Mary Nardini was an Italian anarchist who
lived and organized in Milwaukee’s Bay
View neighborhood in the early 20th century. She was revered in the Italian anarchist
community as the ‘guiding light’ of I Dilettanti Filodrammatici del Circolo Studi Sociali (Amateur Thespian Social Studies Club).
The Thespians were a group of Italian
anarchists who operated a space that was
not unlike many contemporary infoshops.
Members of the group occupied themselves
distributing anarchist literature, hosting
discussions, and putting on anti-state and
anti-church plays as fundraisers to support
anarchist political prisoners.
Bay View’s Little Italy, as a community,
was known for its general distaste for the
church and the state. Folks in the community were deemed troublemakers by religious
and pro-government Italians who lived in
the Third Ward neighborhood. Among the
latter was Reverend August Giuliani. In
1917, Giuliani began a campaign to convert
the largely secular Bay View Italians to
christianity. He and his choir held weekly
revivals, complete with singing and preaching in the streets of Bay View.
In late August of 1917, Mary Nardini and a
handful of other anarchists confronted Reverend Giuliani in the streets. They declared
themselves anarchists and proclaimed their
hatred for the state, the church, laws, and
the pope. Visibly shaken and offended, Giuliani and his band left.
He returned the next week. When he and
his choir arrived, they saw Mary reading a
book on her porch. As Giuliani began his
sermon, several anarchists gathered nearby
and began singing ‘vulgar’ italian songs that
announced, “We fight the government, we
fight the citizens, we are for anarchy!” Soon
a crowd of over seventy-five had gathered
and were heckling Giuliani. One person in
the crowd promised Giuliani, “If you return
to Bay View, we’ll kill you. We have the lake
for people like you!” Fearing for his life,
On September 9th , Giuliani returned again,
bringing several Milwaukee police officers
with him. As he arrived, Mary Nardini was
seen yelling into the front door of a house.
Within moments, she marched out of the
residence with a column of over fifty anarchists following closely behind. The police
began roughing up one of the anarchists,
resulting in several of the folks in Nardini’s
crew drawing their guns. What ensued was
a shootout between police and anarchists
that left two anarchists dead, several people
wounded on both sides, and Giuliani running for his life.
In the aftermath, Nardini and over a dozen
other anarchists were arrested for rioting.
Eleven people, including Nardini, were
then indicted for the incident.
On November 24th , while the defendants
were in jail awaiting trial, a suspicious
package was delivered to Giuliani’s church
in the third ward. Fearing a retaliation
bombing, church servants brought the
package to the downtown police station.
Sure enough, the package held a bomb.
While being inspected the bomb detonated, killing nine police officers, including
several who were involved in the Bay View
incident. The explosion at the police station
marks the most cops killed in any incident
in the history of the Milwaukee Police Department.
Though Nardini and her comrades were in
police custody at the time of the explosion,
the incident irreversibly tainted the jury,
and at trial she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.