Born: June 27, 1869 – Kovno, Lithuania
Died: May 14, 1940 – Toronto, Canada
Emma Goldman was born to a “semi-wealthy” family in Kovno, Lithuania, once part of greater Russia. As a teenager, her family moved to St. Petersburg, where she became immersed in radical politics.
She immigrated to the United States in 1885 with her half sister, Helen, and went to work in a clothing factory in Rochester, NY. In 1889 she moved to New York City, where she became a committed anarchist and began to work with Alexandar Berkman, who was to become her life-long friend and partner in political activism.
Goldman began to write, speak and agitate in favor of anarchism, birth control, women’s suffrage, free speech and worker’s rights. For years, she criss-crossed both the United States and Canada speaking at rallies and meetings. During these years, along with a multitude of pamphlets, she wrote several works including Anarchism and Other Essays (1910), The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914) and published and edited the journal,Mother Earth (1906-1917).
On July 23, 1892, Berkman shot and stabbed Henry C. Frick, Andrew Carnegie’s steel manager. He survived the murder attempt. Goldman was suspected of complicity but not charged–apparently she had attempted to prostitute herself to raise enough money to purchase the gun. At this point, the press begins to refer to her as the “Queen of the Anarchists.”
Throughout her life, she was arrested repeatedly: In one 1893 case she was sentenced to a year in Blackwell’s Island in New York’s East River for incitement to riot for at a rally urging unemployed people to steal food to eat, saying “Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, take bread.”
In 1901, President William McKinley was shot and severely wounded by Leon Czolgosz. He eventually died of his wounds. Czolgosz stated that Goldman was the last speaker he heard before the assassination, but that she never encouraged him to commit the attack. Nevertheless, Goldman was arrested, and severely interrogated, but released after 2 weeks in jail with no charges were filed.
Her activism continued unabated until 1917 when she was sentenced to two years in prison, along with Berkman, for violating draft laws. While they were in prison J.Edgar Hoover said of them that they “are, beyond doubt, two of the most dangerous anarchists in this country and return to the community will result in undue harm.”
In 1919 she along with Berkman and 247 “radicals” were deported by the Labor Department and sent back to Russia where she quickly became disillusioned living under and witnessing the realities of the Soviet regime. Hence she authored My Disillusionment in Russia (1923)and My Further Disillusionment in Russia (1924).
In 1924 she emigrated from the Soviet Union for England where she wrote her autobiography, Living My Life, in 1931. In the mid 1930s she spent time in Spain observing the Spanish Civil War. She continued to write and lecture throughout the world for the rest of her life. Eventually she moved to Canada where in 1940 she died of a stroke in Toronto. She was buried in Chicago close to the memorial to the Haymarket anarchists.
Selected Emma Goldman Quotes
—I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.
—If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
—Heaven must be an awfully dull place if the poor in spirit live there.
—No real social change has ever been brought about without a revolution… revolution is but thought carried into action.
—The most violent element in society is ignorance.
- In 1892 Goldman moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, where she and Berkman opened an ice-cream parlor. Soon after they closed the business in response to the Homestead strike.
- Maureen Stapleton won an Academy Award for playing Goldman in the movie Reds