The Spy Who Came to Dinner | Letters | Chicago Reader

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The Spy Who Came to Dinner

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Dear Reader,

In his fine story on "Dangerous Women" in the September 8th issue, Jeff Huebner notes how the Chicago police kept radical Lucy Parsons "under constant surveillance" for 30 years. It is worth noting, however, that Chicago's finest were not alone in following the activities of Lucy Parsons. As I document in my forthcoming book, Spies Against Radicalism, the government of German Kaiser Wilhelm II maintained a network of spies within the American radical movement up until the entry of the U.S. into the First World War.

Thus for example, in 1906, an agent known only to history as #39 was able to establish contact with the widow of executed Haymarket figure Albert Parsons. On March 10th, he attended a party that she had helped sponsor. Ever dedicated to duty, the spy stayed until 3 AM the following morning. What he found out was that at the start of the event, "Lucy Parsons was engaged in raffling ties to the men, who were matched later, to the color of the aprons worn by the ladies." Although #39 was less successful in discovering anything of more immediate political significance (as a result, it would appear, of having too much to drink), incidents like this speak to the almost pathologic fear the rich and powerful had of anyone, like Parsons, who spoke against the established order.

William A. Pelz, PhD

DePaul University

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