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Emma Goldman (1869-1940)
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Emma Goldman, 1886
She returned home and enrolled
in school. Many of her teachers were cruel to her as well. The religious
instructor would severely discipline the children by flailing students
palms with a ruler. Emma talked back to him, resulting in ill feelings
between the two. One of the geography teachers would punish the girls
in a different way. Instead of hitting them, after class he would touch
them in improper ways. In the middle of class, Emma yelled at him for
doing this when all the other girls were afraid to speak up. Emma was
considered a troublemaker by many of the teachers because she would
do what she wanted. If she felt that the teacher was asking for something
that was unjust and unfair, then she refused to comply.
Emma did have a favorite
teacher at school. Her German teacher provided much after hours help
to her, allowing her into her house, reading German novels to her. She
encouraged Emma to take up French and reading more literature. Emma
completed three and a half years at this school. She was offered a chance
to attend the high school. She studied diligently and easily passed
the entrance exam. The only remaining requirement was a satisfactory
recommendation from her religious instructor, the same that thought
of Emma as a troublemaker with no respect for authority. (Alix Shulman
To the Barricades: The Anarchist Life of Emma Goldman, p 20) With no
chance for admission to the high school, Emma travels with her family
to St. Petersburg, Russia
Russian society for the working
class was progressively growing worse. Czar Alexander II was assassinated
1 March 1881 by Nihilists, hoping for a Russian revolution and overthrow
of the government. The movement failed and Alexander III began an even
more oppressing rule, vowing to crush all revolutionary activity and
destroy all radical opinion of every kind. (Shulman, p 24) Jews were
blamed for the assassination and targeted for severe oppression. The
government searched for any radical movements in order to squelch any
revolutions before they started. Books, journals, and papers were banned
and censored. Emma studied in school, reading Russian literature and
slowly learning more about the terrible social injustices around her.
Her and her older sister, Helena, finally flee the country for America
in December 1885.
Goldman entered a new country
where she assumed that she had escaped the traditional barriers to women's
freedom so pervasive in the old world. She settled with relatives in
1885 in Rochester, New York. Sadly she discovered that family life in
the Jewish ghetto of Rochester and piecework in the textile factory
did not differ significantly from what she had left behind in Russia.
Asserting her new freedom in intimate life in America, Goldman soon
fell in love with a co-worker and chose to marry him.
Many people do not know exactly
what the anarchists advocate. Shulman defines anarchism as:
Opponents claimed that an
anarchic society would be chaotic without government order and law.
Without limitations on people's actions there would be the increased
injustices, with the strong stealing from the weak and helpless. Anarchists
claim that people are inherently good and given the absence of forcible
law and order, would make the choice that is beneficial to the majority.
Taking into account Goldman's childhood, this would seem logical. People
who had been repressed by the few elite in control over the government
would be sympathetic to others being tormented by similar forces.
With the crystallization
of Goldman's political ideas came changes in her personal life. Risking
the stigma of divorce, Goldman left her husband and headed for a new
life, first in New Haven, then in New York City. Within a year she was
living in a commune with other Russian-born anarchists, including her
first great love and eventual life-long comrade, Alexander Berkman.
The twenty-year-old idealist soon became a prominent member of New York
City's immigrant anarchist community
Goldman begins to read much
anarchist literature regularly, and becomes friends with publishers
of anarchist papers. She begins to meet with prominent Russian socialists
and anarchists and attends lectures. On 15 August 1889, Emma travels
to New York City and meets the editor of Die Freiheit, an anarchist
publication. She begins support work at the office of the publication
and helps organize the second anniversary memorial of those hung for
the Haymarket Square bombing. In January of 1890, the editor plans for
Goldman to go on a lecture tour, addressing the limitations of the eight-hour
movement. (Falk p 3) She finds that she has a real talent as an orator,
and decides to use this talent to spread her political opinions.
Goldman begins to travel
all over New England giving speeches ranging in topics from the Paris
Commune, 1871, to The Right To Be Lazy. Speaking mostly in German, sometimes
in Yiddish, to groups, Emma encourages workers to join unions and strike
for better working conditions. She also organized anarchist educational
and social groups for German, Russian, and Jewish immigrants. (Falk
p 3) She spoke to groups such as the International Working People's
Association, the Workingmen's Educational Society, Pioneers of Liberty,
and the International Workingmen's Association. Goldman marched with
the Working Women's Society in New Yorks May Day Parade on 1 May 1891.
She addressed judicial issues concerning anarchists that had been arrested.
At times, Emma wishes to return to Russia to combat the system of government
there under Czar Alexander III.
On 21 August 1893, Goldman
leads a march to Union Square, where she advocated the right to take
bread if [workers] are hungry, and to demonstrate their needs before
the palaces of the rich. (Falk p 5) Ten days later, Goldman is arrested
for incitement to riot. She is found guilty of aiding and abetting an
unlawful assemblage, and is sentenced to Blackwell's Island penitentiary
for one year, serving ten months.
Emma learned much in prison,
reading much German and English literature. She made many friends, revolutionaries
and anarchists. Prison mates admired her for standing up to authority,
namely when she refused to force the prison sewing shop to work harder,
comparing it to a slave driver. Even the warden admired her for her
trustworthiness, honesty, and good principles, calling her a model prisoner.
(Shulman, p 101) Reflecting on her stay in prison, Goldman thankfully
says that it has changed none of my old sentiments; on the contrary,
it has made them more ardent, more absolute than ever, and henceforward
all that remains to me of life can be summed up in one word: liberty.
(Shulman, p 103)
Upon her release from prison,
Goldman resolves ton hold more lectures in English in order to preach
to the ever-growing numbers of American radicals. She travels back to
Europe to speak, finding the freedoms of speech in England very inviting.
When she returns to America, she travels west and gives lectures in
California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and other states. Subjects
for her speeches included What is Anarchism? The Women in the Present
and Future, Free Love, The Aim of Humanity and Woman, Marriage, and
Prostitution. (Falk, p 11)
After the assassination of
President McKinley in September 1901, Goldman was immediately linked
to the crime when the assassin proclaimed that he was an anarchist.
By this time Goldman had earned the reputation of America's best-known
anarchist. Of course, no connection could be established since there
was none, and Emma was released. Ironically, Emma was the only person
to stand up for the rights of the assassin. She called for others to
aid in his defense, but not even other anarchists helped. She was so
disgusted with the reaction that for a time she withdrew completely
from the movement. (Shulman, p 127) Eventually, answering the repressive
cries from Russia, she begins to make speeches again and organize movements.
Working under an assumed name, Goldman organized the Free Speech League,
reaching many different reform and radical groups.
Goldman speaking to a crowd of garment workers about birth control in
Union Square, New York, May 20, 1916