William Batchelder Greene was born in Haverhill on 4th April 1819. His father, Nathaniel Greene, was the postmaster of Boston and the founder of The Boston Statesman, the leading progressive newspaper in Massachusetts.
After attending West Point Greene took part in the Florida War against the Seminoles. He left the army and studied at Harvard Divinity School before serving as pastor of the Unitarian Church in West Brookfield, Massachusetts.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who encountered Greene at this time, described him as the "handsomest and most distinguished looking person I had ever met... he had eyes that transfix you with their blackness and penetration."
After reading the work of Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Greene became a socialist and published the influential work, Mutual Banking. According to Benjamin Tucker it was "the most important work on finance ever published in the country." Greene also became a strong advocate of women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery.
In 1853 Greene moved to Paris and remained there until the outbreak of the American Civil War. Returning to America he joined the Union Army and Governor John Andrew appointed him as colonel of the Fourteenth Massachusetts Infantry and had the responsibility of defending Washington against the Confederate Army. One of his men recalled that Greene had "the keenest black eyes ever put in a head... he was kind, patient, forgiving, and fatherly to his enlisted men."
Greene resigned his commission in October 1862 and returned to Boston where he joined with Ezra Heywood and Josiah Warren to develop America's first anarchist movement. Greene became increasingly involved in the struggle for trade union rights and became president of the Massachusetts Labor Union and was an active member of the International Workingmen's Association (the First International).
Greene also worked closely with Benjamin Tucker, the editor of the anarchist journal, Liberty. Both men were leading figures in the New England Labor Reform League, an organization that campaigned for: "the abolition of class laws and false customs, whereby legitimate enterprise is defrauded by speculative monopoly, and the reconstruction of government on the basis of justice and reciprocity."
William Greene died on 30th May 1878.
Greene served as a Union officer for little more than a year. He resigned his commission in October 1862, after a quarrel with Governor Andrew, and thenceforth devoted his energies to economic and social reform. Returning to Boston, he emerged, together with Josiah Warren, Ezra Heywood, Lysander Spooner, and Stephen Pearl Andrews, in the forefront of the individualist anarchist movement in America, championing the cause of free speech, free credit, women's equality, and the amelioration of the condition of labor. In 1869 he became president of the Massachusetts Labor Union and was cofounder, with Ezra Heywood, of the New England Labor Reform League, an organization, thanks to Greene's efforts, permeated with Proudhonian ideas and dedicated, in the words of its charter, drafted by Heywood and Greene, to "the abolition of class laws and false customs, whereby legitimate enterprise is defrauded by speculative monopoly, and the reconstruction of government on the basis of justice and reciprocity."
By 1873 Greene was serving as vice-president of the league - whose members included Warren, Andrews, and Benjamin Tucker - and was active at the same time in the French-speaking section of the International Working Men's Association in Boston. An imposing figure, he was the center of attention in any group in which he took part, often accompanied by his wife, Anna, from the prominent Shaw family of Boston, a woman as fair as he was dark, nearly as tall as he and quite as distinguished in appearance.
Still devoted to Proudhon, who had died in 1865, Greene translated several of his writings, including an essay on "The State" and an extract from "What Is Property" in which Proudhon proclaimed himself an anarchist and condemned unearned property as "theft." Both translations appeared in Heywood's
magazine The Word during the early 1870s. In 1873, moreover, Greene, together with Heywood and Tucker, again petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for a mutual banking law. This duplication of his efforts of the 1850s met with the same lack of success. For the duration of his life, financial and labor reform remained Greene's overriding interests. He died, in England, in 1878, his last years clouded by the death of his daughter, Bessie, who was lost in a shipwreck.