Jo Labadie, c. 1880.
Charles Joseph Antoine Labadie
April 18, 1850
|Died||October 7, 1933 (aged 83)|
Jo Labadie was born on April 18, 1850, in Paw Paw, Michigan, to Anthony and Euphrosyne Labadie, both descendants of seventeenth century French immigrants of the Labadie family who had settled on both sides of the Detroit River. His boyhood was a frontier existence among Potawatomi tribes in southern Michigan, where his father served as interpreter between Jesuit missionaries and Indians. His only formal schooling was a few months in a parochial school.
Labadie began five years of "tramp" printing and then settled in Detroit as a printer for the Detroit Post and Tribune. He married his first cousin, Sophie Elizabeth Archambeau, in 1877. Their children were Laura, Charlotte, and Laurance, also a prominent anarchist essayist. The family was also involved in the film and the entertainment industry in the Detroit area. 
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Labadie joined the newly formed Socialist Labor Party in Detroit at the age of 27 and soon was distributing socialist tracts on street corners. As a printer, he was also a member of Detroit's Typographical Union 18 and was one of its two delegates to the International Typographical Union convention in Detroit in 1878.
In 1878 Labadie organized Detroit's first assembly of the Knights of Labor, and ran unsuccessfully for mayor on the Greenback-Labor ticket. In 1880, he served as first president of the Detroit Trades Council, and continued issuing a succession of labor papers and columns for the national labor press, including the Detroit Times, Advance and Labor Leaf, Labor Review, The Socialist, and the Lansing Sentinel, which were admired for their forthright style. His column "Cranky Notions" was widely published.
In 1883 Labadie embraced individualist anarchism, a non-violent doctrine. He became closely allied with Benjamin Tucker, the country's foremost exponent of that doctrine, and frequently wrote for the latter's publication, Liberty. Without the oppression of the state, Labadie believed, humans would choose to harmonize with "the great natural laws...without robbing [their] fellows through interest, profit, rent and taxes." Labadie supported localized public cooperation, and was an advocate for community control of water utilities, streets, and railroads. Although he did not support the militant anarchism of the Haymarket anarchists, Labadie fought for the clemency of the accused because he did not believe they were the sole perpetrators of violence. He broke with the Knights of Labor when their national leader, Terence V. Powderly, repudiated the defendants completely.
In 1888, Labadie organized the Michigan Federation of Labor, becoming its first president, and forged a tenuous alliance with Samuel Gompers. At age fifty he began writing verse and publishing artistic hand-crafted booklets. In 1908, the city postal inspector refused to handle his mail because it bore stickers with anarchist quotations. A month later the Detroit Water Board, where Labadie worked as a clerk, dismissed him from his post for expressing anarchist sentiments. In both cases, public officials were forced to back down in the face of mass public protests in support of Labadie, well known to Detroit citizens as its "Gentle Anarchist".
In about 1910, when he was 60 years old, Labadie began to prepare for the preservation of the vast collection of pamphlets, newspapers, and correspondence which he had accumulated in the attic of his home. The collection was eagerly sought by the University of Wisconsin, one of the paramount repositories of materials relating to labor and socialist history in the United States, but Labadie spurned their offer of $500 for the collection. The libraries of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and Michigan State University also made attempts to acquire the collection.
Labadie sought instead to keep the material as near to his hometown of Detroit as possible and contacted the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor about their potential acquisition of the material. While the University of Michigan was slow to show interest in the collection, an investigator was eventually dispatched. The report returned on Labadie's collection was negative, dismissed as a great mass of "stuff." Labadie remained persistent, however, and he eventually convinced nine Detroit residents, including several businessmen, to donate $100 each for the purchase of the collection, which was then donated to the university with requisite pomp.
In 1912 twenty crates of material were moved from Labadie's attic to Ann Arbor, forming the foundation of the renowned Labadie Collection of radical literature. Labadie spent his later years soliciting donations to the collection from friends and acquaintances, donating hundreds more items himself to the library in 1926. Agnes Inglis cataloged and organized the collection. The collection thus preserved is today regarded as among the finest accumulations of 19th Century radical ephemera in the United States.
Joseph Labadie died on October 7, 1933, in Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 83. He donated the vast majority of manuscripts and ephemera acquired in his lifetime to the collection at the University of Michigan Library, a deed he viewed as his primary legacy.
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