Emma Goldman

Essay by Chuck MacDougalCollege, UndergraduateA+, January 1997

download word file, 12 pages 3.4 1 reviews

Emma Goldman, undoubtedly one of the most notable and influential women

in modern American history, consistently promoted a wide range of controversial

movements and principles, including union organization and the eight-hour day,

sexual freedom and birth control, equality and independence for women, and

freedom of thought and expression for all. Goldman's advocacy of these causes,

which many deemed subversive at the time, helped set the historical context for

some of today's most important political and social debates.

Poverty, oppression, and the longing for deliverance marked Emma

Goldman's early years. Born into a poor Jewish family in a backward, anti-Semitic

country, Goldman struggled to escape, first through flights of imagination, then

through formal education, and finally by means of emigration.1

On June 27, 1869, Emma Goldman's life began in Kovno, a small imperial

Russian city, now in Lithuania. Her family suffered from the anti-Semitism of the

times, living in Jewish ghettos and moving often in search of opportunity.

Brutalized by this life, Goldman's father directed his anger against his family. His

often violent assertion of authority over them led young Emma, perhaps more

acutely aware than he of the injustice of their situation, to imagine instead directing

violence outward against the enemies of the Jewish people, in the manner of Judith,

the Biblical heroine with whom she identified.2

Goldman became interested in more modern ideas at twelve, after the family

moved to St. Petersburg. There she glimpsed the possibility of ending the old order

when Czar Alexander II was assassinated. Excited by the ideas of the Russian

Populists and Nihilists, Emma eagerly devoured Chernishevsky's What Is to Be

Done? and promptly replaced her childhood heroine Judith with Chernishevsky's

modern Vera, a political organizer and cooperative worker.3

Soon after, Goldman left Russia to seek what she hoped would be a...