate of equality; her husband, ex-Confederate soldier and fellow activist Albert Parsons, with whom she moved to Chicago in the 1870s, was executed on charges relating to the truly shocking Haymarket Affair (he was on death row at the time of her run-in with Stuart Lindsley, actually); she continued as a tireless campaigner, writer, editor and orator until her death in the 1940s. Oh, and she didn’t get on with Emma Goldman, because they had opposing views on free love. Huh.
In other news: Ulrich’s Good Wives is here, and I’ve only just started it, but it’s brilliant so far. More on that in due course; and I’ll probably post here once a week instead of twice for the next little while, as work is picking up too. All good.
*Sample undertaking from Stuart: his 1911 effort to convince the Supreme Court to let him destroy Saratoga Springs in order to extract the natural gas therefrom, sell it on, and thereby make even more money to spend on Sons of the American Revolution dues and trips to Bermuda. The Lindsleys of Orange, from Stuart backwards a generation or two, were described with disapproval as “robber barons” by my grandmother, I’ve been told; however, things changed quite a bit for younger generations of the family during the Great Depression.