The Margaret Sanger Papers

Goldman, Emma (1869-1940)

Anarchist activist, feminist and birth control advocate. Married Jacob Kershner (1887), divorced (1899); married James Colton (1925). Born to Jewish parents in Lithuania, Emma Goldman emigrated to the U.S. in 1886 and settled in Rochester, N.Y. After a brief marriage she went to New York City where her interest in drama, art, and radical politics was cultivated by anarchists Jonathan Most and Russian emigre, Alexander Berkman, who also became her lover. Influenced by their militant revolutionary politics, Goldman helped Berkman plan his 1892 assassination attempt on Henry Clay Frick for which Berkman served 14 years in prison. The following year Goldman served a year in prison for advocating a riot of the unemployed. While in prison she became interested in women's health issues and in 1895-96 she went to Vienna to study nursing and midwifery. Goldman also began to modify her views on the necessity of individual violence as means of advancing radical revolution. She began touring the nation giving lectures not only on anarchism, but also on individual liberties, freedom of speech and feminism, as well as on modern literature and drama. In 1906, she founded Mother Earth, a journal devoted to her anarchist ideals. As a propagandist for the notion of the "New Woman" Goldman also emerged as a leading advocate of family limitation. In 1911, Goldman met Margaret Sanger at Mabel Dodge's Greenwich Village salon and quickly became a role model for the younger woman. When Sanger launched The Woman Rebel in 1914, Goldman contributed articles and promoted the journal in her lectures. By 1915, inspired by Sanger's efforts, Goldman and her then manager and companion Ben Reitman began providing contraceptive information at lectures and were arrested several times. In February 1916 Goldman was arrested in New York and sentenced to 15 days in prison for distributing birth control literature. She also publicized William Sanger's Family Limitation trial and conviction in Mother Earth. Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman, however, had growing differences over strategies and goals for the birth control movement. As each claimed primary credit for launching the birth control movement and criticized the other for lack of support, the two grew increasingly distant. Goldman meanwhile was facing increasing pressure from the U.S. government for her radical views. In 1917 she and Berkman were arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for their opposition to the conscription law. In 1919, Goldman was deported to the Soviet Union. Disillusioned with the Bolshevik's suppressive regime, she left the Soviet Union in 1921 and began lecturing in Europe against totalitarian governments. She settled in the South of France, but after marrying a Welshman in 1925 to secure British citizenship, traveled regularly between England. Though depressed over her exile from the U.S. and the 1936 suicide of Alexander Berkman, Goldman did play an active role in mobilizing support for the anti-Franco forces in the Spanish Civil War. While trying to raise money for this cause, she died of a stroke in Toronto. Goldman was the author of numerous pamphlets and articles, as well as Anarchism and Other Essays (1911); The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914); My Disillusionment in Russia (1923), and her autobiography Living My Life (1931).
    Copyright for documents authored by Emma Goldman must be secured from: Ian Ballantine, P.O. Box 7, Bearsville, NY 12409
References: Richard Drinnon, Rebel in Paradise: A Biography of Emma Goldman (1961); Candace Falk, Love, Anarchy and Emma Goldman (1984); Alice Wexler, Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life (1984).