Perspectives on
Anarchist Theory

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Vol. 1 - No. 1
Spring 1997

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Martha Ackelsberg: A Short Biography & Selected Works
by Rebecca DeWitt

Martha AckelsbergMartha Ackelsberg grew up on progressive politics. Born in 1946 in New York City to Socialist Zionist parents, politics was always a part of the daily conversation. She received her BA in Social Studies from Radcliffe College, where she studied social history, philosophy, social movements, and the labor movement. Her serious interest in anarchism emerged while exploring the failure of 19th century Liberal agrarian policy to improve conditions for the majority of Spanish people. It was here that she discovered the anarchists, and wrote her thesis on anarchism and agrarian politics in Spain.

While attending Princeton University, where she received her MA and PhD in political philosophy, she was inspired by Godwin’s political theory and explored anarchist theories of justice in Godwin, Bakunin, and Kropotkin. Combining anarchist political theory and her previous work on the Spanish Anarchists, her dissertation focused on anarchist theory and practice, with a case study of anarchist collectives during the Spanish Civil War.

In 1972, Ackelsberg joined the Department of Government (political science) at Smith College. She has worked there since, and has taught political theory, urban politics, political activism, and feminist theory. Her book Free Women of Spain developed out of the desire to examine male/female relations in the Spanish anarchist collectives. Her other writings focus on women’s community activism in the US and the world, gender and public policy, feminist and democratic theory, and women in Jewish communities. Ackelsberg lives in Northampton, MA, where she is actively involved in progressive and feminist causes.


Free Women of Spain: Anarchism and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

"Gender and Political Life: New Directions in Political Science," with Irene Diamond. In Analyzing Gender: A Handbook of Social Science Research, edited by Beth B. Hess and Myra Marx Ferre. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1987.

"Anarchism and Feminism," with Kathryn Pyne Addelson and Shawn Pyne. In Impure Thoughts: Essays on Philosophy, Feminism and Ethics, edited by Kathryn Pyne Addelson. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.

"Terrains of Protest: Striking City Women," with Myrna Brietbart. Our Generation, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1987): 151-175.

"Communities, Resistance, and Women’s Activism." In Women and the Politics of Empowerment: Perspectives from the Community and the Workplace, edited by Ann Bookman and Sandra Morgen. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.

"Pride, Prejudice, and Politics: Jewish Jews on the American Left," Response, #4, 1982.

Among her influences, Ackelsberg cites E.P. Thompson, E.J. Hobsbawm, Carole Pateman, and the women of the Mujeres Libres.