Biography of Famous Anarchist Emma Goldman Part 3

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


EMMA GOLDMAN (1869-1940). Anarchist.

A law was passed in 1903 to deport alien anarchists; many legislators wanted also to deport citizen anarchists. When Emma organized the Free Speech League to fight this repressive legislation, her name was so notorious that she had to call herself E.G. Smith or not even dedicated liberals would associate with her.

Emma's interests were not limited to politics. She was instrumental in introducing American audiences to dramatists like Ibsen and Shaw. In 1911, the chief probation officer in St. Louis was Roger Baldwin, a Harvard man who had once refused to hear Jack London because of his socialism and who now refused to hear Emma because he considered her crazy. But, on being taunted with the narrowness of the Harvard outlook, he agreed to hear her. Baldwin went to a crowded hall in the slums where Emma delivered a passionate, witty, and intellectual address that so moved him he became a social activist and founder of the American Civil Liberties Union. Henry Miller was deeply affected when he heard her speak in San Diego in 1913. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison was in the audience when Emma spoke in England in the 1920s and called her "about the finest woman orator I have ever heard."

Yet, many refused to listen to her words with a vengeance. In 1912, her lover and manager, Dr. Ben L. Reitman, erstwhile King of the Hobos, was coated with tar and sagebrush by a San Diego mob which also burned the initials IWW into his buttocks with a lighted cigar. When Emma defied the proprieties by advocating birth control, she was jailed, and when she challenged the war hysteria in 1917 by speaking against the draft, she was sentenced to two years in jail and then deported to Russia along with Alexander Berkman and other radicals. The Emma who had not found the U. S. under Wilson free enough certainly did not find Russia under Lenin free enough, so she spoke out until the Russians were glad to be rid of her. Ironically, leftists who refused to abide criticism of the Soviet paradise were now her most violent enemies, threatening to silence her by force. When she was on a speaking tour in Canada, friends urged her to seek police protection; Emma refused, saying, "I have never called for the police, but the police have often called for me." When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Emma espoused the cause of the Catalonian anarchists, organizing the Anti-Fascist Solidarity with Rebecca West, George Orwell, and others. She died May 14, 1940, after a stroke in Toronto. She is buried in Chicago's Waldheim Cemetery near her Haymarket comrades.

Emma's impact was enormous and defies summarization. Her anarchist journal, Mother Earth, wielded great influence between 1906 and 1917, when a police raid destroyed it. Theodore Dreiser urged her to write her autobiography, and Edna St. Vincent Millay headed the committee to raise money so she could. H. L. Mencken--no radical he--sang her praises and worked for her repatriation. Though she threw huge parties called Red Balls at which she danced the Anarchist's Slide dressed as a nun, she struck socialite Mabel Dodge as maternal, and John Dewey said, "Her reputation as a dangerous woman was built up entirely by a conjunction of yellow journalism and ill-advised police raids. She is a romantically idealistic person with a highly attractive personality." She may have been the bravest person of her era, facing down angry mobs to have her say against every form of tyranny that threatens the human spirit.

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