Woman Making History #36: Emma Goldman


Emma GoldmanI'll admit it. I've been excited about doing this entry since I started the project...

Emma Goldman was born in 1869, to Jewish parents in Lithuania (which was then under Russian control). At the age of 13, Goldman moved with her family to St. Petersburg, Russia. It was here, while working in a corset factory, that Goldman was first exposed to revolutionary, anarchist ideas.

When she was 17, Goldman and her sister emigrated to the United States (upstate New York). Goldman obtained work in a textile factory, and in 1887 she married an American, thereby gaining citizenship.

By the time she was 20, Goldman was a revolutionary. In outrage about the hanging of four anarchists after the Haymarket Riots, Goldman left her marriage and began to travel. She soon moved to New York City, met, and moved in with noted anarchist Alexander Berkman, who became her lover, friend, and political collaborator for many years.

Berkman and Goldman believes that drastic and violent actions were sometimes necessary for the sake of revolution. After Pinkerton agents killed several strikers in the Homestead Strike, Berkman decided Homestead factory manager Henry Clay Frick should be assassinated. Goldman agreed. Berkman attempted to kill Frick, shooting him three times. He was then convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison (he served 14 and was released in 1906). However, he gave no evidence against Goldman for her possible role in planning the attempted assassination, so she was never charged.

In 1893, Goldman became friends with Czech anarchist Hippolyte Havel. She began to travel with him, giving speeches on anarchism. The International Workers of the World (IWW) often funded her. That same year, she was imprisoned on charges of "inciting a riot," for publicly encouraging unemployed workers to "Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, take bread." Goldman served one year.

In 1901, Goldman was arrested again, with nine others, accused of plotting to assassinate President McKinley, who was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz several days before. Several days later, Goldman was released, as there was no evidence she was associated with the crime. However, this and other increasingly violent actions by anarchists caused increasing suspicion towards the movement, and other movements (particularly labor) began to distance themselves from anarchists.

After Berkman was released from prison in 1906, he and Goldman began publication of anarchist/feminist journal Mother Earth. The journal reprinted essays from famous thinkers who influenced the two, particularly Nietzsche and Tolstoy, as well as original writings, particularly from Goldman.

As the century progressed, Goldman drew increasing scrutiny from federal officials. In 1908, her U.S. citizenship was revoked, though she remained in the country. In 1916, she was once again imprisoned, this time for distributing birth control literature. This time, she served 14 months before being released.

During World War I, Goldman traveled extensively and gave a lot of anti-war speeches. She and Berkman were also instrumental in forming non-conscription leagues and organizing anti-war rallies. In 1917, Goldman was imprisoned again, this time for "draft obstruction." Under the new Espionage Act, Goldman was convicted and served another two years in prison. After her release in 1919, she was deported back to Russia, an undesirable alien under the Sedition Act.

The timing of Goldman's deportation allowed her to witness first-hand the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in her home country. Unexpectedly, Goldman was horrified by the political repression, forced labor, and massive destruction and death she saw. After two years, she and Berkman left Russia, traveling to England and France, then living for several years in a French commune at Saint-Tropez. In 1936, Goldman moved to Spain in order to support the Spanish in their fight for independence against Franco and his fascist regime.

Emma Goldman died in 1940 in Canada. The U.S. allowed her body to be brought back into the country, and she was buried in Forest Park, Illinois, close to where the victims of the Haymarket Riot are interred.

The Emma Goldman Papers
The Anarchist Encyclopedia

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