Butte, Mont. library bans, Mary MacLane, free speech, & the essence of art
Whereas, we explore art & history being banned from libraries
Pic: Butte, Mont. Mary MaClane circa 1903. In 1901 at the age of 19 she penned her phenom memoir, The Story of Mary MacLane, which she'd originally titled, I Await The Devil's coming.
Butte Inter Mountain newspaper, May 1902:
BUTTE WILL EXCLUDE MACLANE BOOK FROM THE LIBRARY
'Mr. Russell Pronounces It Unhealthy and Unwholesome and Says That Writings of Such a Character are Harmful'
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"Librarian John R. Russell of the Butte Public Library will ask the board of trustees to exclude 'The Story of Mary MacLane' from the library.
"Mr. Russell will declare that the language about marriage and virtue and the blasphemous statements in the book would be harmful to young persons, and that the trustees should do their share in the work of suppressing the book.
"So emphatic will be the protests of Mr. Russell against Mary MacLane’s book that it is believed that the trustees will abide by his decision as they have done once before.
"'Mary MacLane’s book reeks with abominable language, every page of it...' said Mr. Russell.
"It is believed that the exclusion of the MacLane book from the library will counteract the evil impression which people will gain of the city through reading the book. It will demonstrate that the book does not receive the indorsement of Butte people, and that the picture Miss MacLane has drawn of Butte and its citizens is false.
"I have read some of the passages from the book, and these alone are sufficient to earn its exclusion from every library in the United States. There are passages that rail at everything held sacred."
~"Just why I sent it to the publishers would be hard to say, but when I had finished it I felt that it was literature, because it is real and because it was well written. And I know the world needs such things."
~Mary MacLane on her 1902 best-selling memoir.
When younger, I oft said, “Anne Rice” without hesitation when people asked who some of my literary influences are as I love the late author's consistently beautiful flow especially with Blood and Gold and the genius of Memnoch the Devil.
But I always wanted to say the darkly gothic Mary MacLane as well—and so I do now.
The reason I’d never said her name prior was because not many people had heard of the eccentric writer once known as, "The Wild Woman of Butte."
Mary, being gorge.
I had discovered her via my grandpa's vast collection of books in the basement of his house in Helena in which I'd often spend hours down there as a kid reading, and a lot of those were from the early 1900s. (Fun fact about my grandpa was a former newspaper editor/reporter who even worked with Paul Maclean—the guy Brad Pitt portrayed the In A River Runs Through It film.
I was fascinated by the style of those writers, so graceful, so poetic—so many em dashes of which I seem to have incorporated lol.
One day when I was 16, I came across a red book with the title, "The Story of Mary MacLane."
It seemed so wild, so sexual with hinted wanting of lesbian sex, sex with the Devil--so deliciously blasphemous—and I kept looking back at the publication date, "1902?!"
Through the pages truly loved her, and she pretty much became a blueprint in that I wanted to become as a writer with such unapologetic boldness.
What she left was her soul laid bare to me in a first edition book I'd long (regretfully) lost, this personal heroine of mine who randomly crossed my mind whenever I doubted if I should "go there" in writing. What Would Mary MacClane Do?
Yeah, I was def hooked. #QueerIcon🏳️🌈
But later on, information about this woman writer who fascinated and inspired me to not be afraid to "go there" was scarce—even on the internet.
I'd asked people who knew a lot about Montana literature if they knew of Mary MacLane, and the answer was no. Some vaguely recollected, "Her name sounds familiar..."
She'd basically been forgotten in time, and it was tragedy because in my heart I knew there was something special about this book, and surely others back then felt as I did when I read it, and surely they told others!
Yet here I was some 100 years later, I knew no one who knew of her except my now deceased grandfather.
Then in 2013 I saw a brief article in The Atlantic about her. They had just republished her book and it was under the name she always wanted, I Await The Devil's Coming.
I found out this book I thought was obscure was a bestseller ye back in the day, and sold 100,000 copies within months of its publications.
My younger self suspicions had been right: There was something special about her words resonated with others.
That was my impetus to do my own piece on her for the indie The Billings Outpost, eventually finding articles about her from the 1970s the Montana Historical Society dug up and sent my way.
In researching came across people as seemingly obsessed with her as I'd been, including the Mary MacLane scholar Michael R. Brown who ended up doing an impressive collection of all of her writing and creating a rabbit hole where none existed.
We stan Michael R. Brown.
Anyway, here was a controversial, loved and hated best selling Montana writer that sold 100,000 books in her first month of publication that was the talk of the lit world for years, and then the book and author was seemingly forgotten.
And after I wrote my little article on her, I eventually became an Evangelical for her work, so to speak, bringing her name up in every casual conversation, every time I spoke at a book festival.
I spoke of how she wrote of her bisexuality in an era when one simply did not, how she inadvertently became a symbol of feminism and was known as "The First Flapper" for her wanton disregard for hoity toity societal norms.
"I do not see any beauty in self-restraint," she told an interviewer.
She had written her memoir after having been accepted into Stanford, and her older sister had even waited for her to join her, but her stepdad told her the money their deceased dad had left had been squandered. There would be no Stanford.
She was devastated. A brilliant mind stuck in Butte where she applied to work alongside her sister at the local library, and was rejected because her application essays were too "unconventional."
She then began to write what she knew at age 19 in January of 1901.
The MacLane residence today—which I visit every time I visit butte.
Early on it notes, “I have reached a truly wonderful state of miserable morbid unhappiness,” to which the mood would carry.
Leery of the bad press Butte received from those back east, The Butte Miner described MacLane as a sensationalist who only catered to pretentious eastern perceptions of those living in the west, proclaiming “... freak productions of a doubtful character do not constitute our highest ideals.”
Leftist Indigenous activist Frank Little was brutally slain for speaking out against ‘Copper King’ oligarchs who dominated the political landscape.
MacLane wrote, “Butte and its immediate vicinity present as ugly an outlook as once could wish to see. It is so ugly indeed that it is near the perfection of ugliness. And anything perfect, or nearly so, is not to be despised.”
The latter sentence was followed by her description implying that in spite of Butte’s barrenness, its “desolateness” was also an “inspiration.” She took long, leisurely walks every day to stir the creative juices in her mind—including at the cemetery late at night—earning her the nickname, “The Centerville Ghost” by locals.
In 1901 this Butte cemetery would have zero grass or trees it was so polluted.
She studied a woman who visited the grave of her young child every night for several weeks before she stopped coming and moved on with her life.
“Out in the warped Graveyard her child is forgotten,” MacClane observed. “And presently the wooden headstone will begin to decay. But the worms will not forget their part. They have eaten the small body by now, and enjoyed it. Always worms enjoy a body to eat.
“And also, the Devil rejoiced.
“And I rejoiced with the Devil.”
A teen killed themselves, and was found clutching a Mary MacLane book. A reporter asked her about it.
She said, “I read of the Kalamazoo girl who killed herself after reading the book. I am not at all surprised. She lived in Kalamazoo, for one thing, and then she read the book.”
However, as the Montana Research Center’s Brian Shovers notes, MacLane wasn’t alone in her dim view of Butte’s homeliness during the age of the copper boom.
The noted historian Helen Fitzgerald Sanders – the daughter-in-law of Montana’s first senator, Wilbur F. Sanders, who was also the founder of the Montana Historical Society – described Butte as “the ugliest town on earth.”
By the second decade of the 1900s, Butte had grown to be the largest town between Spokane and Minneapolis with a population peaking at double its current 34,000 residents.
It was a town full of brothels, saloons and immigrants, and it was run by Copper Kings. Its underground was a labyrinth of mines employing some 15,000 workers, and smoking smelters operated 24-7.
Helen Sanders said, “The approach to the city from the East bore a startling likeness to Dante’s description of the outlying regions of Purgatory.”
“A tree could not be found in the city,” said Shovers. “One of Montana’s preeminent journalists, Joseph Kinsey Howard, referred to Butte as ‘the black heart of Montana,’ and a city dominated by men, which would have colored MacLane’s perception of the place – especially during that time in Butte’s history.”
In such an environment, it’s easy to see why the “lit-ry lady” MacLane wanted to get out. While many reviewers admired her poetic prose and descriptions written at a skill level beyond her years, others criticized and brushed off her writings as an overwrought, melodramatic performance of an angst-ridden teenager when she really was likely severely depressed.
While I find these passages, anecdotes, and quotes amusingly dark, what was distressing to me is how this woman, a woman known enough to simply be called "Mary" in national headlines, was so near 'erased' from history by a snobbish literati.
That, "It is believed that the exclusion of the MacLane book from the library will counteract the evil impression which people will gain of the city through reading the book."
Regardless, when I see her name now, I take small comfort in knowing in my own evangelicizing of her name, maybe I inadvertently piqued someone's interest enough to check her out.
In October 2020 fellow LGBTQ Montana author Emily M. Danforth (who wrote the popular The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a story of a teen who goes to a gay conversion therapy camp in Montana that they turned into a movie starring the wonderful Chloë Grace Moretz) published a novel called Plain Bad Heroines in which the teens' fascination of Mary's book helped drive the plot. Every reader of that book will likely seek out Mary's book now. I salute Emily.
Danforth included this excerpt by MacLane to begin her novel.🤘
I find beauty and inspiration from Mary for not only my own unapologetic female characters and leads in my works of fiction, but in myself.
Canceling free speech about “we must recolonize ourselves”
Like Mary, I also have the dubious distinction of being banned from the Butte library for being too unconventional, for saying I'd be "flamboyantly dressed" while discussing “dangerous” ideas of my culture like Indigenous LGBTQ and Two Spirit history as it might violate an unconstitional anti-drag law.
The story kinda blew up, as you can see. Suggestion: read The Guardian's Q & A piece with me.
This happened after a "campaign of complaints" by Nazis who took credit for getting the lecture canceled.
The cowardly silence regarding the censoring of my lecture screams volumes from “free speech warrior” conservatives, but their selective defense is not surprising as they are the same ilk who promote banning of books back by LGBTQ authors today and MacLane's back then.
Waits for free speech warriors to defend free speech that isn't bigotry. …. *dies*💀
As transgender YouTuber Natalie Wynn noted in The Economist, “The people complaining the loudest about threats to free speech on college campuses often have quite a sinister agenda. The reason they’re complaining about freedom of speech is because they’re complaining about really oppressive ideas being suppressed.”
Fascist morons chirped speaking about history equates to me being a "pedophile" and "groomer.”
As they constitutionally are incapable of having a single original thought, they parroted, "yOu sHoUld hAve lEfT thE chiLdReN aLonE!" about a noon lecture series event catered to adult regulars when Butte children were in school, firstly, but secondly, so fucking what?
I've also given this speech to middle and high school kids on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation and they loved it, figure, because acceptance of LGBTQ2S people is tied directly to our cultures.
Art of moi via Standing Rock student Sarah Iron Rope.
So in banning this lecture, Butte-Silver Bow County is doing a double whammy of Indigenous and LGBTQ discrimination and they appear to be tripling down on defending it.
In fact, I told the Standing Rock students how my Northern Cheyenne tribes allied with the Lakota because we respected the wisdom of one of their winkté (trans/Two Spirit) people's prophecy's which lead to the Fetterman Massacre and a defeat of the US Army after Red Cloud's War.
More art by Kristen😁
Also, in my Cheyenne tribe, some of the most important ceremonies were lead by Two Spirit people; and ditto for Lakota, Crow, and Hidatsu tribes whose trans/Two Spirit people were essential to their Sun Dances.
Pictured: 1880s ledger art of Cheyenne He'emane'o (2 Spirit/trans women) lead a Victory Dance after the June 26th, 1876 defeat of Custer. This literally illustrates our importance.
Laguna Pueblo scholar Paula Gunn Allen was one of the first scholars who really started researching and preserving Native 2 Spirit/trans narratives.
Gunn said: "If you make people hate (2 spirits), they will lose their Indianness."
She called the non-acceptance of LGBTQ people, "Psychological colonization. If you hate the traditions, you hate part of yourself as an Indian. If you hate yourself, that weakens your resolve to oppose white colonization. If we could stop Indian (LGBTQ-phobia), other aspects of culture revival can occur. We must recolonize ourselves. The issue of self-determination for Indians means acceptance of (Two Spirits), and is central to accepting ourselves as Indian."
Whenever such knowledge is prohibited and censored, it is a loss for not only for Indigenous people, but society as a whole as love and acceptance gets replaced by hate and bigotry.
Armed Nazis in Missoula committing douchebaggery on Trans Day of Visibility.
Nazi messaging me and admitting they know it wasn't a drag show as Butte officials took their word on it for, apparently, and saying “I best get used to it” in regards to harassing the events I am at.
While I have done and still write of journalism, my passion I'd rather be doing is finishing my novel—not writing about myself being banned and reading threats from Nazis.
While I’m not explicitly aiming to be political as I create my art, my existence has become such by those who want to create a 21st Century Reich Ministry of Culture where conservatives now feel comfortable enough to burn books.
The Montana GOP supported this book burning Pastor. Imagine you're a kid, and this book burning is now acore memory.
Late tonight, I’ll grind away crafting fictional characters late at night as I bleed out my own insecurities and complexities on the page. I now consider the fact conservatives will want to ban my “degenerate art” book when released just as they did MacLane's 120 years later.
Me, in Sin City Las Vegas being a “Degenerate artist” novelist on a writing fellowship last November. But aren't most of us “degenerate” as according to anti-art theocrats and fascists?
Like Mary MacLane, I persist, hoping perhaps an audience may discover in my writing characters whose lives as queer characters they relate to or may even seem a world away in red state America, but whose existence they can empathize with nonetheless, and such is the essence and resilience of art itself.
❤️ you, stay safe this Pride Month, but most importantly, have fun. 🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️
Adria L. Jawort Publication is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.