Federico Arcos Papers now open

Photograph of Federico Arcos


By Eve Bourbeau-Allard and Julie Herrada

An unforgettable figure of the anarchist and syndicalist communities, Federico Arcos (1920-2015) was known for his generosity and the unabating commitment with which he pursued his ideals. Friends of the Labadie Collection also remember Arcos as a long-time benefactor and collector. Federico and his wife Pura curated in their home in Windsor, Canada, an important library of anarchist books, newspapers,  and archives that never failed to impress their many guests. 

Short letter from Bob Helms
Letter from Bob Helms to Federico Arcos thanking him for his hospitality and noting his important library. May 13, 1999.

Among the many items Arcos later endowed the Labadie Collection with, was Emma Goldman’s suitcase . Arcos also bequeathed his personal papers to the Labadie Collection, which have now been inventoried.

Photograph of Federico Arcos, Carlos Cortez, Julie Herrada, and Ed Weber at the Labadie Collection
Federico Arcos, Carlos Cortez, Julie Herrada, and Ed Weber at the Labadie Collection, 2001

Arcos was born in Barcelona in 1920. Through his involvement in the Libertarian Youth, the CNT, and the anarchist youth group Quijotes del ideal – which he helped form, Arcos fought with the anarchists against the Spanish fascist movement. Exiled in France in February 1939 and detained in the camps of Barcares and Argeles, Arcos’ dedication to the anti-Franco resistance did not falter. His journey throughout the 1940s brought him back to Spain, then to Morocco and France again, until he settled in Ontario, Canada, in 1952. [1]

Typed letter from Federico Arcos to Albert Meltzer
Letter from Federico Arcos to Albert Meltzer on March 19, 1982, after the passing of Spanish anarchist Miguel Garcia.  Arcos wrote “Sadness could not express the emotion upon the loss of our good comrade for not only ourselves are losing some part of our own but the whole mankind is being deprived the efforts of a man that fought for the realities of freedom. And even if freedom might not be a reality, as long as there is a man that feels in himself the need to be free the fight for freedom will go on.”

Several documents and photographs in the Arcos Papers relate to Pura Pérez Benavent (1919-1995), an important figure in the Spanish anarchist community in her own right and Arcos’ lifetime companion. Born in Valencia, Pura served as secretary of propaganda in the Mujeres Libres Valencia subcommittee starting in 1937 and, like Federico, participated in CNT-FAI and the Libertarian Youth. The Arcos Papers include a short text she wrote years later in 1993 about the Mujeres Libres. Pura remained active in the clandestine resistance to Franco in Barcelona after the war and eventually joined Federico in Canada in 1959.

Black and white photograph of Federico Arcos and Pura Perez Benavent
Federico Arcos and Pura Pérez Benavent [Barcelona, 1943]


Black and white photograph of Federico Arcos and Federica Montseny
Federica Montseny and Federico Arcos at the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair.

In Ontario, Federico Arcos worked in a Ford factory and partook in several syndicalist and anarchist associations including Canadian Auto Workers, Libertad Detroit-Windsor, the Modern School movement, CNT-AIT, and the Fifth Estate, an anarchist newspaper which is still published in Detroit. Federico and Pura maintained a vast network of friends and acquaintances  through which ideas, publications, and personal news flowed. This network is reflected in the papers’ correspondence and photographs, and included, among others, Valerio Isca, Albert Meltzer, Paul Avrich, Diego Camacho, Peter Werbe, David Watson, Marilynn Rashid, Lorraine Pearlman, and many others. Arcos' correspondence centers on letters he and Pura received from family, friends, fellow anarchists, filmmakers, scholars, and librarians. Hundreds of photographs contain informal group portraits documenting the international anarchist community and Arcos' family, as well as snapshots from events attended. 

Finally, researchers will also find in the Federico Arcos Papers a set of Emma Goldman letters collected by Arcos throughout the years, several folders of CNT-AIT administrative documents from the late 1980s-early 1990s, various published and unpublished texts related to anarchism and the Spanish Civil War, as well as audiovisual documentaries and tributes. The papers are in English, Spanish, French, Catalan, and Italian.

Original letter from Emma Goldman to Dorothy Rogers
Original letter from Emma Goldman to Dorothy Rogers dated November 14, 1938 regarding the Spanish struggle. 

[1] A more comprehensive account of Arcos’ life was written by David Watson for Fifth Estate, see http://www.fifthestate.org/archive/395-winter-2016-50th-anniversary/remembering-federico-arcos/.