Who was Emma Goldman? This is the question writer and author David Rosenberg hopes to answer in his three-part course looking at the life of this activist, writer, rabble-rouser, nurse and philosopher. Here, he gives us a little glimpse into her dramatic life.
“Wake up. Be daring enough to demand your rights. Demonstrate before the palaces of the rich. Demand work. If they do not give you work, demand bread. if they do not give you work or bread, take bread. It is your sacred right.” Tough talking, in hard times, from an even tougher woman.
Emma Goldman, born into a struggling Jewish family in Kovno, Lithuania, was standing on a soap box in New York City’s historic Union Square, in her adopted country, when she made this appeal to a crowd of 5,000 hungry, angry, unemployed and downtrodden low-paid workers. She was just 24 years old then, but her power as an orator had already been recognised.
She was soon sought after, as an international anarchist celebrity. Emma turned up in London’s East End in 1899 speaking in her native tongue, Yiddish, to packed audiences who crowded into Christchurch Hall on Hanbury Street to hear her talk about how to change the world.
She felt at home wherever she was among the oppressed, and helped give them the strength and inspiration to fight for their liberation. In 1906 she founded a magazine called Mother Earth, which indicated the true boundary of her concerns.
Emma Goldman led a dramatic life and influenced the lives of so many others with her powerful ideas of liberation and her rebellious actions. Small wonder that in 1917 a State attorney described her as “the most dangerous woman in America”. Her philosophy was “anarchism”, which she defined as standing “for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social, and moral.” Her activism took her to many destinations, some by choice, others by force. In 1919 she was deported from America as an “alien radical”.
Opponents derided her as a hard unemotional revolutionary, while simultaneously complaining that she spoke of ‘free love” and sexual liberation. Emma herself was married and divorced in her 18th year. After her divorce she vowed “If ever I love a man again I will give myself to him without being bound by rabbi or law, and when that love dies, I will leave without permission.” Yet, for Emma, the “most vital right” of all was “the right to love and be loved,” adding “I'd rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.”
This three-part course will try to bring out the real Emma Goldman in all of her dimensions: activist, lover, philosopher, nurse, rabble rouser. It will look at her background, describe key moments in her life, explore her fundamental beliefs and examine the impact of her activism on the different places in which she lived. Whether it was the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, wherever dramatic events were unfolding, Emma was there, in the thick of it, part of the struggle for better conditions and better times on Mother Earth.
Our course Who Was Emma Goldman? starts on Tuesday 14 June at 6.30pm. A fictionalised version of Emma Goldman also features in our event Ragtime: The Musical.
Stay up to date with all our activities by signing up to our newsletter.