Proudhon is a rarity among anarchist philosophers in that he was of quite humble peasant
origins. He began his working life herding cows and doing chores at home. His mother, Catherine Simonin, was determined that he get some education, however, and when the family moved into town in 1820 arrangements were made to enroll him in a school. The fees were waived through his father's employer's connections. Still without sufficient funds, he was routinely punished at school for "forgetting" the books he could not afford to buy.
Although he intended to go on to study for a baccalaureate, family financial difficulties prevented him from pursuing a higher degree upon graduation and he turned his talents instead to the printer's trade, a profession which gave birth to many anarchists, but the first to call himself an anarchist was Proudhon.
By mid-century, Proudhon was the leading left intellectual in France or for that matter, all
of Europe, far surpassing Marx's notoriety or Bakunin's. Proudhon, as Hyams noted (1979, p.1),
was among the inventors of socialism, along wih Marx, Bakunin, Blanqui, Blanc, Herzen,
Lassalle and Engles. Of these, Proudhon had the profoundest effect upon the workers'
movement in the 19th century and his ideas influenced some of the most notable later
anarchists, including both Tolstoy and Bakunin, both of whom knew Proudhon personally.
Indeed, throughout his life Proudhon acquired and kept a remarkable collection of friends,
and as his notoriety spread, acquaintances. Friendship for Proudhon was more important
than sexual love or marriage.