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Alexander Berkman Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103849).

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Berkman, Alexander (21 November 1870–28 June 1936), anarchist and political author, was born Ovsei Osipovich Berkman in Vilnius, Lithuania, part of the Russian Empire, the son of Joseph Schmidt Berkman and Yetta Natanson. His father was a wealthy leather wholesaler for the shoe industry in St. Petersburg. His mother was the older sister of Maxim Natanson, a leader of the People’s Will terrorist organization, responsible for the assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881. Berkman remained intellectually favorable to the radical political agendas of Russian Nihilist groups throughout his life. He admired those men and women who sacrificed their lives to the principle of equality for all....

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Bresci, Gaetano (11 November 1869–22 May 1901), silk weaver and regicide, was born in Coiano, Italy, the son of Gaspero Bresci, a peasant/artisan, and Maddalena Godi. At age eleven Bresci was apprenticed to learn the art of silk weaving; he later attended a Sunday school to acquire a specialized trade. While still a youth, Gaetano participated in an anarchist group. First arrested for disturbing the peace in 1892, he was subsequently confined to the penal island of Lampedusa for more than a year for his role in organizing a strike. Now identified as a “dangerous anarchist,” Bresci had difficulty securing employment....

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Ciancabilla, Giuseppe (21 August 1871–16 September 1904), anarchist and journalist, was born in Rome, Italy, the son of Alessandro Ciancabilla, a lumber merchant, and Appollonia Corinaldini. Raised in modest circumstances, but studious and intelligent, Ciancabilla pursued classical studies in secondary school, and in his late teens he began to write poems and articles for various publications....

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de Cleyre, Voltairine (17 November 1866–20 June 1912), teacher and anarchist lecturer and writer, was born in Leslie, Michigan, the daughter of Hector De Claire, a tailor, and Harriet Elizabeth Billings, a seamstress. Despite being raised in poverty, de Cleyre received formal schooling in a Catholic convent until age seventeen. Her experience in the convent influenced her turn to free thought and anarchism. In her speech “The Making of an Anarchist” she noted that “there are white scars on my soul yet” as a result of the convent life ( ...

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Galleani, Luigi (12 August 1861–04 November 1931), anarchist, was born in Vercelli, Piedmont, Italy, the son of Clemente Galleani, an elementary school teacher, and Olimpia Borini. Raised in a bourgeois family, he studied in the faculty of law at the University of Turin. He did not receive a degree since he soon became involved in the social ferment that was sweeping Italy. Although his father was a religious monarchist, Galleani quickly moved from republicanism to democratic socialism to anarchist communism. During the 1880s he wrote for several labor papers, organized workers’ circles, and gave numerous speeches. His police dossier commented that he had given himself “body and soul to the revolutionary movement.”...

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Emma Goldman Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-42504).

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Goldman, Emma (27 June 1869–14 May 1940), anarchist and feminist activist, was born in Kovno, Lithuania, the daughter of Abraham Goldman and Taube Zodikoff, innkeepers and, later, small shopkeepers. Emma’s lonely childhood was shaped by her parents’ precarious social status and the contradictory influences of czarist anti-Semitism, the first stirrings of Russian feminism, and a growing revolutionary movement whose young members, especially the women, became Goldman’s lifelong inspiration. After attending a ...

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Most, Johann Joseph (05 February 1846–17 March 1906), anarchist leader, was born in Augsburg, Germany, the son of Josef Most, a legal copyist, and Viktoria Hinterhuber, a governess. Most’s youth was bitter and gave him a fierce hatred of authority. The city authorities gave a marriage license to his impoverished parents only two years after his birth, a social stain in his devout Catholic hometown. A jaw infection left him with a twisted face, crushed his hopes to join the stage, for which he was gifted, and made him the target of lifelong ridicule. Then his mother died in 1856, and his stepmother was cruel and abusive....

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Parsons, Albert Richard (24 June 1848–11 November 1887), anarchist and labor organizer, was born in Montgomery, Alabama, the son of Samuel Parsons, a shoe and leather factory owner, and Elizabeth Tompkins. Samuel Parsons was religiously affiliated with the Universalists and involved in the temperance movement. Elizabeth Parsons was a Methodist. Both parents died before Albert turned five, and he subsequently went to live with his older brother William in Tyler, Texas. He attended public schools until the age of thirteen, at which time he worked for a Galveston newspaper as a printer’s apprentice....

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Sacco, Nicola (22 April 1891–23 August 1927), and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (11 June 1888–23 August 1927), Italian anarchists convicted of murder in the celebrated Sacco-Vanzetti trial, were born, respectively, in Torremaggiore, Italy, and Villafalletto, Italy. Sacco was the son of Michele Sacco, a peasant landowner and merchant, and Angela Mosmacotelli. (Sacco’s given name was Ferdinando; he adopted the name Nicola in 1917 to honor an older brother who had died.) Vanzetti was the son of Giovan Battista Vanzetti, a peasant landowner, and Giovanna Nivello. Both Sacco and Vanzetti emigrated to the United States in 1908. Sacco found steady work as an edge-trimmer in shoe factories in Milford and Stoughton, Massachusetts. He married Rosina Zambelli in 1912; they had two children, the second born during Sacco’s imprisonment. Vanzetti, whose lonely private life was mitigated by the pleasure he found in books, endured long periods of unemployment or toiled at menial jobs before becoming a fish peddler in the spring of 1919. What Sacco and Vanzetti shared in common during these years was a deep commitment to anarchism....

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See Sacco, Nicola

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Warren, Josiah (c. 1798–14 April 1874), social reformer, inventor, musician, and America's first philosophical anarchist, was born in Boston. The names of his parents are not known, although accounts indicate that he was a distant relative to James Warren, husband of Mercy Otis Warren...