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Anti-war activist Louise Olivereau is convicted of sedition on November 30, 1917.

HistoryLink.org Essay 3483 : Printer-Friendly Format

On November 30, 1917, anti-war activist Louise Olivereau (1884-1963) is convicted of sedition for mailing circulars that encouraged young men to become conscientious objectors to avoid military service in World War I. Three days later she is sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Louise Olivereau was the daughter of French immigrants and educated as a stenographer at what later became Illinois State University. She went to work in the offices of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Seattle in 1915. The IWW was organized in 1905 and advocated ownership of factories by the workers and a single union for all workers. The IWW was particularly active in the West, in mining communities, logging camps, and other industries where working conditions were poor and pay was low. Their vocal and confrontational tactics made them targets for persecution by authorities.

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allies and against the Central Powers. Congress passed The Espionage Act in June 1917, making it a crime to cause insubordination in the armed forces, to obstruct the recruitment of soldiers, and to use the mails to do so. The IWW opposed the war, arguing that workers were dying in a conflict between capitalist interests.

Resistance

In August 1917, Olivereau spent $40 to print and mail letters and circulars encouraging young men to resist military service by becoming conscientious objectors. The Espionage Act made any criticism of the military illegal. On September 5, 1917, agents of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Investigation, raided the IWW offices in the Union Block and seized books and pamphlets.

Two days later, Olivereau went to the agents' office to retrieve her property. The agents attempted to get Olivereau to admit that the IWW was behind the circulars, but Olivereau maintained that she acted entirely alone. The agents accompanied Olivereau on a streetcar to her Wallingford residence, where they seized more documents. She was then arrested.

"The Ideals I Care For"

Olivereau was indicted on three counts of violation of The Espionage Act in connection with a letter and circular mailed to Harvey Leach of Bellingham. At trial, she represented herself, saying that an attorney "would worry more over getting me a light sentence than over the preservation of the ideals I care for more than for my own liberty."

She openly admitted to sending the letters, but claimed that she did not advocate forcible resistance to the draft law. She pointed out that most of what she wrote was available in the public library. In her address to the jury, Olivereau recounted her version of events, and provided the jury with discussions of Anarchism, her political views, and the injustice of the war. Dr. Anna Louise Strong (1885-1970), radical leader and Seattle School Board member, sat in the front row at the trial.

The jury convicted Olivereau and the judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison. She served 28 months in the state penitentiary in Cañon City, Colorado, before being paroled. The IWW provided no support for Olivereau or her case because of her Anarchist pronouncements. Her case was barely mentioned in IWW newspapers.

After her release, Olivereau worked at a variety of clerical and sales jobs in Oregon and California. She settled in San Francisco in 1929 and worked as a stenographer. She died there in 1963.

Sources:
The Louise Olivereau Case, pamphlet (New York: Minnie Parkhurst, n.d.), History Ink Library; Sarah E. Sharbach, "A Woman Acting Alone: Louise Olivereau and the First World War," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 78, pp. 1-2 (January-April 1987), 32-40.


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Louise Olivereau (1884-1963) note from prison, 1918
Courtesy The Louise Olivereau Case (pamphlet)


Pamphlet sold to benefit political prisoners, ca. 1918
Courtesy History Ink


 
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