Today in Yiddishkayt… June 27
Birthday of Emma Goldman, Anarchist
Emma Goldman was born on June 27, 1869 in Kovno, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire) to an Orthodox Jewish family. At thirteen, she moved with her family to St. Petersburg, where she first came into contact with revolutionary ideas and Russian Nihilist philosophy. Fearful of her budding commitment to political activism, her father cut her studies short, sent her to work in a factory and arranged for her to be married at the age of fifteen. Seeking freedom and opportunity, Goldman emigrated to the United States in 1885. However, her hopes were quickly crushed as she encountered the harsh reality of life as a factory worker in Rochester.
When Goldman learned of the verdicts of the anarchists involved in the Haymarket affair, she was outraged. Convinced of the men’s innocence, she began to read everything she could about anarchism. She left her husband of one year, Jacob Kershner, and moved to New York City in 1889. There, she immediately began attending political meetings and demonstrations. On her first day in the city, Goldman met two men who would forever change her life. She was introduced to Alexander Berkman, an anarchist who invited her to hear Johann Most give a lecture on anarchism. Most decided to take Goldman under his wing and trained her in methods of public speaking. Together, they traveled the country delivering speeches and in 1896, they co-authored the book Anarchy Defended by Anarchists. However, as Goldman began to develop her own voice, she parted ways with Most. Her eloquence and dedication to the cause quickly made her a popular speaker on anarchist philosophy, women’s rights, and social issues.
Goldman and Berkman quickly became lovers, bonded by their deep commitment to anarchist principles of personal freedom and equality. In 1892 Goldman and Berkman started a small business in Worcester, Massachusetts, providing lunches for local workers. Later that year, they became involved in the Homestead Strike, which resulted in Berkman’s imprisonment following a failed attempt to assassinate factory manager Henry Frick. The following year, during the economic crisis known as the Panic of 1893, Goldman was imprisoned after being accused of urging the unemployed to steal food. While in prison, she began studying medicine and when she was released after ten months, she began practicing midwifery. Alternating between lectures and midwifery, she conducted the first cross-country tour by an anarchist speaker.
Goldman was also an outspoken advocate for women’s suffrage and birth control. In 1901, Goldman was arrested again after Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley, claimed he had been influenced by Goldman’s speeches. No evidence was found linking Goldman to the attack and she was released after two weeks. When Berkman was released from prison in 1906, the two of them began editing and publishing the journal, Mother Earth. Goldman also wrote Anarchism and Other Essays (1910) and The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914).
On the outbreak of WWI, Goldman and Berkman became involved in the campaign to keep the United States out of the conflict and promoted anti-draft activism. On June 15, 1917, they were arrested and charged with conspiracy to “induce persons not to register”, under the Espionage Act. Upon their release in 1919, they were immediately targeted by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and J. Edgar Hoover who were intent on using the Anarchist Exclusion Act to deport supporters of Bolshevism. On November 7, 1919, over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested. The vast majority were eventually released but Goldman, Berkman, and 246 other people, were deported to Russia.
Listen to Sandra Oh read a speech given by Goldman in San Francisco before the United States entered WWI:
In January 1920 Berkman and Goldman toured Russia collecting material for the Museum of the Revolution in Petrograd. As they traveled around the country, they found repression, mismanagement, and corruption instead of the equality and worker empowerment they had dreamed of. In December 1921, they left the country and went to Riga, Stockholm, and then settled in Berlin for several years. During this time, Goldman wrote a series of articles about her time in Russia for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, the New York World. These were later collected and published in book form as My Disillusionment in Russia (1923) and My Further Disillusionment in Russia (1924). In 1924 she moved to London where she married Scottish anarchist James Colton in order to obtain British citizenship.
In 1928, she began writing her autobiography, with the support of a group of admirers. She secured a cottage in Saint-Tropez and spent two years recounting her life. Goldman visited Spain in September 1936 to observe the Spanish Civil War. Upon encountering a community run by and for anarchists, she lent her support to the movement and helped establish the Committee to Aid Homeless Spanish Women and Children. On Saturday, February 17, 1940, Goldman suffered a debilitating stroke. She became paralyzed on her right side and could not speak. She died in Toronto on May 14, 1940. The USA government decided to give permission for her body to be buried in Chicago.