You can never imagine a world without Emma Goldman. Emma Goldman died on May 14, 1940. Emma dedicated her life to the creation of a radically social order. Also, she embraced anarchism for its vision; and it offered liberty, harmony, and social justice. She had a deep commitment to absolute freedom and that led her to espouse a range of controversial causes. Goldman was a radical thinker. Forty years on she is more than emblematic, she is iconic. Emma Goldman was born in the imperial city of Russia of Kovno on June 27, 1869. Emma’s mother Taube was married to a man when she was 15 years old He later died and she was left with two children.
Emma’s mother had a second marriage arranged to Abraham Goldman. First of all, when Emma was a child she constantly was abused by her stepfather when she displeased him. Emma was uncontrollable and rebellious to her stepfather “I’ll kill that brat”, he often said. (Gornick 7). Also, the family constantly moved from Konovo to Konigsberg to Petersburg. Emma’s education was very limited. Although she passed the exam to secondary school, she was denied the character reference necessary for admission. The religion teacher declared her “a terrible child who would grow into a worse woman” (Gornick 7.
)When Emma became 12 years old education came to an end for her. When Emma was 16 years old her father told her it was time for her to get married and he would arrange this. She begged once more to return to school instead of getting married. Emma begged her father to immigrate to the United States with her sister Helena; they both wanted to join their older sister Lena already living in upstate New York. She had threated suicide to her stepfather because her stepfather did not let her immigrate and later he let her go. In 1885, Emma immigrated to the United States and settled in Rochester, New York.
She began working in clothing factories in 1886 and by the age of fifteen she worked in a corset factory. Also, Emma worked 10 hours a day and Emma only made two and a half dollars a week. Emma met Joseph Kershner at one of her jobs and he also shared a love for books and hatred for work. She was only 18 years old when he had convinced her that they should marry. Moreover, she learned that he was depressed and he was attracted to Emma because he thought his vitality would rescue from himself. She sued him for divorce and left him within a few months of their wedding. By 1889, she developed anarchist ideas.
Her speeches attracted attention in the United States. Emma formed a close association with Alexander Beckman who was imprisoned during 1892 for attempting to assassinate Henry Clay Flink during the Homestead Steel Strike. Beckman was Goldman’s first real love. Hecklers suppressed her lectures. Also, police officers would suppress her speeches and writing. Eventually, she was arrested so often that she began to carry a book wherever she went because she feared sitting in jail with nothing to read. Emma was arrested in New York City in 1893 for inciting a riot when a group of unemployed workers reacted to a speech she had given.
Goldman embarked on tours in Europe and the United States after her release from prison. In 1906, she had founded Mother Earth, a political and literary periodical that she edited until its suppression in 1917. Moreover, in 1908 Goldman’s naturalization as a citizen was revoked by a legal stratagem. She had published “Anarchism” and other essays two years later. Emma Goldman went to jail because she spoke freely on birth control. When World War I broke out in Europe she opposed United States involvement and she later agitated against military conscription.
In June 1917 she was sentenced for two years for these activities. In 1901, Leon Czologosz claiming he was acting under Goldman’s influence, assassinated Although she had not been involved and only met him briefly, she was arrested immediately as an accomplice. Lack of evidence eventually forced the authorities to release her from prison. In September 1919 she was caught in hysteria over a largely imaginary network of communist operatives. Emma was called Red Emma because she was declared a subversive alien and she was deported to the Soviet Union. She did not stay there for very long.
Two years after leaving she recounted her experiences in her book My Disillusionment in Russia (1923). Goldman was an advocate for birth control, workers’ rights, equality, sexual freedom, and independence for women. Also, she was either harassed or arrested anytime she gave a lecture and she was also banned outright for speaking sometimes. Goldman had become a prominent figure as a woman in the fight for freedom in America, for economic freedom for women, racial education, and anti-militarism Even though Emma was hostile against religion she had core beliefs emerging from a Jewish tradition that had championed a universal justice.
Emma applied her ideas about free love to women, men, homosexuals, and heterosexuals consistently. Emma believed that individuals should enter into and leave personal relationships with no constraints, a view determined by her commitment to the principle of absolute freedom and her experience of a failed marriage. She stated, “If I ever love a man again I will give myself to him without being bound by the rabbi or the law, and when that love dies, I will leave without permission. ” (Goldman 1889). Goldman helped launch the No Conscription League in May 1917, soon after the entry into World War I.
She and Berkman were arrested for conspiring against the draft in 1917. Emma had argued her actions far from being anti American, were intended to prompt her adopted country to live up to its own ideas. Emma believed that the United States they had no right to make a war and she was a pacifist. Also, rather than organizing a conspiracy to obstruct the draft, she said, she had been claiming to exercise her rights to free rights and she had been educating her audiences about conscientious objection.
After Goldman’s release she was re arrested on the order of the young J. Edgar Hoover, who had persuaded the courts to deny Goldman’s citizenship. In 1920 she and Beckman had questioned the Soviet leader on the lack of freedom of speech and the press and the persecution of anarchists in Soviet Russia. Goldman spent the rest of her days in exile from the United States wandering through Sweden, Germany, France, England, and Canada. In 1925, she married an English Coal Miner but it was only a formality to obtain her British citizenship.
In the 1920s and 1930s she struggled economically and was frustrated by the restrictions on her status as an exile on political activities. Also, she engaged herself in literary projects and in 1931 she wrote an autobiography Living My Life. Emma became increasingly concerned about the rising tide of Fascism and Nazism. The next several years she lectured frequently on the dangers posted by Hitler and his fellow Nazis. She had moved to Canada where she worked to gain asylum for Spanish refugees and helped foreign born radicals threatened with deportation to fascist countries.
For example in July 1936, when the Spanish American War erupted Goldman supported the Loyalist cause with an enthusiasm reminiscent of her early years in America. “In addition, anarchists had succeeded in receiving popular support in parts of Spain. ” (Jewish Women’s Archive). When Goldman visited towns and farms in Aragon and Levante, she was captivated by what seemed to her to be the beginning of an anarchist revolution. Emma Goldman soon became the London representative of the National Confederation of Labor and Anarchist Federation of Iberia, directing the English language
press service and propaganda bureau for Spanish anarchists. Goldman wrote hundreds of letters to supporters and editors. In 1940, she had a stroke that made her unable to speak. After her death on May 14, 1940, the U. S. immigration and Naturalization Service allowed her body to be re-admitted to the U. S. and she was buried in Chicago. Her own experiences closely anticipated debates on today’s most important political and social issues. Finally, decades after her death Goldman’s presence remains with us in many ways.