We too have a heart that beats, that suffers when facing so much misery. The pain of the working masses affects us too. Who knows misery more than women?
The above was said by Maria Roda; a woman you have probably not heard of, unless you've taken a global feminisms course. It's not often that people know of Italian feminists, so I thought I would write a bit about Roda, and all she stood for.
Maria Roda was born in Como, Italy in 1877. Her father, Cesare Balzarini, was a textile worker and a well known militant anarchist. The family home was a meeting place for other anarchists, and Roda's father encouraged his children to get involved. She was also a student of socialist poet, Ada Negri. Thus, Roda was raised from the beginning to be a feminist anarchist.
When she was fifteen, Roda helped organized a strike in Milan at the mill where she worked. This cost her a hefty fine, and three months imprisonment. It was said that Roda "incited" the protestors to attack the police. In court, she said:
I pity this guard. I pity him because he barely earns his bread, because he's a poor devil. But it impresses me to see him go after other poor devils, his brothers... Let him think about this.
Upon her release from prison, Roda, a younger sister, and their father immigrated to the United States in 1892. Roda and her father joined the Gruppo Diritto all'Esistenza, which included Maria Barbieri and other Italian anarchist immigrants.
In 1897, Roda founded an anarchist women's group called, Gruppo Emancipazione della Donna (Women's Emancipation Group). Over the next decade, Roda's group networked with similar women's organizations in New York City, and with other women workers throughout the United States and internationally. These women discussed the specific problem and struggles related to women workers, while also aligning themselves with men in the common struggle of the workers' movement and the anarchist movement. Roda explained the reason and need for a separate workers' rights movement for women, stating:
It is exactly because we feel and suffer that we too want to become involved in the fight against this society, because we also feel from birth the need to be free, to be equal (La Questione Sociale--Italian newspaper).
Oh, and did I mention, during all of this, Roda was raising eight children and working in the silk mills? Because that happened. Basically, this woman was a complete badass.