Born in Kovno in the Russian Empire (present-day Kaunas, Lithuania), Goldman emigrated to the US in 1885 and lived in New York City, where she joined the burgeoning anarchist movement. Attracted to anarchism after the Haymarket affair, Goldman became a writer and a renowned lecturer on anarchist philosophy, women's rights, and social issues, attracting crowds of thousands. She and anarchist writer Alexander Berkman, her lover and lifelong friend, planned to assassinate industrialist and financier Henry Clay Frick as an act of propaganda of the deed. Although Frick survived the attempt on his life, Berkman was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison. Goldman was imprisoned several times in the years that followed, for "inciting to riot" and illegally distributing information about birth control. In 1906, Goldman founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth.
In 1917, Goldman and Berkman were sentenced to two years in jail for conspiring to "induce persons not to register" for the newly instated draft. After their release from prison, they were arrested—along with hundreds of others—and deported to Russia. Initially supportive of that country's Bolshevik revolution, Goldman quickly voiced her opposition to the Soviet use of violence and the repression of independent voices. In 1923, she wrote a book about her experiences, My Disillusionment in Russia. While living in England, Canada, and France, she wrote an autobiography called Living My Life. After the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she traveled to Spain to support the anarchist revolution there. She died in Toronto on May 14, 1940, aged 70.
Almeda Sperry was so strongly affected by Emma Goldman’s lecture on white slave traffic that she became an anarchist worker alongside Goldman. Almeda wrote several passionate love letters to Emma Goldman, which suggest a sexual relationship between the two. The two spent a vacation in the country together, but prior to their trip Almeda wrote Emma that just before she falls asleep she imagines that “I kiss your body with biting kisses—I inhale the sweet pungent odor of you and you plead with me for relief.”
During her life, Goldman was lionized as a free-thinking "rebel woman" by admirers, and derided by critics as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love, and homosexuality. Although she distanced herself from first-wave feminism and its efforts toward women's suffrage, she developed new ways of incorporating gender politics into anarchism. After decades of obscurity, Goldman's iconic status was revived in the 1970s, when feminist and anarchist scholars rekindled popular interest in her life.
Although she was hostile to the suffragist goals of first-wave feminism, Goldman advocated passionately for the rights of women, and is today heralded as a founder of anarcha-feminism, which challenges patriarchy as a hierarchy to be resisted alongside state power and class divisions. In 1897, she wrote: "I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood."
A nurse by training, she was an early advocate for educating women concerning contraception. Like many contemporary feminists, she saw abortion as a tragic consequence of social conditions, and birth control as a positive alternative. Goldman was also an advocate of free love, and a strong critic of marriage. She saw early feminists as confined in their scope and bounded by social forces of Puritanism and capitalism. She wrote: "We are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits. The movement for women's emancipation has so far made but the first step in that direction."
Goldman was also an outspoken critic of prejudice against homosexuals. Her belief that social liberation should extend to gay men and lesbians was virtually unheard of at the time, even among anarchists. As Magnus Hirschfeld wrote, "she was the first and only woman, indeed the first and only American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public." In numerous speeches and letters, she defended the right of gay men and lesbians to love as they pleased and condemned the fear and stigma associated with homosexuality. As Goldman wrote in a letter to Hirschfeld, "It is a tragedy, I feel, that people of a different sexual type are caught in a world which shows so little understanding for homosexuals and is so crassly indifferent to the various gradations and variations of gender and their great significance in life."
On Saturday, February 17, 1940, Goldman suffered a debilitating stroke. She became paralyzed on her right side, and although her hearing was unaffected, she could not speak. As one friend described it: "Just to think that here was Emma, the greatest orator in America, unable to utter one word." For three months she improved slightly, receiving visitors and on one occasion gesturing to her address book to signal that a friend might find friendly contacts during a trip to Mexico. She suffered another stroke on May 8, however, and on May 14 she died in Toronto, Canada, aged 70. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service allowed her body to be brought back to the United States. She was buried in German Waldheim Cemetery (now named Forest Home Cemetery) in Forest Park, Illinois, a western suburb of Chicago, among the graves of other labor and social activists including those executed after the Haymarket affair. The bas relief on her grave marker was created by sculptor Jo Davidson.
Goldman was well known during her life, described as—among other things—"the most dangerous woman in America". After her death and through the middle part of the 20th century, her fame faded. Scholars and historians of anarchism viewed her as a great speaker and activist, but did not regard her as a philosophical or theoretical thinker on par with, for instance, Kropotkin.
In 1970, Dover Press reissued Goldman's biography, Living My Life, and in 1972, feminist writer Alix Kates Shulman issued a collection of Goldman's writing and speeches, Red Emma Speaks. These works brought Goldman's life and writings to a larger audience, and she was in particular lionized by the women's movement of the late twentieth century. In 1973, Shulman was asked by a printer friend for a quotation by Goldman for use on a t-shirt. She sent him the selection from Living My Life about "the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things"; the printer created a paraphrase that has become one of Goldman's most famous quotations, even though she herself probably never said or wrote it: "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution." Variations of this saying have appeared on thousands of t-shirts, buttons, posters, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, hats, and other items. In Living My Life, Goldman recounts being admonished for dancing, "that it did not behoove an agitator to dance." She further wrote "I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it."
The women's movement of the 1970s that "rediscovered" Goldman was accompanied by a resurgent anarchist movement, beginning in the late 1960s, which also reinvigorated scholarly attention to earlier anarchists. The growth of feminism also initiated some reevaluation of Goldman's philosophical work, with scholars pointing out the significance of Goldman's contributions to anarchist thought in her time. Goldman's belief in the value of aesthetics, for example, can be seen in the later influences of anarchism and the arts. Similarly, Goldman is now given credit for significantly influencing and broadening the scope of activism on issues of sexual liberty, reproductive rights, and freedom of expression.
Goldman has been depicted in numerous works of fiction over the years, perhaps most notably by Maureen Stapleton, who won an Academy Award for her role as Goldman in Warren Beatty's 1981 film Reds. Goldman has also been a character in two Broadway musicals, Ragtime and Assassins. Plays depicting Goldman's life include Howard Zinn's play, Emma; Martin Duberman's Mother Earth (1991); Jessica Litwak's Emma Goldman: Love, Anarchy, and Other Affairs (Goldman's relationship with Berkman and her arrest in connection with McKinley's assassination); Lynn Rogoff's Love Ben, Love Emma (Goldman's relationship with Reitman); and Carol Bolt's Red Emma. Ethel Mannin's 1941 novel Red Rose is also based on Goldman's Life.
Goldman has been honored by a number of organizations named in her memory. The "Emma Goldman Clinic", a women's health center located in Iowa City, Iowa, selected Goldman as a namesake "in recognition of her challenging spirit." Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, an infoshop in Baltimore, Maryland adopted her name out of their belief "in the ideas and ideals that she fought for her entire life: free speech, sexual and racial equality and independence, the right to organize in our jobs and in our own lives, ideas and ideals that we continue to fight for, even today".
Burial: Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Cook County, Illinois, USA, Plot: Lot 1044, Section N.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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