Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical is an important new biography by University of Texas historian Jacqueline Jones that fact-checks Parsons’ made-up details about her own background, correcting errors existing in virtually every biographical sketch ever written about this amazing woman … Jones has given us a clear sense of who this remarkable woman was, moving well beyond the only previous biography of Parsons … Goddess of Anarchy displays the powers of a master historian, taking the reader to both post-Civil War Texas and to Gilded Age Chicago. While many readers will disagree with Parsons’ politics, they may find themselves admiring her determination and idealism, which were quintessentially American.
With Goddess of Anarchy, prize-winning historian Jacqueline Jones has written the first critical, comprehensive biography of Parsons that seeks to peel back the layers of her complex life. Jones amassed an incredible body of records — local, state and federal government documents; prolific newspapers; organizational and personal correspondence; and Lucy and husband Albert Parsons’s extant writings … Parsons is a remarkable woman who managed to get past many of the barriers that impeded members of her race and sex. She was primarily an autodidact who became a writer and speaker, with eclectic and densely erudite proclivities, of some distinction … Jones’s richly researched and engagingly written biography establishes Parsons’s rightful place in the pantheon of American radicals. Yet it leaves open the question of her legacy among African Americans.
There is much to praise in Goddess of Anarchy, including Jones’s thorough research, which has laid to rest uncertainty about Parsons’s origins, and the ways the book illuminates the rapidly changing economic and political circumstances in which Parsons operated. A work that could easily have descended into a confusing litany of tiny organizations, short-lived publications, and endless speaking tours retains clarity and coherence throughout. Lucy Parsons finally receives her due as a pioneering radical … Jones, however, sometimes seems to measure both Parsonses against an ahistorical ideal—the radical attuned to the intersections of race and class, the nuances of political strategy, and the impact of language, whose private life reflected his or her political principles. Not surprisingly, by this standard Lucy is found wanting. So would almost any human being.