WE’RE LISTENING (ARTICLE NO. 1): EMMA GOLDMAN

WRITTEN BY VANESSA G ROJAS

It is often thought that the biggest accomplishment in a woman’s life is her children.  For many women, their lives would seem incomplete without a husband to come home to and children to raise.  Yet for Emma Goldman, children would only consume her valuable time as a full-time activist and husbands would grow tire of expecting their wife to give up her political work to start a family.  What could possibly be more important to a woman than giving the gift of life and raising a family in the early 1900s? 

Emma Goldman 1869-1940
Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open.                                                                                          
–Emma Goldman

It is often thought that the biggest accomplishment in a woman’s life is her children.  For many women, their lives would seem incomplete without a husband to come home to and children to raise.  Yet for Emma Goldman, children would only consume her valuable time as a full-time activist and husbands would grow tire of expecting their wife to give up her political work to start a family.  What could possibly be more important to a woman than giving the gift of life and raising a family in the early 1900s? 

Emma Goldman dedicated her life as a full-time political activist and revolutionist to create equality for women, the poor, immigrants, the working class and all other social classes who were facing the injustices of this world.  Goldman was an outspoken anarchist who fought against the crimes of a capitalist nation.  She was a feminist who didn’t bow down to a male-dominated society. Not only did she live a lifestyle that conflicted the typical roles women were expected to play, but she also spoke out and educated women about contraceptives at a time when it was illegal to do so.  She was an atheist who took many criticisms for speaking out against the conformities of religion.  She was willing to speak up for those who could not be heard, or rather those who were being ignored.  She was an educated woman who supported herself as a nurse, a writer, speaker, and as a political activist. 

 Making it through a troubled childhood in Lithuania, Goldman came out a strong woman and took a chance to immigrate to New York to live with her sisters in 1885.  Goldman gained U.S. citizenship shortly after through a marriage that wouldn’t last but a couple of years.  A true inspiration to Goldman would be the Haymarket Riot in 1887, which led to the hanging of four anarchists.  Goldman was inspired to find like-minded citizens, among those friends, was Alexander Berkman, a close companion to her for decades.  In 1890, Goldman conducted her first of many speaking tours to inform and educate the public of the injustices they were facing and how to end them.  She became heavily involved with the anarchist movement and the labor movement, including helping those who were on strike with protests, unionizing and lectures. 

Emma Goldman often faced arrests- prison and jail time, for her radical ideas.  Her first year was served for speaking these words: 

Ask for work.  If they do not give you work, ask for bread.  If they do not give you work or bread, take bread.

However, just as she had all her life, Emma took every opportunity she could to work for the people, so it was not a surprise that while serving her term in prison, she took up training to become a nurse, which would later serve to finance her revolutionist career.  

Goldman made her voice reach further than the entire U.S., after her year in prison she went to Europe to continue her nursing and to, of course, work with the Anarchist Movement there.  After earning her certificate she returned to the U.S. and dedicated more and more of her time to touring the country, giving lectures and educating the public.  Shortly after her return to the U.S., President McKinley was assassinated and Goldman was accused of conspiring, yet no proof was found.  This event and the violence in other events led to giving anarchy a “bad name” to many Americans. Goldman kept pushing on and continued to make her voice heard by creating and publishing a monthly magazine in 1906 entitled Mother Earth.  For eleven years, the magazine was published- filled with anarchist ideas, essays, poems, stories, and other contributions by Goldman and many revolutionists.  The magazine was so radical that it was later banned by the Post Office and very controversial to the government. 

Emma Goldman lived a very contestable lifestyle.  She spoke out against oppression, capitalism, militarism, racism, and religion.  She promoted workers’ rights, birth control, and spoke up for homosexuals.   She dedicated so much of her time and life to beƒing a full-time activist that she eventually risked being deported.  This risk became a reality in 1919 when she spoke out against World War I and the draft.   Goldman and her close companion, Berkman, served a 2-year prison sentence before they were deported to Russia during the Russian Revolution.

 Being back in Russia during the Revolution was a very difficult time for Goldman.  In what was supposed to be a better turn for society, ended up being filled with corruption and a great disappointment for Goldman.  She left Russia and lived throughout Europe and Canada for the remaining years of her life, working with various revolutionists including those involved in the Spanish Revolution.  She spent a great deal of time to inform the public of what was going on in Russia but was disappointed in the lack of interest of the public.  She wrote a novel on Russia and also dedicated time to writing her autobiography, Living My Life.  

Emma Goldman devoted most of her life to positive social changes.  To her anarchy was freedom in everyday life.  Anarchy was freedom from the conformities and constraints of laws. Anarchy was freedom from upper-class society taking away the liberty of people working together for the good of many, not just for the good of the few who exploited the many.  To Emma Goldman, anarchy was freedom.     

This obviously is not the full story of Emma Goldman’s life, but it is a taste of one woman who did not stand by and simply go along with things in her life that she did not agree with.  She stood up and made her voice heard at a time that society showed very little respect for women.  Emma Goldman accomplished many things in her lifetime; please take the time to research her amazing life further. Please also note that this is Article No. 1, the first of the series of short biographies about women who have spoken out against injustices, made a difference in this world, and have influenced many women to take a lead in their lives —  “Remember the Ladies”.Thanks for taking the time to read this article. -Vanessa Rojas- 

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Written by kellysisterhood
Mother, wife, small business owner. www.justbuttons.org
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