Biography of Famous Anarchist Emma Goldman Part 1

About the famous anarchist Emma Goldman, history and biography of the woman blamed for the assassination of McKinley.


EMMA GOLDMAN (1869-1940). Anarchist.

Emma Goldman was blamed for the assassination of President McKinley, was hounded from dozens of American cities and towns by mobs, was beaten, was jailed, and was ultimately deported by the agents of a patriot named J. Edgar Hoover. Playwright S. N. Behrman recalled that his parents invoked her name as a bogey to terrify naughty children into conformity. Yet less than four decades after her death she appears to us as an idealistic, even motherly figure whose courage and eloquence exerted an overwhelmingly beneficial influence on American artists and activists and whose dangerous ideas concerning the emancipation of women, birth control, and the folly of war now strike masses of people as plain common sense.

Emma Goldman was born in 1869 in Kovno, Lithuania. In 1881 her family moved to St. Petersburg, where her father ran a small grocery, and in 1885 they came to America, settling in Rochester, N.Y., where Emma found factory work at Garson and Mayer's, sewing ulsters 10 1/2 hours a day for $2.50 a week.

She married Jacob Kershner, but their honeymoon was blighted by his impotence. Emma eventually divorced Kershner, but on the urging of family and friends she remarried him, only to leave him for good when his problem proved incurable. She did not divorce Kershner the second time, a fact that was later crucial during her deportation trial, since her citizenship was based on being Kershner's wife. Emma became a famous advocate of free love, and she practiced what she preached, which accounts for a good deal of the vehemence directed against her by a repressive, puritanical society. While Emma was hardly promiscuous by today's freewheeling standards, her love life was a notorious scandal at the time.

Emma moved to New York City in 1889 and came under the influence of radical editor Johann Most, whose circle frequented Justus Schwab's 51st Street saloon, an establishment so shocking that men and women entered by the same door.

Emma had already been influenced by the harsh conditions she had seen and endured, by the writings of Russian radicals like Prince Peter Kropotkin and Nikolai Chernyshevski, by the execution of radicals accused of violence at Haymarket Square in Chicago in 1886, and by the romantic idealism of her age. Then she fell in love with a young anarchist named Alexander Berkman, and the direction of her life was established.

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