The Legend of Lucy Parsons

 

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 IWW Poster (IWW/Political Posters)

By Dolores Delgado Campbell

Many Mexican-American/Chicana women have been involved in labor organizing, but their activities have not been well documented by a white, male dominated history profession. One such leader was Lucia Gonzalez Parsons.

Lucia Gonzalez Parsons was born in Johnson County Texas in 1852, and married Albert R. Parsons in 1871. During her lifetime Lucia was a seamstress, a wife, a mother of two-children, a socialist, a labor organizer and a writer.

She was an editor and a contributor to the Alarm, the paper of the Working Peoples Association.  Along with her husband Albert Parsons, (the Haymarket Square martyr) she was active in radical politics in Chicago.  She wrote articles, made stirring speeches, and led numerous protests for workers’ rights in the struggle for the eight-hour day.

She launched the massive campaign to save the Haymarket Square martyrs, and traveled around the country in an effort to gain financial and moral support for the appeal of their wrongful conviction and death sentence. She participated in the strugglewhich led to the celebration of May 1 as International Workers Day.  Although unsuccessful in saving the lives of the Haymarket martyrs, she continued her campaign to help other political prisoners.

Later, she helped found the International Labor Defense and was one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).  She was a principal speaker at the IWW’s opening convention in 1905.

Throughout her long political and labor organizing career Lucia led marches in Chicago and San Francisco for better working conditions and $3 for an eight-hour day.
Lucia also worked hard to get recognition for women’s liberation. In 1879 she became active with the Chicago Working Women’s Union, an organization which attempted to represent housewives and other wageless women.  They called for a suffrage plank in the Socialist Labor platform and demanded equal pay for equal work.  On April 25, 1885, Lucia and Lizzy Swank Holmes led about 50,000 women in a march on the new Board of Trade building in Chicago.  The two women had worked as seamstresses and sought to organize sewing women in the city.  

She described women’s struggles within the class struggle. Lucia supported a woman’s right to divorce, contraception and birth control, freedom from rape and for economic equality.

There has been a controversy about her ethnicity, with some writers claiming she was Black.  As a Texas, Chicana, Mexican American, I note that such racial and ethnic mixing was not uncommon in Texas during this period.

Lucia continued her dedication to labor struggles, socialism,  and women’s rights until old age.  She died March 7, 1942, at the age of 90, virtually blind.


DSA joins in the celebration of Women’s History month with these biographies of radical women leaders. 

Reposted with edits from “Women of Color,” published by the Feminist Commission of Democratic Socialists of America (1983).  A contribution to Women’s History Month. 

 Dolores_Delgado_CampbellAID.png Dolores Delgado Campbell is a DSA member and professor of women’s history and Mexican American history at American River College in Sacramento, California. She is a Chicana, and was the co-chair of DSA’s Latino Commission from 1982-2004.

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