Goldman, Emma

views updated Jun 11 2018

Emma Goldman

BORN: June 27, 1869 • Kovno, Russia

DIED: May 14, 1940 • Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Anarchist; political activist

"Those in authority have and always will abuse their power."

Emma Goldman was an anarchist. She believed in the political theory known as anarchy, which holds all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocates a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups. She believed in the independence of women, sexual freedom and birth control, freedom of expression, and the right to form labor unions. Her willingness to fight for these causes—at all costs—resulted in her deportation (permanent exile) from America. But her advocacy of such causes made her one of the most hated and feared figures of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. (The Gilded Age was the period in history following the Civil War and Reconstruction [roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century], characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption. The Progressive Era was the period that followed the Gilded Age [approximately the first twenty years of the twentieth century]; it was marked by reform and the development of a national cultural identity.)

Simple beginnings

Emma Goldman was born on June 27, 1869, in the small town of Kovno, Russia (modern-day Lithuania). Being a Jew, she and her family suffered under the anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) laws of the day, which included being forced to live in Jewish ghettos (imoverished areas) and frequently moving to escape oppression. It was a difficult life.

Her father reacted to society's hatred of his race by taking out his anger on his family, often through violence. As explained on the Jewish Women's Archive Web site, Goldman considered her father "the nightmare of my childhood." Young Goldman was acutely aware of the injustice done to the Russian Jews, but she thought her father's anger would be more productive if directed toward their persecutors. By age twelve, she was already thinking in terms of political organization and action.

Goldman left Russia in her early teens to obtain what she believed would be a modern education in Germany. She was sorely disappointed to realize that her schooling there would be nothing but lectures, memorization, and authoritarian teaching. Her rebellious attitude toward such schooling led her to fights with her German relatives with whom she was living. After just six months, she returned to Russia.

Her father forced her to work in a factory and informed her that she would be entering into an arranged marriage. (In an arranged marriage, parents pick their child's spouse.) He refused to hear her ideas of furthering her education, insisting that Jewish women need only know how to prepare fish and give their husbands many children. Goldman, at sixteen, would have nothing to do with such plans. In 1885, she set sail for America with her half-sister, Helena.

Disappointment with America

Despite her anticipation of living in freedom, Goldman quickly realized that only the wealthy enjoyed true freedom in her new homeland. In Rochester, New York, factory work was even harder than it had been in Russia; for a ten-and-a-half-hour day, she was paid a meager $2.50. Goldman experienced firsthand the inequality of America's social classes; she knew all too well of the inhuman working conditions of industrial society.

Within four months of arriving in America, Goldman accepted a marriage proposal from Jacob Kershner, another immigrant factory worker. The two shared interests in reading, dancing, and traveling, and Kershner offered Goldman an escape from the drudgery of her home life living with relatives. Though hesitant, she married Kershner in February 1887.

Discovers anarchism

Goldman found marriage, like America, disappointing. The couple began having marital problems. A depressed Kershner turned to cards and gambling, wasting the little money the newlyweds had. This strained relationship, now void of any dancing or happiness, made Goldman feel isolated and lonely. She had left her job out of respect for her husband's wishes to uphold the societal norm that proper married women do not work outside the home. Money troubles became a major concern.

In the midst of this great personal sadness, Goldman took special interest in the resolution of national controversy. On May 4, 1886, labor activists held a rally in Chicago's Haymarket Square to protest the police brutality of strikers (employees refusing to work) at the local McCormick Harvester Company the day before. The rally was peaceful until someone threw a bomb at the police after they tried to shut down the demonstration. People in the crowd were injured, and one police officer was killed.

In the chaos that ensued, an uncertain number of demonstrators were killed, as were six police officers (though evidence indicates they were killed by friendly fire, for the most part). Some of the officers lingered for several weeks before they died from their injuries. America followed their fate in newspaper accounts.

The press and the police blamed Chicago's anarchist leaders for the bombing, and the public agreed with that assumption. In keeping with the general panic surrounding the event, eight anarchists were arrested. Despite plenty of evidence to suggest their innocence, all eight were found guilty of the crime. Seven were sentenced to death; one was to serve fifteen years in prison. Of the seven who were given the death penalty, one committed suicide the night before the execution, and two had their sentences commuted to life in prison. The remaining four were executed on November 11, 1887, despite international protest at the apparent injustice of the rulings.

Goldman followed the situation in the news and was convinced of the innocence of the eight men. Empowered by this sense of righteousness, she took up the anarchist cause and became its most outspoken activist. According to SunSITE, a University of California at Berkeley digital library Web site, anarchism is a political philosophy that embraces the concept of a society based on shared ownership and voluntary agreements among individuals and groups. It further poses that without the consent and involvement of each individual in the social order, any form of government gets its power from the threat of force. Some anarchists believe in the use of violence to further their cause; others do not. In anarchy, there is no single source of power or authority, no leader. This is not to be interpreted to mean that anarchy means chaos or disorder; rather, it favors order based on cooperation and voluntary participation.

Anarchism was especially appealing to the working class in the Gilded Age. As America evolved from a society based on agriculture to one based on industry, members of the lower classes were controlled and exploited by their wealthier peers. Business owners and managers were unconcerned about the health and safety of their workers; they did as little for them as possible. The Gilded Age was the time period in history when capitalism (an economic philosophy based on private ownership of business and competition) first made Americans aware that, because of its belief in private ownership and willful competition, the poor would get poorer while the rich would get richer. Anarchism was seen as a solution, or an alternative, to a capitalist society. In theory, it would allow everyone to live equally.

Begins a life of political activism

As Goldman's political philosophies became clearer to her, so too did her personal beliefs. She left Kershman and chose to live with the shame divorce brought to a woman of her era rather than remain in an empty and oppressive relationship. She also left Rochester in favor of New York City, where she could live among other passionate anarchists. She immediately immersed herself in the anarchists' world and spent her time attending meetings, organizing labor demonstrations and strikes, and engaging in philosophical and political discussions.

For Goldman and her fellow activists, the State—meaning any form of government—was restrictive (limiting) and not in the best interests of the individual. They promoted the idea that the State should be destroyed. Goldman herself was not in favor of violence; part of her definition of anarchism was a belief in the basic goodness of each individual human. She believed anarchy could work because, without the provocation of capitalism and government force, people would not live in fear. No one would have anything the next person did not have, so there would be no need for crimes such as robbery and murder.

Every cause Goldman believed in and fought for was an extension of her basic belief in absolute freedom. She found a soul mate in 1889 in fellow Russian immigrant Alexander Berkman (1870–1936), who would become the great love of her life as well as a lifelong comrade in the quest for anarchism. The two made the agreement that they would dedicate their lives to their cause and willingly give their lives if necessary, either together or apart.

With passion and eloquence, Goldman quickly established herself as a gifted speaker in the anarchist community. She was popular among her fellow anarchists but feared and loathed for her commitment by most of American society. What happened in 1892 only served to cement her reputation as a rabble-rouser (someone who stirs up large groups of people in anger or violence) and a radical (someone with extreme views who wants change).

Homestead Strike of 1892

Homestead, Pennsylvania, was a steel-mill town with a population of more than ten thousand people. Of those inhabitants, just over thirty-four hundred were employed by Carnegie Steel Company. Of those employees, eight hundred were skilled and earned an average of $2.43 for a twelve-hour shift, or roughly twenty cents an hour. Unskilled laborers earned fourteen cents an hour.

In 1889, these wages were paid on a sliding scale that was dependent on the market price (the price paid to the steel companies by other businesses who bought their product) being paid for steel. The higher the market price, the higher the wages would be. If the market price dropped, so did wages. Twenty and fourteen cents an hour was the average.

This agreement between management and labor was due to expire on June 30, 1892. Of the eight hundred skilled workers, all but twenty were members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers. These union members were expecting better terms upon expiration of the old contract. Their expectations did not seem unrealistic. Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), owner of the mill, had publicly empathized with (claimed to understand the feelings of) strikers in other industries. He even implied that he understood how their frustration led to violence.

Carnegie was out of the country in 1892, visiting his homeland of Scotland. Negotiations were in the hands of Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919), chairman of Carnegie Steel. Frick was known for his hard-hearted, antiunion attitude. He had no patience for workers who complained and would not tolerate rebellion in any form.

The union would not accept the new contract proposed by Carnegie Steel because it required workers to accept an 18- to 26-percent decrease in wages. Union leader Hugh O'Donnell met with Frick throughout June in the hopes of reaching a compromise that both sides could accept. Frick refused to consider any negotiations. Instead, he ordered the construction of a solid-wood fence topped with barbed wire built around the mill. Workers soon called it "Fort Frick."

As meetings continued to be held without progress, frustrated workers made dummies that looked like Frick and superintendent J. A. Potter and hung them on mill property. Potter sent men to tear down the dummies, but Carnegie employees turned powerful water hoses on them. Frick used this event as an excuse to order a lockout (an event in which workers are forbidden to work and are refused pay). In addition to the 3 miles of fencing he had built, Frick contacted Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He paid $5 a day to each of three hundred detectives to act as guards at the mill. The detectives arrived on July 6. By this time, workers had already barricaded themselves inside the steel plant.

Frick never had the chance to carry out his plan to hire strikebreakers. Citizens of the town joined Carnegie Steel's displaced workers and confronted the Pinkerton detectives just outside the mill. With both sides armed, they fought from 4 am on July 6 until 5 pm. It is not clear who fired the first shot, but when gunfire had ceased, seven strikers and three detectives were dead, with numerous others injured. The strikers surrendered that same day. Although there was no more violence, workers had made it clear that no one would run the Carnegie plant but themselves. This attitude worried the sheriff of Homestead, who contacted Governor Robert Pattison (1850–1904) in hopes of getting some help. On July 12, eight thousand state troops marched into Homestead under the governor's orders and took control. They evicted workers from their homes, repeatedly arrested others just so that they could charge them bail, and generally harassed those who had been involved in the strike.

When news accounts of the slaughter reached Goldman and Berkman, who had been following the unfolding of events through newspaper reports, a feeling of desperation took over. Goldman wrote in her autobiography, Living My Life, "Sasha [Alexander Berkman] broke the silence. 'Frick is the responsible factor in this crime, he must be made to stand the consequences."' Berkman went to Homestead and shot Frick. He failed to kill him, however, and spent the next fourteen years in prison. Goldman was not arrested because of insufficient evidence to prove her involvement.

Carnegie's Homestead plant reopened on July 27 with a thousand new workers under the protection of the military. The company pressed charges against O'Donnell and the strikers, but no jury would find them guilty. Both sides decided to drop the matter. The strike officially ended on November 20, 1892. Three hundred locked-out employees were rehired and joined the newly hired workers in the mill. Under their new contract, former employees worked longer hours at a lower hourly wage than they had before the strike. Most of the strikers who were not rehired were blacklisted (their names were put on a list that circulated throughout the industry, warning potential employers not to hire the troublemakers). This resulted in them being unable to get jobs in the steel industry. The strike did nothing but hurt the reputation of labor unions throughout the country.

Although Carnegie privately wrote letters to Frick in support of Frick's handling of the affair, Carnegie publicly implied that Frick was responsible for the tragic events stemming from the strike and asked him to resign as chairman. In spite of his departure from the steel firm, Frick was rewarded handsomely when Carnegie bought Frick's stocks in the company for $15 million.

Spends a year in jail

In August 1893, Goldman led a march of one thousand people in Union Square in New York City. Speaking in English and German, she encouraged the working-class poor to steal bread if they needed it, telling them they were entitled to at least that much. In October of that year, she was found guilty of trying to start a riot and sentenced to one year in prison. Upon her release in 1894, she published an account of her experience in the New York World newspaper.

While awaiting sentencing, famous journalist Nellie Bly (1864–1922) interviewed Goldman. In the interview, published in the September 17, 1893, issue of the New York World and available on the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE Web site, Goldman revealed that she spoke four languages and wrote and read two. When Bly inquired as to the prisoner's future, Goldman replied, "I shall certainly get a year or a year and a half, not because my offense deserves it, but because I am an Anarchist."

Free speech for all

In 1901, President William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901; see entry) was assassinated by anarchist Leon Czolgosz (1873–1901). When he told police he had been influenced by Goldman's many public speeches, Goldman was arrested on charges that she was somehow involved in McKinley's assassination. Authorities released her due to lack of evidence, but the anarchist avoided appearing in public for a few years to avoid charges of harassment.

When Goldman returned to the spotlight, she embarked on the most politically active period of her lifetime. From 1906 to 1917, she edited her magazine Mother Earth, a political and literary periodical devoted to publishing anarchist essays and other writings by radical writers. In 1910, she gave 120 speeches, in thirty-seven cities and twenty-five states. Topics of her speeches focused on free speech, a concept that was not well tolerated by authorities since the assassination of McKinley. Goldman's speeches, however, attracted not only the common laborer but men and women of the middle class who believed her ideas were necessary to keep the government under control. That same year, Goldman published the first of what would be many collections of essays.

Goldman on other issues

Although Goldman's beliefs had their roots in Jewish tradition and the search for universal justice, her personal opinion was that religion was repressive because of its many rules and the submissive role she believed it required of women. She criticized not only Christianity but also traditional Jewish religion. She considered it narrow-minded and made it a point to take part in public activities on Jewish holidays to show her rejection of Judaism as a religion.

Goldman also rejected the idea of marriage in its Progressive Era form. She did not believe women should be submissive to men, nor did she believe they were put on earth solely to have children and raise families. Although she was not a firm supporter of women's suffrage (the right to vote) because she did not believe it would bring women the status they deserved, she did believe in the equality of women. She played a pioneering role in the birth control movement. Having worked as a nurse and midwife (someone who helps deliver babies) in New York's Lower East Side in the 1890s, she saw what happened to women and children when birth control was not permitted. She fought for its legality on the basis of women's freedom as well as social and economic freedom.

The matter of war

Goldman was not a pacifist (a person completely against war and violence), but she did not believe the government had the right to make war. In her eyes, war was fought only to improve the conditions of life for the wealthy, and the cost usually came at the expense of the working class.

When it became apparent that the United States would participate in World War I (1914–18) in 1916, Goldman used her magazine as a forum to discuss the wrongness of such an action. She was merely part of a much larger antiwar movement. Despite its size, the government crushed the movement in an almost panic-stricken effort. Mother Earth was banned, as were any other periodicals opposing the war. Under the direction of President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21), hundreds of immigrant activists were deported.

Just weeks after America entered the war, Goldman launched the No-Conscription League. Conscription is also known as the draft, in which the government orders all male citizens age eighteen and over who are physically and mentally able to serve in the military. The League encouraged people to speak out against the draft. When it became clear that Goldman and her peers were having an effect on Americans (more than eight thousand people attended just one meeting), the government arrested both Goldman and Berkman in 1917 and charged them with conspiring against the draft. They were found guilty, and each served a two-year prison sentence.

Goldman was released in 1919, only to be almost immediately rearrested by J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972), head of the Justice Department's General Intelligence Division. Eager to advance his career, Hoover pushed to the limit the government's plan to deport all immigrant radical activists. Goldman was a main target of his efforts. On December 21, 1919, more than two hundred immigrant activists, including Goldman and Berkman, were exiled to the Soviet Union.

Goldman spent the remaining twenty-one years of her life in exile. During that time, she lived in several countries, including Russia, Sweden, Germany, France, England, and Canada. She remained politically active. In 1934, a ninety-day lecture tour brought her back to the United States. During her visit, Hoover had his men follow her to ensure she would not incite riots. Exile was hard for Goldman, who considered America her home.

Spanish Civil War

Goldman's beloved Berkman committed suicide in 1936; his death devastated her. In July of that year, the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) broke out, and the idea of an anarchist revolution in Spain brought Goldman some comfort. She worked endlessly to help her fellow anarchists in Spain by writing hundreds of letters to supporters and editors in the United States. When the anarchist revolution failed in 1939, she spent the last year of her life trying to raise money and find homes for the women and children refugees of the Spanish war.

Goldman suffered a stroke in February 1940, and she lost her ability to speak. She died in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on May 14, 1940. Goldman's body was buried next to the demonstrators killed in the Haymarket Riot. Her friend and lawyer Harry Weinberger spoke at her funeral and memorialized her with these words, as published on The Emma Goldman Papers Project Web site: "You will live forever in the hearts of your friends and the story of your life will live as long as the stories are told of women and men of courage and idealism."

For More Information


Chalberg, John. Emma Goldman: American Individualist. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Falk, Candace, Lyn Reese, and Mary Agnes Dougherty. The Life and Times of Emma Goldman: A Curriculum for Middle and High School Students. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California, 1992.

Glassgold, Peter, ed. Anarchy!: An Anthology of Emma Goldman's Mother Earth. Washington, DC: Counterpoint Press, 2001.

Goldman, Emma. Living My Life. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1931. Reprint, New York: Penguin Books, 2006.

Goldman, Emma. Red Emma Speaks: Selected Writings and Speeches. 3rd ed. Edited by Alix Kates Shulman. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1998.


Bly, Nellie. "Nelly [sic] Bly Again: She Interviews Emma Goldman and Other Anarchists." New York World (September 17, 1893). Available at (accessed on September 2, 2006).

Goldman, Emma. "Was My Life Worth Living?" Harper's Magazine (May 1, 2000).

Goldman, Emma. "What Is There in Anarchy for Women?" St. Louis Post Dispatch Sunday Magazine (October 24, 1897). Available at (accessed on September 2, 2006).


Berkeley Digital Library Site. The Emma Goldman Papers. (accessed on September 2, 2006).

"Exhibit: Women of Valor: Emma Goldman." Jewish Women's Archive. (accessed on September 2, 2006).

Goldman, Emma. "I Will Kill Frick." History Matters. (accessed on September 2, 2006).

PBS. American Experience: Emma Goldman. (accessed on September 2, 2006).

Wehling, Jason. "Anarchy in Interpretation: The Life of Emma Goldman." Spunk Library. (accessed on September 2, 2006).

Goldman, Emma

views updated Jun 08 2018

Emma Goldman

Born June 27, 1869 (Kovno, Russia)

Died May 14, 1940 (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

Social activist

Emma Goldman came to America and made a career of challenging the legitimacy of government, religion, and property. Throughout her political life she championed the constitutional right to freedom of speech and worked to improve conditions for the poor, laborers, and immigrants. Goldman criticized the social and economic subordination of women and was a lifelong opponent of war.

Goldman was an anarchist (person opposed to organized governments), so she rejected any enforced political order by an individual or government. She believed people were essentially good and that all forms of government authority were unnecessary and undesirable. She argued for a new social order based on the voluntary cooperation of individuals and groups.

"The kind of patriotism that we represent is the kind which loves America with open eyes. . . . We love the dreamers and the philosophers and the thinkers who are giving America liberty. But that must not make us blind to the social faults of America."

Goldman reached beyond the predominantly ethnic, immigrant audience that typically constituted anarchists in the early parts of the twentieth century and helped make the radical movement more mainstream in America. Like many anarchists, Goldman proclaimed her mission as one of promoting critical thinking, cultural and political change, and
social cooperation based on personal liberty. Emma's political activities inspired criminal laws banning the practice of radical politics. She was also a frequent defendant in criminal cases involving her political activities.

A social commitment

In the summer of 1868 Abraham Goldman married Taube Zodokoff, a widow with two daughters. Emma Goldman was born to the couple a year later and was soon followed by two boys. Abraham was an innkeeper in the small Lithuanian town of Papile. Jewish citizens were in the majority but German culture was dominant. The Russian Tsar, the supreme ruler of Russia, held political power in the area. Since the family inn also served as a training center for the Russian military, the Goldman family directly felt the authority of the Russian government.

At the age of seven, Emma was sent to the Prussian seaport of Konigsberg to live with relatives and attend a private Jewish elementary school, despite her father's reluctance to have an educated daughter. Emma transferred to a public school when her family moved to Konigsberg. It was there that young Emma was befriended by a teacher who introduced her to opera and literature and encouraged her dreams.

When Emma was twelve her father moved the family once again, this time to the large city of St. Petersburg, Russia, to seek work. Emma's formal education ended there as she and her siblings were required to work to supplement the family income. Emma continued to educate herself with every opportunity in the sophisticated city of St. Petersburg, which was also home to a rising generation of Russian political radicals.

Emma became fascinated with female political martyrs (women who gave their lives for a political cause) and was influenced in particular by Nikolay Chernyshevsky's novel, What is to Be Done? In it, the heroine rejects her perceived destiny in order to become an ordinary physician among Russia's poor people.

With the collapse of the radical movement in Russia and facing pressure from her father to marry, young Emma decided she needed to leave Russia to pursue her dream of independence and social commitment. In 1885 at the age of sixteen, Emma arrived in the United States with her half-sister Helena aboard the German steamship Elbe. It was the same year that the Statue of Liberty was shipped to New York City from France to welcome immigrants such as Emma.

The girls lived with their elder sister Lena and found jobs in the expanding industrial city of Rochester, New York. Emma worked factory jobs and soon met a fellow laborer, Jacob Kersner, whom she married in 1886. Although the couple divorced in 1889, the marriage provided Emma with a claim to U.S. citizenship.

Radical activities

In 1886, Goldman closely followed the news of the Haymarket trials in Chicago, Illinois. Violence had erupted at an anarchist rally in Haymarket Square, resulting in the bombing deaths of seven policemen. Four anarchist labor leaders were convicted of conspiracy and executed, even though the actual bomber was never identified.

Goldman was deeply moved by the trial results. She joined the anarchist movement before moving to New York City in 1889 to participate in radical activities. She met her lifelong friend, Alexander Berkman (1870–1936), and helped him plot the assassination of industrialist Henry Clay Frick of the Carnegie Steel Company. It was a misguided effort to end the Homestead Steel strike. Frick was merely wounded and, in 1892, Berkman was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. The event made Goldman infamous when the New York World newspaper portrayed her as the mastermind of the plot.

A national economic crisis set off by the failure of four major railroad companies hit America in "The Panic of 1893." The stock market crashed and hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs. New York City streets filled with the hungry and unemployed. The city's police, anxious to control the rising unrest, turned their attention to anarchists whose inflammatory speeches were aggravating an already tense situation.

By this time, Goldman was a well-known anarchist and lecturer who advocated for the poor. She addressed a public rally of some three thousand people at Union Square in August 1893 and was arrested for inciting a riot. While awaiting release on bail, Goldman was interviewed by the World's famous female reporter, Nellie Bly (c. 1867–1922).

As relayed in Brooke Kroeger's 1994 book Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist Bly wrote, "Do you need an introduction to Emma Goldman? . . . You have seen supposed pictures of her. You have read of her as a property-destroying, capitalist-killing, riot-promoting agitator." Bly then described the real Goldman as a "little bit of a girl, just five feet high, . . . not showing her one hundred twenty pounds; with a saucy, turned up nose and very expressive blue-gray eyes that gazed inquiringly at me through shell-rimmed glasses."

While most reporters of the day were unsympathetic, Bly described Goldman as neat, immaculate, and well-dressed. Where the New York Times referred to Goldman as a fire-eating anarchist, Bly dubbed her "the little anarchist, the modern Joan of Arc," in a highly sympathetic report to her newspaper.

New criminal laws

Upon her release from prison in 1895, Goldman went to Europe where she studied medicine before returning to the United States and continuing her radical activities. In 1901 she was implicated in the murder of President William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901). Goldman was released because no evidence could be gathered against her, other than that the assassin had attended one of her speeches.

McKinley's assassination led to the passage of the 1902 Aliens Act. The act declared the advocacy of "criminal anarchy" to be a felony. The law became the judicial basis for all future expulsions and deportations from America. Goldman, later dubbed "Red Emma" because of her radical politics associated with the rise of the Communist Party in Russia whose symbolic color was red, founded the Free Speech League in 1903 to promote the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. She claimed the constitutional right for herself as well as other anarchists like Big Bill Haywood and his militant trade union (see sidebar).

From 1906 until 1917 Goldman edited and published the monthly journal Mother Earth. The magazine advocated the banning of all government and recommended it be replaced by voluntary cooperation among the people. She targeted all forms of repression—economic, political, and psychological. She worked in hopes of achieving a cooperative commonwealth in America. Goldman put her energies into lecturing, writing, and tireless political organizing. These activities led to her arrest in the spring of 1916. She received a fifteen-day prison term for giving a public lecture on birth control.

On June 15, 1917, officers arrived once again at the office of Mother Earth with a warrant for her arrest on charges of conspiracy to convince persons not to register for the draft. She and Alexander Berkman, who was arrested as well, each received a two-year prison sentence for their opposition to America's involvement in World War I (1914–18; war in which Great Britain, France, the United States, and their allies defeated Germany, Austria-Hungary, and their allies).

The federal government, led by a newly empowered J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972) of the U.S. Justice Department, targeted Goldman for deportation as part of the "Palmer Raids" of 1919. The raids on aliens known or suspected of being political radicals resulted in thousands of arrests of mostly aliens (people with citizenship in other countries) believed to be political radicals in over thirty cities, but only around 250 were actually deported.

Hoover labeled Goldman the "Red Queen of Anarchy" and was waiting for her and Berkman upon their release from prison in Jefferson City, Missouri. Hoover needed a high profile case in his campaign against communists and subversives (those who seek overthrow of a government). Hoover had arranged for the deportation of nearly two hundred and fifty anarchists aboard the Buford. Dubbed, the "Soviet Ark," the decrepit, old transport ship carried its human cargo out of the New York harbor bound for Russia with Emma Goldman as its most famous passenger.

William Haywood

William Dudley "Big Bill" Haywood (1869–1928) was a miner in Silver City, Idaho, when he became interested in the labor movement. In 1896 he joined the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) and became active in union campaigns to increase wages and end child labor in the mines. He progressed through the ranks of the national executive board until deciding that labor problems required more revolutionary solutions.

Haywood and his political friends joined together in 1905 to form the radical labor organization, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Known as "the Wobblies," they wanted to unify all labor and place production in the hands of the workers. The IWW advocated strikes, boycotts, and passive resistance by their members. They were also accused of using violence and sabotage.

In 1906 the WFM and its leaders including Haywood were brought to trial for the murder of former Idaho governor, Frank Steunenberg (1861–1905). Famous attorney Clarence Darrow (1857–1938; see entry) defended Haywood and several others and they were acquitted in 1907. The trial received enormous publicity for its dramatic details. It was the first trial to be covered by the press wire services.

Haywood soon left the WFM and devoted his time and energy to the Socialist Party of America (believes that both the economy and society should be run democratically in order to meet public needs, not to make profits for a few) and the IWW. He was recognized as the spokesperson for industrial workers and was celebrated by various nonworking class socialists who turned
him into a public personality. The New York Times called Haywood "the most hated and feared figure in America," for his role in labor organization.

The IWW opposed U.S. participation in World War I and Haywood produced antiwar propaganda when America entered the conflict in 1917. That September the Justice Department conducted raids on the IWW headquarters in twenty-four cities. They seized books, minutes of meetings, financial records, and membership lists. Haywood and others were arrested under the Espionage Act for conspiracy and interference with conscription (the military draft).

In 1918 he was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison and fined $10,000. While awaiting the result of an appeal for a new trial in 1921, Haywood jumped bail and fled to the Soviet Union. He died in Moscow in 1928.


Goldman was at first sympathetic to the new Soviet Union and its communist government. She became disillusioned, however, after witnessing the blatant disregard of civil liberties by Vladimir Lenin's (1870–1924) revolutionary government led by the Communist Party that banned all private property giving the government total control of the economy. By 1921 Emma fled the Soviet Union. She managed to obtain British citizenship by marrying a Welsh miner sympathetic to her plight. She spent the final two decades of her life traveling between England, Canada, and France, speaking out for her own humanist brand of anarchism.

Goldman wrote My Disillusionment in Russia in 1923 and published her autobiography, Living My Life, in 1931. By 1934 the political mood in the United States had changed as the fear of communism had declined. The aging Emma was allowed to return for a ninety day speaking tour. She lectured in sixteen cities, from New York to St. Louis. She spoke out against both German fascism (government marked by dictatorship, government control of the economy, and suppression of all opposition) and Soviet communism (government in which the state controls the economy and all property and wealth are shared equally by the people) to produce world opinion against them.

Goldman left the country as she had arrived, an anarchist and a radical who spoke on her own terms. Upon her death in 1940 at the age of seventy-one, the U.S. government granted permission for Goldman's body to be returned to the country for burial at Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.

For More Information


Chalberg, John. Emma Goldman: American Individualist. New York: Longman, 1991.

Dubofsky, Melvyn. "Big Bill" Haywood. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

Kroeger, Brooke. Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist. New York: Times Books, 1994.

Walker, Martin. America Reborn: A Twentieth-Century Narrative in Twenty-Six Lives. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Web Sites

"Emma Goldman." Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. (accessed on August 15, 2004).

"William Haywood." The National Archives Learning Curve. (accessed on August 15, 2004).

Goldman, Emma

views updated May 17 2018


Emma Goldman was a crusader for anarchism, feminism, and the labor movement. She was also an essayist and is best known as the first editor of Mother Earth, a magazine providing a forum for feminist and anarchist writers.

Goldman was born June 27, 1869, in Kaunas, Lithuania, a province of the Russian Empire, during the early stages of revolt against czarism and the rise in popularity of communism. The seeds of the Bolshevik revolt were already being sown in the towns and villages throughout the country where discontent with czarist rule was strongest. Goldman, who described herself as a born rebel, came into the world as the third daughter of Abraham Goldman and Taube Goldman. Her parents' marriage, like many Jewish Orthodox unions of the time, had been arranged.

Goldman suffered the fate of being a female in a culture that valued males. When she was young, her father made no effort to disguise his disappointment at having still another daughter instead of the much-prized son he hoped for. He has been described as hot tempered and impatient, particularly with Goldman's rebelliousness, which she showed at an early age. He was a traditional Jewish father, and he planned to arrange a marriage for his daughter when she was 15. Goldman, however, had different ideas: she longed for an education and hoped someday

to marry someone she loved. Goldman described her mother as cold and distant, but also strong and assertive, and she may have served as a role model for Goldman's own forthright manner.

After spending her childhood in Kaunas, Königsberg, and St. Petersburg, Goldman emigrated to the United States in 1885 with a sister. They joined another sister who had settled in Rochester, New York, where Goldman found work in a coat factory, sewing ten-and-a-half hours daily at a salary of $2.50 a week. She lived in a crowded apartment with her two sisters and her brother-in-law. Their working and living conditions, as well as those of others even more destitute, sparked her interest in anarchism and the labor movement, which was in its infancy.

She joined radical groups agitating for an eight-hour workday and other improvements in factory conditions.

Goldman was intensely interested in the Haymarket Square incident in Chicago in 1886. A labor rally called by a small group of anarchists was interrupted by a bomb explosion and gunfire. When it was over, seven police officers and four spectators were dead and one hundred were injured. Eight anarchists were tried and convicted of inciting a riot. Four of the convicted were hanged, one committed suicide in prison, and the other three served prison sentences. Spurred by her outrage at this alleged injustice, Goldman began attending anarchist meetings and reading the militant anarchist newspaper Die Freiheit (Freedom). She felt herself irresistibly drawn to the movement, and in the summer of 1889, at the age of 20, she moved to New York City to be near the center of anarchist activity.

After arriving in New York, Goldman befriended Johann J. Most, a well-known anarchist and publisher of Die Freiheit. She also met Alexander Berkman, who became her lover and with whom she remained close throughout her life. By this time, she was known as Red Emma, and she was followed by detectives wherever she went. She wrote, traveled, and lectured to promote anarchism and the labor movement. In 1893, she was briefly jailed for inciting workers to riot. After her release from jail, she traveled to Vienna to train as a nurse and midwife. She then returned to New York and resumed her lecturing. In 1901, she was accused of provoking the assassination of President william mckinley, because the assassin had attended one of her lectures. No charges were ever brought against her, but newspapers throughout the United States portrayed her as an evil traitor because of her controversial ideas.

In 1906, Goldman published the first issue of a magazine that was to serve as a platform for feminist and anarchist ideas. She called her venture Mother Earth, and within six months, it became a leading voice for feminism and anarchism. With Berkman, Goldman published the magazine until 1917, while she continued to travel, write, and lecture. During this time, she carried on an eight-year relationship with Ben Reitman, Chicago's King of the Hobos, a wellknown anarchist and labor activist who became her manager. Goldman had long since given up her idealistic notions about marriage. She had been married twice to the same man, both times with disastrous results, and had carried on a number of love affairs. Goldman preferred the impermanence and freedom of short-term affairs and wrote in more than one essay that marriage was women's greatest enemy because it robbed them of their independence.

The entry of the United States into world war i in 1917 precipitated a wave of hostility toward leftists, pacifists, anarchists, and foreigners. Legislation such as the Selective Service Act, the Espionage Act, and the Sedition Act were passed during 1917 and 1918 in order to suppress opposition to the war or the draft and to restrict certain civil liberties. Heedless of the repressive mood of the country, Goldman and Berkman, along with Leonard D. Abbott and Eleanor Fitzgerald, organized the No-Conscription League to oppose "all wars by capitalist governments." In the June 1917 issue of Mother Earth, they declared,"We will resist conscription by every means in our power, and we will sustain those who … refuse to be conscripted." As a result of their antiwar activities, Goldman and Berkman were arrested and charged with conspiring to prevent draft registration. They were tried and convicted and each received the maximum sentence of two years in prison and $10,000 in fines. In December 1919, in the wake of a red scare that led to the arrest and deportation of hundreds of leftists, anarchists, and labor organizers, Goldman and Berkman were deported to Russia.

Goldman was optimistic about resuming life in Russia now that the czar had been toppled by the Bolsheviks, but her hopes quickly dissipated as the realities of the new government became apparent. In her opinion,"the old cruel regime … had simply been replaced by a new, equally cruel one." She and Berkman left Russia in 1921 and eventually went to Germany. During their years in Germany, Goldman lectured and wrote a book, My Disillusionment in Russia (1923), detailing her disillusionment with Bolshevik rule.

"All wars are wars among thieves who are too cowardly to fight and who therefore induce the young manhood of the whole world to do the fighting for them."
Emma Goldman

In 1924, Goldman moved to England, but she longed to return to the United States. Accepting an offer of marriage to James Colton, a staunch Scottish anarchist she had known for many years, provided her with an opportunity for British citizenship and the possibility of obtaining a British passport. She hoped to make her way to Canada and somehow gain entry into the United States. During the 1920s and 1930s, she traveled through Europe, writing and lecturing, and in 1931, she published her autobiography, Living My Life.

Goldman's wish to return to the United States was granted for a brief 90-day lecture tour in 1934, after which she returned to Europe. In 1940, while on a trip to Canada to enlist support for the anti-Franco forces in Spain, Goldman suffered a stroke. She died several months later, on May 14, 1940, in Toronto. Her body was allowed to be returned to the United States for burial in Chicago near the graves of other anarchists she admired.

further readings

The Emma Goldman Papers. Berkeley Digital Library. Available online at <> (accessed June 27, 2003).

Falk, Candace, ed. 2003. Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Forster, Margaret. 1985. Significant Sisters: The Grassroots of Active Feminism 1839–1939. New York: Knopf.

Goldman, Emma. 1982. Living My Life. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books.

Wexler, Alice. 1984. Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life. New York: Pantheon Books.


Haymarket Riot.

Goldman, Emma

views updated May 18 2018


Born 27 June 1869, Kovno, Russia; died 14 May 1940, Toronto, Canada

Daughter of Abraham and Taube Bienowitch Goldman; married Jacob Kersner, 1887; James Colton, 1926

Born to Jewish parents in Russian-dominated Lithuania, Emma Goldman was unwelcome to a father who made a precarious living as manager of the government stagecoach and later as an innkeeper. Her mother, whose first husband had died leaving two small daughters, had married Goldman out of economic need and was just as unhappy at the arrival of another child—especially of a female, when it was her husband's fervent wish to have a son. After several family moves and haphazard schooling in German and Russian, Goldman was taken to St. Petersburg, where at the age of thirteen she was forced by the family's poverty to work long exhausting hours in glove and corset factories. She nevertheless found time to read German, French, and Russian literature and to absorb the radical anticzarist ideas abroad in the Russian capital.

At seventeen she came to America, where an older married sister had settled in Rochester, New York. In the late 1880s she began to attain, as an active anarchist, a charismatic speaker, and a proficient writer and editor, the notoriety which increased until her deportation by federal authorities at the end of 1919. Although her name appeared less often in American newspapers after World War I, she continued her battles against injustice everywhere in the world: at the time of her death she was in Canada collecting funds for the Spanish Loyalists whose cause she espoused.

Throughout the last decade of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, Goldman flailed the society which knowingly espoused poverty and discrimination, and the state which exploited the laborer and turned women into minor citizens. She could be counted on to come to the defense of accused labor leaders and radicals, who were, in her opinion, usually unable to get a fair trial. In her lecture tours of the country, she spoke on such varied subjects as women's rights, birth control, political violence, the needs of labor, prejudice in the American courts, the somber condition of American prisons, the social significance of the Continental and British playwrights, and the failure of justice in America, where she had come, like so many others, with high hopes. These are also the subjects on which Goldman wrote hundreds of pamphlets and articles.

Goldman's little monthly publication, Mother Earth, which ran from 1906 to 1917, when it was confiscated by the police, was a "gadfly" that stung liberals into radical thinking and furnished a voice for anarchists from coast to coast. It was consequently subject to harassment by various officials of justice departments who believed in the kind of law and order that disregarded civil rights. Besides espousing the cause of women, it was so heretical as to satirize the great evangelist Billy Sunday and to castigate the puritanical Comstocks of America who interfered with personal freedom and looked at sex as obscene. Mother Earth, "devoted to social science and literature," also sought to encourage "the various art forms in America" by printing poetry, literary excerpts, and book reviews.

Goldman did much personally, as well, to bring knowledge of the contemporary unpublished foreign drama to Americans through many lectures, included in The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914). Her autobiography, Living My Life (1931), begins with what she considers the unjust execution of anarchists following the Haymarket Riot in Chicago in 1887 and continues through various instances of perversions of justice up to the Sacco-Vanzetti case in 1920. Writing of the denial of their appeal, she grieved: "It seemed impossible that the State of Massachusetts would repeat in 1923 the crime Illinois had committed in 1887."

Although supporting the suffragists, Goldman knew true emancipation would come only when there evolved "a great race of women who could look liberty in the face." She stressed the need for birth control, condemned the white slave traffic, and saw marriage itself as a kind of enslavement of women, a social arrangement not synonymous with love but actually antagonistic to it. She claimed woman "has been lulled into a trance by the songs of the troubadours.… And though she is beginning to appreciate that all this incense has befogged her mind and paralyzed her soul, she hates to give up the tribute laid at her feet by sentimental moonshiners of the past." She was many years ahead of her time in advocating social, economic, and sexual freedom and equality for women—a cause which was embodied in her philosophy that individual liberty for all must prevail against the coercive state. Viewing all government as repressive—whether it be capitalistic or Marxist—she opposed the war fervor of World War I by holding anticonscription meetings, for which she and her longtime friend and comrade Alexander Berkman were sentenced to two years in prison and then deported.

In spite of appeals from Americans as prominent as H. L. Mencken, Goldman was never allowed in the country again except for a brief lecture tour of 90 days in 1934. After the publication of Goldman's My Disillusionment in Russia (1923), Mencken wrote that the U.S. sustained a loss by exiling Berkman and Goldman. He praised their books on Russia and their ability to write "simple, glowing, and excellent English," and concluded America was not so rich in literary talent and honest criticism that she could afford to kick them out of the country. But an exile this heroic woman remained until her death, when the Immigration Service allowed her to be buried in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery near the graves of her Haymarket comrades.

Other Works:

Anarchism, and Other Essays (1911). My Further Disillusionment in Russia (1924). My Disillusionment in Russia (combining the two former books, 1925). Voltairine De Cleyre (1933).


Anderson, M., My Thirty Years War (1930). Berkman, A., Bolshevik Myth (1925). Berkman, A., Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (1912). Chalberg, J., Emma Goldman: American Individualist (1991). Drinnon, R., Introduction to Anarchism, and Other Essays by E. Goldman (1969). Drinnon, R.,Rebel in Paradise: A Biography of Emma Goldman (1961). Duberman, M. B., Mother Earth: An Epic of Emma Goldman's Life (1991). Eastman, M., Enjoyment of Living (1948). Shulman, A. K., ed., Red Emma Speaks (1972). Shulman, A. K., To the Barricades: The Anarchist Life of E. Goldman (1971). Shulman, A. K., ed., Traffic in Women, and Other Essays on Feminism (1971). West, R., Introduction to My Disillusionment in Russia by E. Goldman (1970).

Reference works:

CB (Jan.-July 1940). DAB. NAW (1971). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Investigative Activities of the Department of Justice, 66th Congress, Vol. 12, Document no. 153 (17 Nov. 1919).


Emma Goldman

views updated Jun 11 2018

Emma Goldman

The career of the Lithuanian-born anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) drew attention to American problems in civil liberties at the turn of the century.

Emma Goldman was born on June 27, 1869, in Kovno of Jewish parents. She emigrated to the United States in 1885 and worked in clothing factories in Rochester, N.Y. In 1887 she married, quickly divorced, remarried, and finally separated. Inspired by the libertarian writings of Johann Most, she moved in 1889 to New York City. An attractive and intellectual woman, she now began her long association with the Russian anarchist Alexander Berkman.

Goldman's radical activities culminated in a plan with Berkman to commit an anarchist "deed" against Henry Frick, of the Carnegie Steel Company, who was resisting his employees' unionist efforts. Though she was not with Berkman when he shot and wounded Frick (and was sentenced to prison), she herself went to prison the following year in New York for allegedly urging the unemployed to take "by force" the food they required.

Though Goldman ceased advocating violence, she continued defending those who did. Upon her release from prison, she became a nurse and a midwife. Trips to Europe in 1895 and 1899-1900 broadened her perspectives. She became notorious again in 1901 and suffered unwarranted harassment when the disturbed assassin of President William McKinley said her speeches had influenced him.

When Berkman came out of prison, he joined Goldman's publication Mother Earth (1906-1917). Mature, bespectacled, but still attractive and magnetic in personality, she spoke on drama and literature, as well as on issues of the day. Her book The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914) was superficial; stronger and more varied was Anarchism and Other Essays (1910).

Goldman gained new fame during the "youth movement" of radicals and social experimenters in the 1910s. Her battle for birth control information and related matters of special concern to women was notable. Charged with obstructing operation of the Conscription Act during World War I, she and Berkman were fined and sentenced in 1917 to 2 years' imprisonment. Long, recriminatory proceedings culminated in her being deprived of citizenship on technical grounds, and she was deported to Russia.

Emma Goldman had hailed the Russian Revolution, she found herself repelled by the Bolshevik dictatorship and left Russia. My Disillusionment in Russia (1923) and My Further Disillusionment in Russia (1924) stirred world controversy. She married a Welsh miner to obtain British citizenship, and friends bought her a home in France. Her distinguished autobiography Living My Life appeared in 1931.

During the Spanish Civil War (1936) Goldman actively supported her anarchist comrades. She died in Toronto, in Canada, on May 14, 1940. Though she had been barred from the United States (except for a 90-day visit in 1934), her body was permitted entry, and she was buried in Chicago.

Further Reading

Emma Goldman is represented in Charles Hurd, ed., A Treasury of Great American Speeches (1959). Her career is fully reviewed in Richard Drinnon, Rebel in Paradise: A Biography of Emma Goldman (1961). Eunice Minette Schuster, Native American Anarchism (1932), helps place her in perspective.

Additional Sources

Chalberg, John, Emma Goldman: American individualist, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1991.

Drinnon, Richard, Rebel in paradise: a biography of Emma Goldman, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982, 1961.

Falk, Candace, Love, anarchy, and Emma Goldman, New Brunswick N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1990.

Ganguli, Birendranath, Emma Goldman: portrait of a rebel woman, New Delhi: Allied, 1979.

Goldman, Emma, Living my life: an autobiography of Emma Goldma, Salt Lake City, Utah: G.M. Smith, 1982.

Goldman, Emma, A woman without a country, Sanday Scot.: Cienfuegos Press, 1979.

Morton, Marian J., Emma Goldman and the American left: "Nowhere at home", New York, N.Y.: Twayne Publishers, 1992.

Solomon, Martha, Emma Goldman, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.

Wexler, Alice, Emma Goldman in America, Boston: Beacon Press, 1984.

Wexler, Alice, Emma Goldman in exile: from the Russian Revolution to the Spanish Civil War, Boston: Beacon Press, 1989. □

Goldman, Emma

views updated May 11 2018


GOLDMAN, EMMA (1869–1940), U.S. anarchist writer and lecturer, leading advocate of anarchism in the United States. Goldman, born in Kovno, Lithuania, grew up there and in Koenigsberg and St. Petersburg, immigrating to the United States in 1885. Her independent spirit emerged early, and disputes with teachers and her father cut short her formal education. For the most part she was self-educated, particularly in anarchist thought. Her long and close association with Alexander *Berkman was the most significant influence on her thought and deed. Unlike many anarchists, she moved beyond the small radical immigrant community, and her lectures and her journal Mother Earth (1906–18) aimed to illuminate the injustice and immorality of American society.

Goldman became an open advocate of birth control in the years before World War i, which led to considerable notoriety. However, it was her vigorous opposition to conscription during the war that finally led the United States government to imprison her and ban Mother Earth from the mails. Goldman had long been considered dangerous, and the combination of a technical weakness in her citizenship status and legislation that broadened the grounds for action against undesirable aliens led to her deportation to the Soviet Union in 1919. By 1921 she fled that country, repelled by the suppression of the individual, which seemed as complete under Bolshevism as under capitalism.

While she continued to write and lecture, her active political career was ended except for vigorous efforts on behalf of the Catalonian anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. Her life was one of commitment to anarchism in theory, and to personal independence and radical political action in practice.

Goldman continuously focused on the basic contention that the state was a coercive force that destroyed the differences among individuals and eliminated genuine freedom in defense of the conformity required by society. She stressed the freedom of the individual, responsive to self-developed standards of love and justice. Her demand for individual freedom never wavered, and she detested capitalism because of its inherent inequalities, which doomed the majority of persons to a toilsome and regimented life focused on material matters. She favored communism as the ultimate form of economic emancipation to break the link between work and income that enslaved men in Western capitalist states. To Goldman, anarchism conformed to man's basic nature, and it would prove to be a workable and orderly system.

Goldman's writings include Anarchism and Other Essays (1910), The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914), The Psychology of Political Violence (1917), My Disillusionment in Russia (1923), My Further Disillusionment in Russia (1924), Living My Life (2 vols., 1931), and The Traffic in Women and Other Essays on Feminism (1971).


R. Drinnon, Rebel in Paradise (1961). add. bibliography: Nowhere at Home: Letters from Exile of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman (1975); Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader (1984); A. Wexler, Emma Goldman in America (1989); M. Duberman, Mother Earth: An Epic Drama of Emma Goldman's Life (1991); A. Wexler, Emma Goldman in Exile (1992); J. Chalberg, Emma Goldman: American Individualist (1997).

[Irwin Yellowitz]

About this article

Emma Goldman

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic