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de CLEYRE, Voltairine. “Sex Slavery”
address to Unity Congregation, Philadelphia appealing for petitions against the imprisonment of Moses Harman (1890)
Article published on 13 September 2009
last modification on 25 April 2015

by r-c.
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Moses Harman (1830 – 1910) was an anarchist schoolteacher and a freethought propagandist of women’s rights. He published Lucifer, the Light-Bearer and was many times arrested for publishing alleged obscene material. The title of de Cleyre’s essay, "Sex Slavery", refers to the old abolitionist tradition, during which women such as Sarah Moore Grimke (1792-1873) drew a parralel between the legal status of women and those of slaves.

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NIGHT in a prison cell! A chair, a bed, a small washstand, four blank walls, ghastly in the dim light from the corridor without, a narrow window, barred and sunken in the stone, a grated door! Beyond its hideous iron latticework, within the ghastly walls, -a man! An old man, gray-haired and wrinkled, lame and suffering. There he sits, in his great loneliness, shut in front all the earth. There he walks, to and fro, within his measured space, apart from all he loves! ’There, for every night in five long years to come, he will walk alone, while the white age-flakes drop upon his head, while the last years of the winter of life gather and pass, and his body draws near the ashes. Every night, for five long years to come, he will sit alone, this chattel slave, whose hard toll is taken by the State, -and without recompense save that the Southern planter gave his Negroes, -every night he will sit there so within those four white walls. Every night, for five long years to come, a suffering woman will he upon her bed, longing, longing for the end of those three thousand days; longing for the kind face, the patient hand, that in so many years had never failed her. Every night, for five long years to come, the proud spirit must rebel, the loving heart must bleed, the broken home must he desecrated. As I am speaking now, as you are listening, there within the cell of that accursed penitentiary whose stones have soaked tip the sufferings of so many victims, murdered, as truly as any outside their walls, by that slow rot which eats away existence. inch-meal, -as I am speaking now, as you are listening, there sits Moses Harman!


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