Genealogies of Anarchist Feminism: Louise Michel, Teresa Claramunt and Emma Goldman

Publicado por/published by Laura Vicente

read in Spanish- leer original en castellano aquí shared with thanks. translation theFreeOnline photos added, March 3rd 2022

Louise Michel

It is of great importance to resort to female genealogies to find lines of action that allow us to study the processes of change from the perspective of women. These genealogies help to clarify social phenomena that have transformed our lives at the present time and help to reconstruct the milestones and the women who contributed to that change.

It is essential to name women, build the genealogy in ways of doing and being among the founding texts of the feminist movement, to recover the historical voices of women and transmit them in formal and informal education.

The socio-cultural performance of women is not always the product of exceptionality, but rather stems from a trajectory that should be highlighted. We intend to reconstruct a part of the genealogy of anarchist feminism through three women: Louise Michel, Teresa Claramunt and Emma Goldman.

Louise Michel (1830-1905) belonged to a generation older than Teresa Claramunt (1862-1931) and Emma Goldman (1869-1940). The three met, although they never spent long together.

Teresa met Louise in 1897, both had been tried by separate Military Courts and deported. Louise, the ‘Paris Commune’ woman had returned to France after her deportation in 1880 and, finally, she went into exile in England in 1890. Claramunt along with twenty-seven other people, despite being declared innocent in the Montjuïc Trial, were deported to England in 1897.

When they arrived in London, after disembarking in Liverpool, Louise Michel[1], Fernando Tarrida and the Committee for the Protection of Victims of Spanish Atrocities[2] were waiting for them.

Teresa must have known of Louise because her great friend Teresa Mañé (who met with the deportees shortly after) was one of the promoters of Michel’s work in Spain. Perhaps for this reason, her daughter Federica Montseny met and was interested in the Commune and in Louise Michel [3].

Federica Montseny

Both were excellent communicators both at rallies and through articles in the labor press. Both carried out multiple propaganda tours spreading The Idea and were linked to newspapers such as El Productor in the case of Claramunt and Le Libertaire in the case of Michel. Their personal lives were difficult, especially when they stopped being young, due to the little income they had.

The parallelism of the stories of these two women we can assume must have linked them, despite the brevity of their meeting, in a feeling of empathy and solidarity, in addition to explaining why Teresa was called the ‘Spanish Louise Michel’.

Emma and Louise also met in England in 1895. Emma traveled to Europe to study in Vienna and her first stop from the United States was in London where she met various anarchist personalities including Louise (indeed that was her goal in visiting England as she says herself).

It was also a brief meeting since Emma went on to Vienna where she studied a midwifery course and another on childhood illnesses.

Emma’s impressions in her autobiography [4] make clear the great admiration she felt for her and for her intervention in the Paris Commune: «Louise Michel had stood out for her love of humanity, for her great fervor and courage» [ 5].

Her physical description made it clear that Michel was a woman aged by all the hardships she had experienced (she was sixty-five years old and not sixty-two as Goldman wrote): “She was bony, emaciated and looked older than she really was (…) ; but her eyes were full of youth and spirit, and her smile was so tender that she won my heart immediately »[6].

When Emma met Louise she wondered: «how could there be someone who did not see her charm» despite the fact that she did not care about her appearance and showed great disinterest in herself: «her dress was threadbare , the hat was very old. Everything she wore of hers did not fit her »[7].

Let us not forget that Emma was a young woman of twenty-six who looked admiringly at Louise but that she must have seen her as an older woman. It was her admiration for the old ‘Comunera’ (woman Commune member) that transformed the realistic impression of her into a completely different, almost mystical feeling [8]:

«(…) Her whole being was illuminated by an inner light. I was quickly succumbing to the charm of her radiant personality, so irresistible in her force, so touching in her childlike simplicity. The afternoon I spent with Louise was an experience unlike anything that had ever happened to me before in my life. Her hand in mine, the tender touch of her hand on my head, her words of affection from her and intimate camaraderie from her made my soul expand, ascend towards the spheres of beauty where she dwelled » .

Emma and Teresa met in Spain during a brief visit that Emma made between December 1928 and January 1929, to gather information.

It was the Austrian historian Max Nettlau (1865-1944), an anarchist intellectual with an encyclopedic culture, devoted to the study of the history of anarchism and the life of Bakunin, who encouraged his friend Emma, ​​with whom he had been in constant correspondence since they met in London in 1900, to visit a country that had captivated him.

Spain was not an unknown country for her. Her anarchist internationalism had led her from a very young age to want to know the situation of her comrades from the rest of the world.

In the United States he participated in various campaigns against the repressive policy of the governments of the monarchy of Alfonso XIII, specifically as a result of the brutal torture of the prisoners of Montjuic (she probably knew Claramunt as a result of this campaign), and as a result of the execution of the pedagogue Ferrer y Guardia after the Tragic Week in Barcelona in 1909.

Louise, Teresa and Emma, ​​three women who, despite the short time they shared, were united by strong bonds of cordiality. The three activists were strong, vigorous, energetic and vital women; they were excellent speakers and propagandists, embarking on multiple speaking and rallying tours.

This Mediterranean Migrant Rescue boat was named after Louise Michel

All three were independent women, who highly valued their autonomy, all three suffered repression, jail and deportation. They lived through strikes, riots and revolutions about which they thought and wrote. Anarchism and feminism were solid threads that wove the genealogy in which these three women figure prominently.

Louise Michel developed a feminism that was part of her struggle for freedom and equality from a social and political point of view.

It is a republican and freethinking feminism that evolved, after the Commune, towards an incipient anarchist feminism. Various aspects indicate that Michel was configuring an anarchist-influenced proletarian feminism.

The Rebel, Louise Michel (2010) – Movieo

In the first place, the horizontal and anti-hierarchical organizational forms that she defended in her activism after the Commune.

Second, the intersectionality of female emancipation and class emancipation, both coming from lived experience rather than theory.

Michel always insisted on the fact that the Revolution could not be done without women, but also that the emancipation of women could not be done without Revolution.

She also highlights her defense of personal and social freedom and her desire for autonomy that manifested itself in the practice of free love and in the fact that her last partner was a woman.

Fourth, she questioned the antagonisms between the sexes as one of the bases of power of the dominant classes, and she considered it important that the man not be the owner of the woman [9].

Another outstanding element was that she always wanted to be treated on equal terms with her classmates, she deeply despised the few privileges that her status as a woman granted her. That was the reason for her famous intervention before the court martial after the events of the Commune:

I belong entirely to the social revolution and I declare to take responsibility for my actions. What I claim from you… who claim yourselves to be judges… is the field of Satory where my brothers have already fallen. Since it seems that every heart that fights for freedom has no right to more than a little lead, I claim my share. If you let me live, I will not stop screaming revenge.

Interrupted by the president, Luisa Michel replies: If you are not cowards, kill me.

Teresa Claramunt and Emma Goldman knew Louise Michel as we have already said and they could know her anarchist and feminist approaches, in fact, they shared a very similar feminism.

Claramunt and Goldman, because they belonged to the same generation, shared a more similar anarchist feminism, although they also had differences since the place of birth (Spain and Russia, respectively) and of life (Goldman emigrated to the United States) influence that their trajectories, culture and experiences are different, something that was reflected in their thoughts.

However, there are many points in common and we can clearly consider both as anarchist feminists. We will focus on those coincidences that sometimes show their harmony with Michel.

“Look out for the women when they feel disgusted with all around them and rise up in rebellion against the old world. On that day the new world will be born”. .. Louise Michel

Both perceived, from a very young age (in their twenties), that women lived marginalized, discriminated against and subordinated by men.

Claramunt understood it first from the social and Goldman from the personal, both ended up understanding that the situation of women had this double dimension: social (their condition as textile workers) and personal (their relationships as a couple). Goldman explained it to Max Nettlau in 1935:

«The feminine condition touches me deeply. I have seen many tragedies in relationships between men and women; I have seen too many bodies devastated and spirits destroyed by the sexual slavery of women to not feel deeply the importance of the matter or to not express my indignation towards the behavior of most of you, dear gentlemen»[10].

Goldman herself had to suffer the superior and disdainful attitude of her “esteemed gentlemen”, fellow fighters who dismissed the female issue as something inconsequential and she as a “female” who should dedicate herself to the tasks of her sex and motherhood.

She flatly refused to lose her autonomy and her personality at the cost of many renouncements that indicate the value that this matter had for her. Claramunt’s route was very similar.

Both fed their ideas with their lived experience since they were two women deeply rooted in reality rather than ideology. In addition, they were aware of their lack of education, but they valued experience as a method of valid knowledge. The two resorted to self-education, to educate themselves, although Goldman, thanks to the financial resources of wealthy friends, was also able to access an academic education.

The two resisted defining themselves as feminists because they identified it with Suffragism. Claramunt, from her workerist feminism, rejected it because she considered it bourgeois, that is why she affirmed: that there were “many enthusiasts for the emancipation of women, but few for her dignity.” She considered that bourgeois feminism understood the emancipation of women as “relative, fictitious freedom”, without dealing with:

«(…) emancipating her from the tutelage exercised by the ambitious and exploitative tutor, as well as giving her rudimentary scientific notions that give nothing in themselves, since it does not reach all classes of society, since it only serves the UPPER class and even the MIDDLE…».

Teresa Claramunt

Goldman wrote several essays dedicated to the situation of women[11] in which it is appreciated that her way of understanding feminism had little to do with Suffragism and her egalitarian feminism, and which considered that the equality of women before the laws would solve the discrimination they suffered.

Her way of understanding the laws and her suffrage, her class consciousness as the worker that she was and her way of understanding her social transformation, put in evidence the abyss that separated her from the suffragists. This fragment shows this “abyss”[12]:

“The development of the woman, her freedom, her independence, must come from herself.

First, through the reaffirmation of herself as a person, and not as a sexual object.

Second, by rejecting any right that is intended to be imposed on her body; refusing to have children unless she wants them; refusing to be a servant of God, of the state, of society, of the husband, of the family, etc. making life simpler for her, yet deep and rich for her.

That is, trying to learn the meaning and meaning of life in all its complexities, freeing oneself from the fear of public opinion»

Goldman and Claramunt intersected gender with social class as Michel had already done and highlighted other forms of male domination beyond laws and the right to vote. Goldman had a brilliant intuition, she saw something unheard of at the beginning of the 20th century in feminism, namely, that women, dominated by men, applied to relations of domination categories constructed from the point of view of the dominators, making them appear thus as natural (the family, the type of sexuality, motherhood, etc.).

This way of understanding the domination to which women were subjected revealed the difficulties of the rebellion against the dominators.

Indeed, she was able to see that access to work and the vote did not imply the emancipation of women, that the fact that women had agreed to independence from the “external tyrants” did not make them understand that the “internal tyrants” (ethical and social conventions) were much more dangerous for their lives[13].

Claramunt shared her rejection of the electoral route, but gave paramount importance to access to work and education, the basis of social feminism that she synthesized in her pamphlet La mujer (1905), a true foundational text of Spanish anarchist feminism.

For her, most women worked in unskilled and poorly paid jobs (subjecting to sexual abuse). The recognition that the slavery of women came from economic dependence on men led Teresa to point out that female autonomy passed through economic autonomy and also to question the exploitation suffered by the female worker.

Women had to free themselves from any process of domination, from external and internal servitude, and this required breaking down the barriers of dependency to manifest their desires and inclinations. In this process, the conception of sexuality and love were of great importance.

Goldman saw in sexuality and love a source of creative energy, a vital force in the process of transformation. She was in favor of living the revolution in everyday life starting from intimate relationships. Free unions, which Michel also defended, were the alternative to families based on unequal marriages.

Claramunt considered that associated and conscious women should launch a care revolution, a “revolution of customs, starting with our homes”[14]. This domestic revolution was based on a harsh criticism of marriage and the bourgeois family and on the defense of free unions based on “life-giving liberty [and] equal conditions for all human beings.”

The domination of women not only occurred in the space of the workshop or factory but also in the family. Claramunt affirmed that she had to change the general opinion that «being a good woman consists in resigning oneself to being the husband’s slave, applauding her nonsense and submitting to being a luxury piece of furniture or a beast of burden». And she added:

“The common people, the foolish common people, can continue to dispense the dictates of good women to those who resignedly await the return of the husband tired of his vices and who then receive him with servile flattery to the master, to the owner, to the lord, but I cannot hide the anger that this conduct produces in me, because with it only the capacity to be servants is demonstrated, not that of companions of man»[15].

Both believed that women were not treated according to the merit of their work, but rather because of their sex. Therefore, Goldman asserted: “It is almost inevitable that she must pay for her right to exist, for her situation, with sexual favors. Thus, it is simply a matter of degree whether she is sold to one man, in or out of wedlock, or to many men. (…) the economic and social inferiority of women is responsible for prostitution»[16].

For both of them, as anarchists, the center of gravity of society was the person, as Goldman explained:

“I will begin by admitting that, regardless of political and economic theories dealing with the fundamental differences between the various human groups, with distinctions of class and race, leaving aside all artificial separations between male and female rights, I maintain that there is a point where these differentiations coincide and develop into a perfect whole.

Emma Goldman

Peace or harmony between the sexes and individuals does not necessarily depend on a superficial equality between human beings; nor does it imply the elimination of individual traits and peculiarities. The problem that we currently have to face, and that will be solved in the near future, is how to be oneself while being one with others, feel deeply united with all human beings and still maintain our own characteristic qualities» [17].

Therefore, both Goldman and Claramunt, agreeing with Michel, were contrary to “the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes or that men and women represent two antagonistic worlds”[18]. They trusted in a kind of balance between men and women that would set in motion the revolutionary process in which the woman would be a partner and not a subordinate.

Women if emancipated would become human beings in the true sense. For women to carry out true emancipation they had to look freedom in the face, for this they had to develop an internal regeneration and learn to stand firmly defending their freedom without restrictions, in short, they had to have personality: the ability to think independently.

In conclusion, we do not understand genealogy with a linear vision that walks the line of Chronos from cause to consequence indefinitely.

We understand genealogy as a nodal figure in which events, people with embodied experiences, unprecedented agencies, convulsive spaces, unexpectedly possible worlds converge. The genealogy feeds and grows rooted in reality, redefining it and enriching possibilities when it manages to push towards visibility what is “uncounted”, drained from the story.

The Commune was a legacy that spread like stardust, making itself known and generating possibilities for other women, in other countries, to build a feminism linked to anarchism.

A feminism that did not even claim the term, distrusting its appearance of order, of middle class, of well-read white women who sought their space in the society in which they were born.

There was no room for a proletarian feminism, of illiterate workers, of self-taught women, of factory rebels, of activists defending free love, of agnostic and atheist women.

Determined to redefine reality, to transform their existence, to manage their daily lives differently, they embarked on strikes, protests, demonstrations, revolts and revolutions.

Tireless fighters, selfless, dedicated to the cause of the underdog, their personalities exhibited deep courage, keen intelligence and full-time dedication.

The three died materially poor, but rich in experiences having passed through a workerist and anarchist feminism whose echo reaches today thanks to that genealogy that we have drawn in brief brushstrokes.


[1] In her biography it is stated that Louise Michel returned to Paris in 1895, either this date is not correct or she made trips to London for her activism.

[2] Laura Vicente Villanueva (2006): Teresa Claramunt. Pionera del feminismo obrerista anarquista. Madrid, Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo, pp. 151-152. (Laura Vicente Villanueva (2006): Teresa Claramunt. Pioneer of anarchist worker feminism. Madrid, Anselmo Lorenzo Foundation, pp. 151-152.)

[3] Federica Montseny, being a minister, delivered a conference on the significance of the Commune and the ongoing Spanish Revolution on March 14, 1937 at the Coliseum cinema in Valencia. That conference was edited by the CNT-AIT National Committee in 1937. Editado de nuevo (Edited again): Federica Montseny (2006): La Comuna de París i la Revolució Espanyola.Valencia, L’Eixam.

[4] Emma Goldman (1996): Viviendo mi vida (Tomo I). Madrid, Fundación Anselmo Lorenzo, pp. 196-198. Emma Goldman (1996): Living my life (Volume I).

[5] Emma Goldman (1996): Viviendo mi vida .Living my life (Volume I).

[6] Ibid, p. 196.

[7] Ibid, p. 198.

[8] Ibid, p. 198.

[9] Paule Lejeune (2002): Louise Michel. L’indomptable. Paris, L’Harmattan, p. 288.

[10] Letter from Emma Goldman to Max Nettlau, February 2, 1935, recalling her experience as an obstetrician in the slums. Appears in “El pensamiento anarcofeminista…”, p. 148. (Bianchi, “Anarcho-feminist thought…”, p. 148.)

[11] In the only collection of essays of hers which she entitled: Anarquismo y otros ensayos (1910) (Anarchism and Other Essays (1910), of her twelve essays, five of hers were devoted to the women’s question: women’s suffrage, Traffic in women, Marriage, love and sexuality. Of these essays, in Emma Goldman. The word as a weapon includes: “Marriage and Love”, “Traffic of women” and “Women’s suffrage”, as well as “The tragedy of the emancipation of women”.

[12] Emma Goldman, “Women’s Suffrage” (1911), in Emma Goldman. The word as a weapon, pp. 143-144.

[13]Emma Goldman, “El sufragio femenino” (1911), en Emma Goldman. La palabra como arma, pp. 143-144. ( Emma Goldman, “The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation” (1906), in Emma Goldman. The word as a weapon, pp. 98-99.)

[14] She said so at a rally in Zaragoza in October 1910 in the context of a strike. Information about this meeting appeared in El Heraldo de Aragón, 10-31-1910.

[15] All these approaches on the alternatives in CLARAMUNT, Teresa: La mujer, pp. 13 and 14.

[16] Emma Goldman, “Traffic of Women” (1910), in Emma Goldman. The word as a weapon, p. 118.

[17] Goldman, Op.cit, p. 93.

[18] Goldman, Op.cit, p. 100.


Publicado por/published by Laura Vicente


Doctor Krapp

4 de febrero de 2022, 21:12

Bien por ellas y por ti como arqueóloga de sus vivencias.

Un abrazoResponder


  1. Laura Vicente15 de febrero de 2022, 23:35Gracias. Muy bonito ese calificativo.

    Un abrazo


3 de marzo de 2022, 12:32

Un trabajo buenissimo… Traducido en inglés aquí!! ResponderEliminar

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