A short biography of Virgilia d'Andrei, an Italian anarchist teacher, anti-fascist and poet.
Virgilia d’Andrea, our beloved comrade and poetess, died on May 11th1 in New York City, at the age of 43, victim of a malady which defied all the resources of science and the devoted care of the comrades.2
After the recent loss of Malatesta and Galleani, the Anarchist movement, and especially its Italian contingent, is losing, in Virgilia d’Andrea, another of its best, leaving a void impossible to fill.
Born on February 11th, 1890, of a petty middle class family in Sulmona, South Italy, and orphaned in early youth, Virgilia was confined and educated in a Catholic institution, which she left at the age of eighteen to become a schoolteacher. For some time she taught young children in the elementary schools, and her name is still remembered and honored by the townspeople who knew her as an earnest young girl. However. she was not destined to continue her career as an obscure schoolteacher. The social struggle soon claimed her, and in its vortex she found herself poet, teacher and fighter with and for the masses. Poet of the most sublime of ideals conceived by man, Anarchism; teacher of the masses who are struggling to break themselves from the slavery of capitalism, the superstitions of religion, the forces of the state, and who meanwhile yearn to build a society where beauty, happiness and plenty should be the heritage of all.
Virgilia d’Andrea was a fighter in the full sense of the word, with indomitable courage and unbounded love for the disinherited. With the Italian proletariat she fought where the struggle was the keenest and the hardest, and with the Italian proletariat she shared the hopes of a coming liberation when in 1914, in the famous days of the Red Week, the proletariat had risen in armed revolt against the ruling class, and again in 1920, when the social revolution seemed so sure to come. The Italian workers had then seized and gained almost complete control of the factories and workshops, while the peasants were taking control of the land. Both movements failed to mature, owing to the cowardice and treachery of the socialist party and its leaders. On both occasions, Virgilia d’Andrea suffered the consequences of the defeat through solitary confinement, prison and eventually exile.
In 1922, after the power of the state had been handed over to Mussolini by a bunch of satraps who were his accomplices, Virgilia, in danger of her life and powerless to carry on any further activity in Italy, emigrated to Germany, where she endured not only the moral sufferings that go with forced exile but all sorts of physical privations as well.
From Germany she went to Paris, where she founded and edited an extremely fine magazine, “Veglia.” There she played an important part in the Sacco and Vanzetti campaign and in the anti-
fascist agitation carried on in France. In 1928, when further sojourn in Paris was made impossible by the French Government acting under the instigation of Mussolini, the comrades here invited her to take refuge in the United States.
Once here, she never rested until illness condemned her to a forced rest. She crossed the continent many times in all directions on speaking tours, awakening everywhere the hopes and the spirit of the comrades and of the masses in general. An astonishing variety of people came to hear her speak. Virgilia’s eloquence, her wide knowledge of Italian life and letters, her profound and sympathetic understanding of the needs of the masses, her stirring message of Anarchism-all combined to move her audiences as few other speakers could.
I shall never forget how, in the gloomiest days of a forced exile, with reaction and oppression reaching such an extent that we despaired of a reawakening of the forces of liberty, a small group of us young comrades used to visit Virgilia in that most humble and simple of homes. There we trooped around her while she read her poems to us reclining in her bed, or talked of past struggles and future ones. We exchanged views and hopes, we talked of our activities. She was already ailing but her spirit was vivid, and we, the young and strong, came to her with our fears and our troubles to draw courage and inspiration from her gentle words.
Virgilia d’Andrea used her pen as a fighter uses his sword. When she wrote verse, as we can see in her collection of poems, “Tormento,” she would narrate the revolutionary events of her time and sing of her hopes for the coming social revolution, or tell of her despair when its coming was again postponed. Or writing in her clear and cadenced Italian prose, she would expose the cowardice and brutality of fascism, as she did in “L’Ora di Mara-maldo.”
She was artist enough to see the beauty and the significance of the revolutionary movements of the masses, but her heart went out to the solitary rebels who alone and unaided dared to challenge despotism with bold revolutionary action. And her lyricism touches its highest peak in her last volume, “Torce nella Notte,” in exalting the spirit of these individuals who gave their lives, in an hour of dark reaction, for the cause of freedom.
If the Russian revolutionary movement can boast of a Sophia Perovskaia, the French of a Louise Michel and the American of a Voltairine de Cleyre, the Italian movement can add Virgilia d’Andrea to this noble fellowship of women who epitomized beauty, love and the desire to help humanity even at the cost of their personal welfare and their very lives.
I. U. V.
From: Freedom (New York), June 1933..