Portland State University. Department of History
Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (iv, 121 pages)
The Firebrand was an anarchist communist newspaper that was printed in Portland, Oregon from January 1895 to September 1897. The newspaper was a central catalyst behind the formation of the culturally American anarchist movement, a movement whose vital role in shaping radicalism in the United States during the Progressive Era has largely been ignored by historians. The central argument of this thesis is that the Firebrand publishers' experiences in Gilded Age Portland shaped the content and the format of the newspaper and led to the development of a new, uniquely American expression of anarchism.
Anarchism was developed in response to the great transformations of the nineteenth century and the anxieties of a society that was being entirely restructured as industrialization and urbanization took hold across the globe. The anarchism of the Firebrand was a regional response to these same changes, an expression of radical discontent at the way in which life in Portland and the Pacific Northwest was rapidly changing. According to the Firebranders, the region had transformed from a place of economic opportunity and political freedom into a region driven by economic and political exploitation. Thus, the newspaper developed a uniquely western American perspective and expressed a formation of anarchist communism that was steeped in the history and culture of the United States. The newspaper was just as influenced by centuries of American libertarian activism as it was by outright anarchist philosophy. As a result, the newspaper frequently included articles about free love and women's rights, issues outside of the typical purview of anarchist communist political philosophy. This Americanized expression of anarchist communism allowed the newspaper to expand beyond the movement's core urban, immigrant audience and attract culturally American, English-speaking radicals to the cause.
In the Fall of 1897, after two years and eight months in publication, three of the Firebrand publishers were arrested for the crime of sending obscene materials through the mail. The Firebrand's frank discussions of sexuality, women's rights, and free love offended the local censor and gave law enforcement an excuse to prosecute Portland's anarchists. The ensuing trial would result in the newspaper's closure. Nonetheless, a new intellectual movement had been established, and though the movement would remain small, it would play a disproportionately large role in shaping radical American politics and culture for the next two decades.
Giombolini, Alecia Jay, "Anarchism on the Willamette: The Firebrand Newspaper and the Origins of a Culturally American Anarchist Movement, 1895-1898" (2018). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 4471.
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