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Ammon Hennacy

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Ammon Hennacy
Hennacy holding up protest signs.
Hennacy in 1954. Photographer Rik Anderson.
BornJuly 24, 1893
DiedJanuary 14, 1970(1970-01-14) (aged 76)
Resting placeWaldheim Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois, US
Alma materRand School of Social Science
Ohio State University
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Hiram College
  • Selma Melms
    (m. 1919; div. 1964)
  • Joan Thomas
    (m. 1965)

Ammon Ashford Hennacy (July 24, 1893 – January 14, 1970) was an American Christian pacifist, anarchist, Wobbly, social activist, and member of the Catholic Worker Movement. He established the Joe Hill House of Hospitality in Salt Lake City, Utah, and practiced tax resistance.[1]


Hennacy was born in Negley, Ohio, to Quaker parents, Benjamin Frankin Hennacy and Eliza Eunice Fitz Randolph, and grew up as a Baptist. He studied at three different institutions, (a year at each one): Hiram College in Ohio in 1913, University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1914, and The Ohio State University in 1915.

During this time, Hennacy was a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party of America and in his words "took military drills in order to learn how to kill capitalists."[2] He was also the secretary of Hiram College's Intercollegiate Socialist Society.[3]

At the outbreak of World War I, Hennacy was imprisoned for two years in Atlanta, Georgia, for resisting conscription. While in prison the only book he was allowed was the Bible. This inspired him to radically depart from his earlier beliefs; he became a Christian pacifist and a Christian anarchist. He led a hunger strike and was punished with eight months in solitary confinement.[4]: 224–25 

Hennacy believed that adherence to Christianity required being a pacifist and, because governments constantly threaten or use force to resolve conflicts, this meant being an anarchist.

Cartoon by Art Young, first published in The Masses in 1917 and later reprinted in Ammon Hennacy's autobiography[5]

In 1919, Hennacy married his first wife, Selma Melms, under common law.[6]: 149  He later described her as the "daughter of the Socialist sheriff of Milwaukee, leader of the Yipsels, as the young Socialists were called, and secretary to the President of the State Federation of Labor."[5]

In May 1920, Hennacy graduated from the socialist Rand School of Social Science.[7] In 1921, Hennacy and Melms hiked around the United States, passing through all 48 of the contiguous states. He settled down in 1925, buying a farm and raising his two children. In 1931, he began social work in Milwaukee and organised one of the first social worker unions.

He refused to use force or self-defense even when threatened during his work, preferring instead to use nonresistance. During this time, he also refused to sign up for the draft for World War II and declared that he would not pay taxes. He also reduced his tax liability by taking up a lifestyle of simple living. Between 1942 and 1953, Hennacy worked as a migrant farm labourer in the southwest United States.

In 1952, he was baptized as a Roman Catholic by Father Marion Casey at St. Anastasia Church, with Dorothy Day as his godmother. Hennacy moved to New York City in 1953, and became the associate editor of the Catholic Worker newspaper. Hennacy engaged in many picketing protests while in New York. At that time, he wrote a critical review of Witness, memoir of Whittaker Chambers, and later wrote more about his dislike of Chambers, whose wife Esther Shemitz his first wife Selma and he had known through the Rand School of Social Science.[5] He illegally refused to participate in New York City's annual air raid drills, and he picketed against the Atomic Energy Commission's war preparations in Las Vegas, Cape Kennedy, Washington, D.C., and Omaha. In 1958, Hennacy fasted for 40 days in protest of nuclear weapons testing.

In 1961, Hennacy moved to Utah and organised the Joe Hill House of Hospitality in Salt Lake City. While in Utah, Hennacy fasted and picketed in protest of the death penalty and the use of taxes in war. Following a divorce from Selma in 1964, Hennacy married his second wife, Joan Thomas, in 1965. In the same year he left the Roman Catholic Church, though he continued to call himself a "non-church Christian".[1] He was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.[8]

He wrote about his reasons for leaving and his thoughts on Catholicism, which included his belief that "Paul spoiled the message of Christ" (see Jesusism). He wrote about this in The Book of Ammon in 1965 (an updated version of his 1954 Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist), which has been praised for its "diamonds of insight and wisdom" but criticised for its rambling style.[6]: 142

In 1968, Hennacy closed the "Joe Hill House of Hospitality" and turned his attention to further protest and writing. His second and last book, The One-Man Revolution in America, was published in 1970 and consists of seventeen chapters with each one devoted to an American radical. These included Thomas Paine, William Lloyd Garrison, John Woolman, Dorothy Day, Eugene Debs, Malcolm X, Mother Jones, Clarence Darrow, and Albert Parsons.[6]: 140 

Ammon Hennacy died from a heart attack on January 14, 1970. His funeral was held at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Salt Lake City.[9] In accordance with his wishes, his body was cremated and the ashes scattered over the graves of the Haymarket anarchists in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago.[6]: 168 

Political and ethical beliefs[edit]

Ammon Hennacy was a pacifist, a Christian anarchist, and an advocate of anarchism and nonresistance. He was extremely critical of what he described as the "institutional church"[10] and state capitalism.[11]

He did not drink or smoke and was a vegetarian. Much of his activism was anti-war, anti-nuclear proliferation, and against the death penalty.

Hennacy never paid federal income taxes because they pay for the military and war. He lived a life of voluntary simplicity and believed in what he called his "One-Man Revolution" against violence, sin, and coercion.[4]: 223–38  He also refused to accept the legitimacy of the judiciary. Dorothy Day said "Tolstoi and Gandhi, and Jesus became his teachers".[12]

Influence on folk[edit]

When Ani DiFranco gathered stories by Utah Phillips to make the 1996 album The Past Didn't Go Anywhere, she included his story about Hennacy, under the title "Anarchy". Hennacy helped shape Phillips, who often told this story.[13]


  • Hennacy, Ammon (1954). The Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist. New York: Catholic Worker Books. Complete e-text, free eBook.
  • Hennacy, Ammon (1970). The Book of Ammon. Complete e-text, free eBook.
  • Hennacy, Ammon (2012). The One-Man Revolution in America. Wipf and Stock. ISBN 978-1-62032-317-5.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Day, Dorothy (February 1970). "Ammon Hennacy: 'Non-Church' Christian". The Catholic Worker. Archived from the original on 2013-04-06.
  2. ^ Dedera, Don (1960). A Mile in His Moccasins. Phoenix: McGrew Printing. pp. 98–100. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  3. ^ "In the Colleges – The Middle West". The Intercollegiate Socialist. 2 (2): 24. December 1913 – January 1914. hdl:2027/mdp.39015073797196.
  4. ^ a b Gross, David M. (2014). 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns. Picket Line Press. ISBN 978-1490572741.
  5. ^ a b c Hennacy, Ammon (1965). The Book of Ammon. Hennacy. pp. 7 (Selma), 235 (Esther Shemitz), 236 (Whittaker Chambers), 245-247 (Whittaker Chambers), 254 (Whittaker Chambers), 267 (Whittaker Chambers), 332 (reward poster).
  6. ^ a b c d Coy, Patrick G. (1988). A Revolution of the Heart: Essays on the Catholic Worker. Temple University Press. ISBN 978-0-87722-531-7.
  7. ^ "Tenth Full-Time Class of Rand School Will be Graduated Tomorrow Night" (PDF). The New York Call. 7 May 1920. p. 8. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  8. ^ Leblanc, Paul (3 June 2014). Marx, Lenin, and the Revolutionary Experience: Studies of Communism and Radicalism in an Age of Globalization. Routledge. ISBN 9781317793519.
  9. ^ O'Brien, Michael Patrick. "50 years later, remembering visits to Utah by Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 18 October 2022.
  10. ^ "Ammon Hennacy: 'Non-Church' Christian by Dorothy Day". Archived from the original on 2004-08-04. Retrieved 2004-09-05.
  11. ^ Hennacy, Ammon (1954). "Tax Statement, 1950". Autobiography of a Catholic Anarchist.
  12. ^ Day, Dorothy. The Long Loneliness. HarperCollins. p. 265.
  13. ^ Rattler, Fast. "Utah Phillips on the Catholic Worker, Polarization, and Songwriting". Archived from the original (interview) on 2007-12-12. Retrieved 2008-03-01.

Further reading[edit]

  • Thomas, Joan (1993). The Years of Grief and Laughter: A "Biography" of Ammon Hennacy. Baltimore, MD: Fortkamp Publishing Co. ISBN 978-1-62032-352-6. (reprinted by Wipf and Stock, Eugene, 2012)

External links[edit]