Labadie Collection: History

Photo of Joseph LabadieThe Joseph A. Labadie Collection, the oldest publicly-accessible collection of radical history in the world, documents a wide variety of social protest movements and organizations of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries. While the printed materials—some 15,000 serials, 60,000 monographs, and 40,000 pamphlets, in addition to 2,100 posters, 1,200 photographs, 9,000 subject vertical files, scrapbooks, audio recordings, political buttons, — are the major strengths of the Collection, the unique manuscript holdings provide added coverage of certain subjects and persons involved in radical movements.

The nucleus of the Collection, donated to the University of Michigan in 1911, consists of the personal papers and library of Charles Joseph Antoine Labadie (1850-1933), known familiarly as Jo Labadie, an important figure in the fledgling Michigan labor movement of the late nineteenth century. Labadie was born on a frontier farm near Paw Paw, Michigan, to parents of French and Indian descent. Learning the printer's trade in South Bend, Indiana, he joined the International Typographical Union in his teens and after a few years of wandering about the country, settled in Detroit in 1872.

In 1878, Labadie organized the first Michigan branch of the Knights of Labor, disguising it as the Washington Literary Society, and in the same year amassed several hundred votes as candidate for mayor of Detroit on the Greenback-Labor Party ticket. In 1880, he helped organize the Detroit Council of Trades and Labor Unions and served as its first president. Attracted by the Socialist Labor Party, he furthered its views by editing several of the earliest labor newspapers in Michigan, such as the Detroit Socialist, Three Stars, and Advance and Labor Leaf. Labadie's interest in the labor movement continued, and nine years later he was instrumental in the founding of the Michigan Federation of Labor, again serving as first president.

Labadie did not adhere to the dominant Republican and Democratic parties but remained radical in his social views. Fearing the concentration of power in a centralized government, he became wary of the future of socialism and found the doctrines of individualist anarchism, as promulgated by Benjamin Tucker, more congenial to his aspirations. His subsequent activism, writings, and demeanor won him the appellation "the gentle anarchist." His life was not without drama, however. Labadie had been employed by the Detroit Water Board since 1893 but was suddenly dismissed in 1908 because of his anarchist convictions. Vehement public outcry resulted in his quick reinstatement and brought him many new friends.

In 1912 Labadie retired to a cabin in the woods near Wixom, Michigan (now in Kensington Metropark, where the ruins may be viewed), spending the next twenty years writing, printing, and distributing anarchist materials. Before moving to "Bubbling Waters," he donated his books, pamphlets, journals, personal papers, and ephemera to the University of Michigan. *

One of Labadie's friends in later years was Agnes Inglis (1870-1952). The daughter of a prominent and wealthy Detroit family, Inglis led a confined life for her first thirty years, nursing her invalid sister and mother. After their deaths she volunteered for settlement work at Hull House in Chicago and Franklin House in Detroit. In 1905 she moved to Ann Arbor where her interests broadened to include such social issues as trade unions, prostitution, and birth control. Although she briefly joined the Socialist Party, her friendship with Emma Goldman led her to anarchism. Over the next two decades, she zealously supported Goldman's causes, opposed U.S. involvement in World War I, and protested the trials and imprisonments of anarchists and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) members.

In 1924 Inglis tried to consult the Labadie Collection for her research but found it had remained boxed and untouched. Since the materials were too disorganized for use, she began what was to become her life-long work: the arrangement and custodianship of Jo Labadie's donation. Because Inglis was without archival or library training, her methods of organizing the material were personal and somewhat idiosyncratic. Nonetheless, she enriched the collection enormously by acquiring books, serials, pamphlets, letters, photographs, and other records of persons involved in radical movements. Moreover, Inglis corresponded extensively with her network of friends, soliciting their memoirs and documentation of significant events and people. During the period Inglis served as curator (1924-1952), the Labadie Collection grew perhaps by twenty-fold.

In 1960 Edward C. Weber became Curator of the Labadie Collection. Following Inglis's earlier example, Weber initiated extensive correspondence with individuals, groups, and organizations active in publishing or disseminating radical literature. He was largely responsible for the collection's substantial holdings in the areas of civil rights, the student protests and anti-war movements of the tumultuous sixties, modern anarchist and socialist literature, as well as LGBTQ, radical feminism, pacifism, and ecology movements.

Weber retired in 2000, and Julie Herrada, who had been Assistant Curator since 1994, took over as the third Curator of the Labadie Collection.  She maintains the growing collections, continues to add retrospective materials as well as those of contemporary movements, corresponds with researchers and donors throughout the world, creates exhibits, and exposes its treasures to as many people as possible.

* For more information on the life of Joseph Labadie, see All-American Anarchist: Joseph A. Labadie and the Labor Movement by Carlotta Anderson, Wayne State University Press, 1998.


Give feedback about this page
Last modified: 11/01/2016