The Devil in the Archives
There is a box in the Tamiment stacks bearing an ominous mark: “Lucifer.” The box itself is dirty, and at first glance looks like it could have been burned. In general, the presence of fire is frowned upon in the archives, let alone the lakes of fire in the eternal pits of Hell. It’s just poor collections management practice, really, not to mention some terribly inconvenient circulation workflows.
Enough silliness on the subject of perpetual suffering though – what’s inside? Lucifer the Lightbearer, of course, a weekly individualist anarchist journal from the late 19th and early 20th centuries published in Valley Falls, Kansas by Moses Harman, a schoolteacher, publisher, and women’s rights advocate. Originally known as the Valley Falls Liberal, the journal adopted its more provocative title in 1883 when Harman became the editor.
The nameplate elaborates on the publication’s eponym: “Our name, Lucifer, comes to us from Astronomy. It’s etymology – lux (lucis), light and ferre, to bring or bear. It was originally applied to the Morning Star…As the Night of Theology wanes, and as the Daylight of Science advances the grand old name will regain its pristine significance. Again will Luciferus be hailed ‘Son of Morning!’ ‘Herald of the Dawn!’ – Harbinger of the Good Time Coming!” Get ready for the good time coming.
Drawing on the literary imagery of bringing light to those in darkness, Lucifer’s writers, editors, and publishers explicitly and controversially addressed women’s rights in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, discussing subjects like marital rape, sexual freedom, and women’s suffrage. The journal attempted “to help woman to break the chains that for ages have bound her to the rack of man-made law, spiritual, economic, industrial, social, and especially sexual, believing that until woman is roused to a sense of her own responsibility on all lines of human endeavor, that of reproduction of the race, there will be little if any advancement towards a higher and truer civilization.” As a reminder, this was published almost 125 years ago.
An 1891 article entitled “Lucifer’s Demands” acts as a manifesto for the newspaper. The demands are as follows: “We demand the absolute and unconditional recognition and practicalization of Woman’s Right to the Ownership and Control of her Person…of her Children…[and] of her Earnings” (June 5, 1891). Articles and letters to the editor supporting equal pay, women’s sexual expression, access to contraceptives, and less punitive divorce processes were commonplace, as were recommendations on radical literature. In 1883, the paper proposed eliminating the word “male” from Kansas law as a way to enact women’s suffrage. An article entitled “Prudes in Detroit” criticized a recently enacted mandate requiring naked statues in an art museum to be clothed.
Unsurprisingly, given the journal’s approach to its subject matter, the editors were frequently investigated, harassed, and arrested on charges stemming from the 1873 Comstock Law, which endowed postal inspectors with the broad authority to prohibit “obscene” content from being distributed through the mail. When the Act was passed by Congress, it was known as the “Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use” – letters denouncing marital rape and articles supporting women’s sexual freedom were condemned under this criteria.
Harassment under the aegis of the Comstock Law was a frequent subject in the journal itself. In 1901, Harman defended his actions: “And thus it is that while a man cannot be punished for rape in wedlock the man, the editor, who dares to expos this crime to public gaze, tries to arouse the dormant public conscience to a sense of the terrible consequences to womanhood by man,- this editor could be sent to prison for five years and condemned to pay a fine of three hundred dollar for his offense against the holy institution of marriage” (March 23, 1901). Following the journal’s move to Chicago in 1896 and another conviction for Harman in 1905, Lucifer ultimately ceased publication in 1907. The journal was succeeded by the American Journal of Eugenics, which ran from 1907 until 1910, and may warrant a Halloween post of its own with articles such as “Reproduction of the Unfit,” “How to Have Prize Babies,” and “Slaughter of Babies in Chicago.”
Have a safe and happy Halloween, one with appropriate amounts of lightness and darkness.