Lucy “Lucia” Eldine Gonzalez was born in 1853 in either Virginia or Texas. Her ancestry was comprised of Mexican and African elements, and she was most likely born into slavery.
In 1871, she married a former Confederate soldier turned Radical Republican, Albert Parsons, and the couple was forced to flee the state as a result of their interracial marriage. The two settled in Chicago, where Lucy was forced to support the family as a dressmaker due to Albert being blacklisted from working as a printer as a result of involvement in the labor struggle.
Around 1879, Parsons began working as a writer and journalist for several radical papers, including The Socialist, The Alarm, and Scribner’s Magazine. In 1884, she published her famous appeal to The Tramps: The Unemployed, the Disinherited, and Miserable, where she called the unemployed, poverty-stricken, exploited masses to “learn to use explosives” and act to deconstruct the system of oppression. This subsequently resulted in her being labeled as “more dangerous than a thousand rioters” by the Chicago Police Department.
In 1886, Albert Parsons was arrested, tried, and executed for supposed involvement in the famous Haymarket Riot, along with several others. These executions and railroaded trials resulted in the beginning of annual May Day demonstrations in protest. Parsons continued her writing and speaking, writing for the French anarchist paper Les Temps Nouveaux and sharing a podium with Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin in London. She was often arrested for her radical and subversive activities. In 1905, she played a key role in the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and began editing an IWW-affiliated newspaper, the Liberator.
In January 1915, she organized the Chicago Hunger Demonstrations. The initiative drew in a substantial portion of the nation’s left, including the Socialist Party and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). In the 1920s, she continued her work and expanded into the International Labor Defence (ILD), a communist-led organization that defended African Americans and labor activists. She continued giving speeches and writing into her later years, inspiring generations of labor activists, including writer Studs Terkel. She died on March 7, 1942, in a house fire at her Chicago residence. She was believed to be 89 years old.