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Jo Labadie and His Gift to Michigan

A Legacy for the Masses

The Water Board Incident




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  Birth and Early Life
  Marriage and Family
  Intellectual Development
  John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
  Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)
  Darwin and Evolution
  Socialism and Karl Marx
  Henry George (1839-1897) and the Single Tax Movement
  Knights of Labor
  Judson Grenell (1847-1930)
  Benjamin Ricketson Tucker (1854-1939)
  The Haymarket Affair

Later Relations to Labor Organizations

  Leon Czolgosz (1873-1901)

The Water Board Incident

  Bubbling Waters
  The Labadie Print Shop
  Later Years
  Agnes Inglis (1870-1952)
  Further Reading

Special Collections Library
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

During the depression of the 1890s, Jo Labadie lost his job at the Detroit News due to ill health after years of breathing the fetid air of printing shops. Times were hard and Jo and Sophie were having difficulty making ends meet. Due to his connections in city government, Jo was offered a civil service position in the Water Works Department, which allowed him to work outdoors and in a healthier environment. Although this government job compromised his ideals as an anarchist he felt he was not in a position to turn down the offer.

In 1908 Detroit Post Office Inspector J.J. Larmour declared letters from Joseph Labadie "unmailable" because of Labadie's use of stickers on his envelopes quoting venerable writers and philosophers such as John Stuart Mill, George Bernard Shaw, Herbert Spencer, and Lao-Tze. Labadie refused to stop using the stickers. Although Labadie's popularity came in handy and public opinion forced Larmour to drop the issue, a month later Water Board Commissioner James Pound tried to have Jo fired from his job at the Water Works for "uttering and publishing anarchistic ideas denunciatory of all government." Labadie's numerous friends again came through for him, writing letters, making phone calls, and visiting Water Board members to voice their disapproval. The outcry in favor of Labadie, and vehemently against Pound, was astounding. Labadie's friends in high places, including J. L. Hudson and Carl Schmidt, also came to his defense, and Labadie was aback to work within two weeks. A Detroit News article after Jo's death in 1933 recalled that, "To hear the conversations on the streets, a stranger might have thought Detroit the world capital of anarchism."

It was while at his job at the Water Works in 1897 that Labadie met the Russian anarchist and scientist Peter Kropotkin, whose kind and placid nature impressed Labadie greatly. Kropotkin was visiting Detroit and insisted on meeting the younger anarchist whose column, "Cranky Notions", he had read in Liberty.