“The Dynamite Girl”

The piece below is from the D.i.Y.#11 – Prisoner Support Special edition.

PLEASE NOTE – For the best viewing experience, we recommend that you download the PDF of DiY Culture No.9 from DropBox to your PC/laptop/phone.

“The prison had been quarantined and all visits had been suspended, except of course for the release of prisoners and the arrival of the new ones. Among the latter, there was Ella. She was arrested following a federal indictment and brought me what I missed so much: the possibility of intellectual communication with a friend. She shared my conception of life and my values. From a proletarian family, she knew what the misery and hardness of life was; she was strong and possessed social conscience. But she was also kind and affectionate, and like a ray of sunshine – she brought joy to the other prisoners and great joy to me. The other women besieged her as something of an enigma “What are you here for?” A prisoner asked. “For theft?”, “No.” “Priming?” “No.” . “Drug dealing?” “No, none of this,” Ella said, laughing. “Well, so what did you do to get eighteen months?” “I’m an anarchist,” replied Ella.

Emma Goldman, Living My Life 1917-1928 )

On October 21st 1918, Gabriella Antolini went before Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and was sentenced to the maximum imprisonment of 18 months and a $2,000 fine. The 19 year old anarchist had been captured carrying 50 pounds of dynamite and a pistol.

The “Dynamite Girl” (as the newspaper’s dubbed her) was arrested at Union Station. When questioned, Antolini gave the false name of “Linda José,” a character in an anarchist propaganda play, and refused to cooperate with police.

Gabriella was the daughter of Sante and Maria Antolini and had emmigrated to the U.S. in 1907 from the anarchist stronghold of Ferrara, Italy. They worked as contract labourers in the cotton fields of Louisiana, before settling in New Britain, Connecticut where they did factory work. When her parents were notified of her arrest, they could not believe it was their daughter, (although they were also anarchists).

After her arrest, Gabriella was brought to Waukegan where she was held at the Lake County jail to await trial. While in jail, Antolini planned an escape. She had hidden a milk bottle which she intended to attach to the end of a broom handle and “knock out” the Lake County Sheriff. Before she could act, Antolini’s dirty grass of a cellmate informed the Sheriff of her plans.

After two weeks in jail, Antolini finally revealed her real name and began to tell her story. She admitted to being a sympathiser of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) – advocating worker solidarity and the overthrow of the employing class. She was also an acquaintance and follower of anarchist Luigi Galleani, who advocated the use of violence to eliminate “oppressors.”

While serving her sentence in the Jefferson City Prison in Missouri, Antolini met and befriended Kate Richards O’Hare, a Socialist activist who was imprisoned for an anti-war speech and radical anarcha-feminist Emma Goldman. Together, the women were known as “the trinity” and organised to improve prison conditions.

According to Gabriella’s son, Febo Pomilia, his mother remained a devoted anarchist until her death in 1984.

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