Louise Michel After 1890
A biography of Louise Michel's time in London, her involvement in late 19th century anarchist circles, and her death.
In 1890 Louise was arrested again. After a politically-motivated attempt to commit her to a mental asylum, she moved to London. Louise lived in London for five years. She opened a school and moved among the European anarchist exile circles. Her International Anarchist School for the children of political refugees opened in 1890 on Fitzroy Square. The teachings were influenced by the libertarian educationist Paul Robin and put into practice Mikhail Bakunin’s educational principles, emphasising scientific and rational methods.
Louise’s aim was to develop among the children the principles of humanity and justice. Among the teachers at the school were exiled anarchists, such as Victorine Rouchy-Brocher, but also pioneering educationalists such as Rachel McMillan and Agnes Henry. In 1892 the school was closed, when explosives were found in the basement.
Louise contributed to many English-speaking publications. Some of her writings were translated into English by the poet Louisa Sarah Bevington. Her published works were also translated into Spanish by the anarchist Soledad Gustavo. The Spanish anarchist and workers rights activist Teresa Claramunt became known as the “Spanish Louise Michel”.
By that time Louise had become a well-known speaker, touring Europe repeatedly to speak in front of thousands of people. In 1895 she and Sébastien Faure founded the French anarchist periodical Le Libertaire (The Libertarian), now called Le Monde Libertaire (Libertarian World). In the same year Louise met Emma Goldman at an anarchist conference in London, at which both were speaking. The young Goldman was hugely impressed by Louise, considering her to have a “social instinct developed to the extreme”. In reference to the harsh conditions of Louise’s life, Goldman asserted “Anarchists insist that conditions must be radically wrong if human instincts develop to such extremes at the expense of each other.”
Louise returned to France in 1895. In an 1896 article, entitled “Why I am an Anarchist”, she argued that “Anarchy will not begin the eternal miseries anew. Humanity in its fight of despair will cling to it in order to emerge from the abyss.” In 1904 Louise went on a conference tour through French Algeria. She was scheduled to meet the anti-colonial campaigner Isabelle Eberhardt, but Eberhardt died shortly before Michel arrived in Algeria.
Louise died of pneumonia in Marseille on 10 January 1905. Her funeral in Paris was attended by more than 100,000 people. Her grave is in the cemetery of Levallois-Perret, in one of the suburbs of Paris. The grave is maintained by the community. This cemetery is also the last resting place of her friend and fellow communard Théophile Ferré.