Civil Liberties Activist Louise Olivereau Wrongly Convicted
By Lee Ann Demers 7th Grade; Spokane, WA
Editor's Note: On November 30, 1917, anti-war activist Louise Olivereau was convicted for sending letters and circulars urging young men to refuse to fight in World War I. This is her brief story.
Louise Olivereau was the daughter of French immigrants. She was educated as a stenographer at what is now called Illinois State University. She worked for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), also called the Wobblies.
Because she was dedicated to the cause of civil liberties, Olivereau spent $40 (or $617 in today’s dollars) on printing and mailing letters and circulars encouraging young men to resist military service by becoming conscientious objectors. In other words, she asked them to refuse to be part of the war and to take action, by protesting the war.
Along with the Sedition Act, the Espionage Act was passed into law. It was against the law to criticize the military. Examples of espionage include causing insubordination in the armed forces, obstructing the recruitment of soldiers, and using the mails to do this. During this time, any speech that was disloyal, profane, or abusive, could land a person in jail.
The IWW opposed the war, arguing that workers were dying in a conflict that benefited the capitalists (owners of industries), but not the workers. They were targets for persecution by authorities, because of their vocal and confrontational tactics.
On November 30, 1917, Olivereau was convicted of sedition, because she mailed letters and circulars. When convicted, she admitted to sending the letters, but she claimed that she didn’t advocate forcible resistance to the draft law. Also, Olivereau pointed out that most of what she wrote was available in the local public library.
In my opinion the jury wrongly convicted Olivereau. The judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison. She served 28 months in the state penitentiary.
Oddly, Olivereau's case was not publicized in the IWW newspaper, because the editors didn’t like her anarchist comments. Anarchists don’t like government.