Meet Massachusetts' Most Famous 19th Century Individualist Anarchist And Free Love Advocate

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by Edgar B. Herwick III
August 5, 2016

If you think that the notion of "free love" was an idea born out of the 1960s—think again. In fact, free love caused quite the stir at Faneuil Hall this week, way back in the 1870s—when thousands gathered for a so-called indignation meeting in support of Ezra Heywood.

"He was a wonderful character, quite idiosyncratic," said Marty Blatt, director of Northeastern University’s public history program, who’s published a biography of Heywood. "He’s a perfectionist. He believes that human society can be perfected. He’s a spiritualist, he’s an optimist, and he has relentless energy for radical causes."

It didn’t start out that way. Heywood was born into a venerable Massachusetts family. And like the model of an upright, 19th-century Yankee, he entered Brown University to become a Christian minister.

"And there, he’s radicalized," Blatt explained. "He actually meets a couple of women who are for suffrage and for abolition."

Their causes lit a fire in young Heywood, who would go on to fight not just for abolition and women’s suffrage, but also for worker’s rights, and broader women’s rights. He would fight against the primacy of both the church and the state. Heck, he even tried to fight death.

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