Ammon Hennacy papers, 1918-1966 (majority within 1936-1944)
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Hennacy, Ammon, 1893-1970.
- 2.5 Linear Feet
- Finding aid written by Lisa Klopfer, June 2000. Encoded by Natalia Holtzman, November 2017.
- Scope and Content:
The Ammon Hennacy Papers were acquired from the family of Hendrik Anderson, who had stored them for many years after Hennacy's Southwest sojourn. In the course of the years the papers were re-arranged, and in some cases mixed with Anderson's own papers. The bulk of the collection ranges from 1936-1944, although many items are undated.
These papers are particularly significant in their documentation of Hennacy's early years of study, his prison experiences, and his relationships with his family and various close friends, including Dorothy Day. Hennacy's notes and manuscripts document his attentive reading and study habits, while his handwritten "Gospel in Brief" includes his own cross-references (including to Tolstoy) and interpretations of the New Testament (a second volume of this project may be found in the University of Wyoming's American Heritage Center). Hennacy's letters are filled with political and social arguments; they document his constant effort to convince other people of his views.
In his personal papers, the notes on travels with Selma Melms in 1921-1925 are rich in detailed descriptions of places visited, people met, and miles traveled. Some of these latter notes appear to be written by Melms.
The Hennacy Papers are divided into seven series: Correspondence, Manuscripts, Printed Materials, Notes and Book Reviews, Personal files, Subject files and Hendrik Anderson papers.
Correspondence comprises roughly 1/3 of a linear foot. Of particular note are letters from Ralph Borsodi, Holley Cantine, Dorothy Day, Theodore Debs, Mohandas K. Gandhi, E. Haldeman-Julius, Hippolyte Havel, Thomas Keall, Lucy Parsons, Maximillian Olay, Boris Yelensky, and the Sunrise Farm Cooperative Community. The correspondence from Day, most of which is undated, is intimate in tone, touching on daily events as well as spiritual matters. Day coaches Hennacy through his conversion, complains lightly about people who hang around her but are "not really concerned in our point of view" (in a letter dated only "Saturday"), and frequently expresses worry about his health and safety. In one letter, Day indirectly addresses the physical attraction between them, and asserts her celibacy.
The letter from Gandhi is apparently not written in his hand, but appears to be signed by him. The signature, in different ink than the letter itself, matches Gandhi's as reproduced in published letters. The letter is marked "Yerawa Central Prison 3rd April," and includes a blue symbol, perhaps a censor's mark, at the top margin. Since Gandhi was in the Yeravda (or Yerawa or Yeravada) Central Prison (in Poona or Pune, Maharashtra, India) from March 1922 until February 1924, it is most likely that this letter dates from 1923. In response to a letter from Hennacy, Gandhi gently rejects Christian Science, and asserts his belief in God "...not in the hope that He will heal me, but in order to submit entirely to His will, and to share the fate of millions who, even though they wished to, can have no Scientific medical help." Gandhi adds that he often fails to carry this belief into practice.
Hennacy's outgoing correspondence is arranged chronologically. It includes his letters to Dorothy Day, to his family, the Fuller Brush Company (1923 to "Dad Fuller" and 1929 to Mr. Eckman), Upton Sinclair (1924, 1932, 1935), Gandhi (1933), President Roosevelt (1934), Emma Goldman (1936) and many others. While nearly all are dated, many are addressed only with the correspondent's first name. The letters are preserved as typed carbon copies in most cases, usually not signed by hand. They cover a wide range of topics, from personal relations to political and religious concerns, to the pragmatics of publication, travel and meetings.
The Manuscripts series contains both typed and handwritten manuscripts by Hennacy, including chapter drafts from his book on Christian Anarchism. The "Prison Writings" folder contains letters and statements produced by Hennacy during his imprisonment in 1919. These include detailed descriptions of prison conditions and Hennacy's own classification of prisoners according to their crime, background, ethnicity and honesty ("rat," "professional rat" and "potential rat").
Printed Materials contains Hennacy's clipping files, as well as articles published by Hennacy. It is not clear whether Hendrik Anderson might have added clippings to some of these files in later years.
The fourth series,Notes and Book Reviews, consists of three original Hennacy folders ("Anarchism Book Reviews," "Anarchism Notes and Articles," and "Extra Copies of Notes"), and a varied sample of Hennacy's research notes that have been re-foldered. Most of these are undated, although the dates may be extrapolated from the publication dates and sometimes from the home address Hennacy included. Hennacy's own inventory for his notes in 1938 are in the folder "Index to Notes."
Personal files and Subject files are both very small series, comprising a miscellany of materials. Of particular interest are the photographs, many of which are inscribed and a few of which are dated, and the "Honeymoon Hiking Adventure," a set of notes concerning Hennacy's travels around the country with his bride Selma Melms in 1921-1925.
The Anderson Papers, roughly 1⁄2 linear foot, date primarily from 1942-1944. They comprise leaflets, publications, and a negligible amount of correspondence. Most of the material concerns Anderson's efforts in pacifism and the Socialist Party in California and other western states.
- Biographical / Historical:
Ammon Hennacy (1893-1970) was an anarchist, Christian, door-to-door salesman, pacifist, social worker, and consistent, lifelong activist. He published three autobiographical works: The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist (1954), which was revised and re-issued as The Book of Ammon (1965), and The One-Man Revolution in America (1970). In addition, his widow Joan Thomas documented their married life in The Years of Grief and Laughter (1974).
Born in Negley, Ohio to a Baptist family with Quaker roots, Hennacy rejected the hypocrisy of organized religion as a teenager and became an atheist. From 1913-1915 he studied one year each at Hiram College (Hiram, Ohio), The University of Wisconsin (Madison), and Ohio State University (Columbus). At the latter institution he became head of the Intercollegiate Socialist Club, and started a cooperative used book store.
An early pacifist, Hennacy refused to register for military service. As a consequence he spent two years in the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta (1918-1919), where he met the anarchist Alexander Berkman. In prison Hennacy read the Sermon on the Mount and re-discovered primitive Christianity.
In 1919 he pledged himself in common law union to Selma Melms, a radical involved in Socialism. From 1921-1925 Hennacy and Melms walked and hitchhiked throughout the U.S., promoting Socialism and exploring varieties of American religions. He and Melms purchased a farm near Milwaukee, and had two daughters, Carmen (1927) and Sharon (1929).
During WWII Hennacy again refused to register for the draft. Selma Melms had joined the I Am movement (founded by Edna and Guy Ballard in 1934), and had taken their children to join the group in Los Angeles and then Santa Fe, New Mexico. Citing her new religion, she limited Hennacy's access to his daughters, to his sorrow and eventual bitterness. In order to stay near his daughters, Hennacy sought employment in the Southwest as a laborer, continuing his activism, pacifism and tax resistance. He spent some time with the Navajo and Hopi, and among other communities. In this period Hennacy developed his friendship with Hendrik and Virginia Anderson, with whom these papers remained at his death.
Through his activism, Hennacy became close to the Catholic Worker movement, exchanging letters with Dorothy Day (whom he met in 1941), writing for the Catholic Worker, and eventually converting to Roman Catholicism (1952). In 1952 he moved to New York, where he became an associate editor of the Catholic Worker, and engaged in anti-war, anti-tax and anti-capital punishment activities. These efforts included leafleting, picketing and fasting.
In 1965 Hennacy married Joan Thomas and subsequently left the Catholic Church. According to Thomas, this was at her "suggestion" but of his own accord (Years of Grief and Laughter, p.159). Hennacy continued his activism and his writing until his death from a heart attack in January, 1970.
- Acquisition Information:
- Purchased from Alcuin Books, 1999.
- Processing information:
Processed by Lisa Knopfler, June 2000.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Additional Descriptive Data:
Other Hennacy collections that complement this one include: • The Dorothy Day – Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University (http://www.marquette.edu/library/collections/archives/day.html) Correspondence from the 1940s. • Ammon Hennacy Papers at the University of Utah Marriott Library (www.lib.utah.edu/spc/mss/ms555/555.html) Papers, ephemera and printed materials, bulk 1945-1970. • American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming (http://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/general.htm) Access restricted.
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright has not been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan. Permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s).
- PREFERRED CITATION:
Ammon Hennacy Papers, University of Michigan Library (Special Collections Research Center)