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.

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Further Reading on Emma Goldman

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 Biography 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.