Lucy Parsons was a labor organizer and radical socialist who led mass demonstrations of homeless and unemployed people in San Francisco and Chicago in the early 1900s
Recognized for a life of determined activism, Lucy Parsons was likely born into slavery in Virginia in 1853 and taken to Texas as a teenager. Shortly after meeting in 1870, Lucy married Albert Parsons – illegally due to miscegenation laws in place at the time. Due to their political involvement, the Parsons was forced to leave Texas and arrived in Chicago in 1873.
Upon arrival in Chicago, Albert was quickly blacklisted from the Chicago printing trade because of his history of organizing workers, and Lucy opened a dress shop and hosted meetings for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Despite a lack of evidence against him, Albert was one of four men hanged for the bombing in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in 1886. Because she was a woman, Lucy was not charged for any involvement in the bombing. Yet, she was much more radical than her husband at the time and had organized a strike-turned-riot related to the bombing, and two years prior she wrote an essay declaring, “Learn the use of explosives!” – an urging to the homeless to blow up the homes of the rich.
After her husband’s death, Lucy became a leader in the campaign against capitalism. She was the second woman to join the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), an organization that united syndicalist, anarchist, and trade union groups under a new revolutionary model. They published a Chicago-based paper, The Liberator, of which Lucy became an editor in 1905. In the years that followed and until her death, Lucy organized against unemployment and hunger – including pressuring California to begin a public works project – and campaigned for First Amendment rights, despite often coming up against police and political forces.
Learn about more women organizers and women led protests at the Women’s Museum of California’s current exhibit, Marching Towards Empowerment: Beyond Suffrage