In January 1886 a 16YOA Jewish girl- Emma Goldman arrived to in New York City from St. Petersburg, Russia, where her parents ran a grocery store. As soon as immigration officials had examined her and approved her entry into the US, she hurried to Rochester, New York, where her half-sister lived. Emma was extremely independent-minded. Her father had tried to force her to marry when she was 15, saying when she protested that “all Jewish daughter needs to know is how to prepare gefulte fish, cut noodles fine, and give man plenty of children” Defying her father, Emma had flatly refused to marry. “I wanted to study, to know life, travel,” she explained years later. She had also found the harsh government of Russia Czar unbearable. Like most immigrants she expected the United States “the land of opportunity,” to be a kind of paradise on earth.
Moving in with her stepsister’s family, Emma got a job in a factory sewing coats and earning $2.50 a week. She paid her sister $1.50 for room and board and spent 60 cents a week on carfare to get to and from her job, leaving her only with 40 cents for all her other needs. But when she asked her employer for more money he simply told her to “look for work elsewhere.” This she did, finding a job at another factory that paid $4.00 a week.
In 1887 she married Jacob Kirshnern, another Russian Immigrant, but they did not get along and soon divorced. She moved to new Haven, Connecticut, where she worked in a corset factory. In 1889 she moved to NYC. There she took up with a group of radicals most of them either socialists or anarchists. She herself was by this time an ardent anarchist, convinced by her experiences with all with the darker aspects of American Capitalism that all governments repressed individual freedom and should simply be abolished.
In New York, Emma fell in love with another Russia-Born radical, Alexander Berkman. They started a kind of commune with another couple, sharing everything equally. Emma worked at home sewing shirts. Alexander found a job making cigars. They never married.
Next, the couple moved back to New Haven, where Emma started a cooperative dressmaking shop. Then they moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, where, with Berkman’s Cousin an artist, they opened a photography studio. When this business failed, they borrowed $150. And opened an ice-cream parlor.
Nearly all immigrants of that period retained their faith in the promise of America life even after they discovered that the streets were not paved with gold and that the people and the government were not as perfect as they had expected. But Emma was so disappointed that she became even more radical. The harsh punishment meted out the anarchists who were accused of Haymarket bombing of 1886 shocked her deeply.
In 1892, when she and Berkman learned of the bloody battle of Pinkertons and striker during the Homestead steel strikes, they closed the ice-cream parlor and went back to New York. They formed a plan to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, the arch villain of the Homestead Drama. First they tried to manufacture a bomb, but that proved to be beyond their powers. Berkman then went to Pittsburg, where, posing as a representative of an agency that provided strikebreakers, he got into Frick’s office. Pulling a pistol, Berkman aimed for Frick in the shoulder. Berkman then stabbed Frick, but still homestead boss survived. Convicted of the attempt on Frick’s life, Berkman was imprisoned for fourteen years.
The next year Goldman was herself arrested and sentenced to a year in jail for making an “incendiary” speech urging unemployed workers to distrust politicians and demand government relief. Upon her release, she was taken up by leading native-born radicals. She got to know Lillian Wald and other New York settlement workers, but while she respected their motives, she disparaged their methods. It did little good to teach good table manners to people who had no food, she believed. Leaving the US, Goldman went to Vienna, where she was trained as a nurse. When she was returned to America, she worked as a mid-wife among the New York poor, an experienced that made her an outspoken advocate of birth control. She also helped organize a theatrical group, managed a touring group of Russian Actors, and lectured on theatrical topics.
In 1901, Goldman was arrested on charges of inspiring Leon Czolgosz to assassinate President McKinley, Czolgosz had attended one of Goldman’s lectures, but there was no direct connection between the two, and the charges against her were dropped.
In 1906, Goldman founded Mother Earth, an anarchist Journal. When Alexander Berkman was released from prison later that year, she made him it editor. Mother Earth denounced governments, organized religion, and private property. Goldman believed in primitive form of communism in which all would share equally and no one would have power over anyone else.
By this time Goldman had become a celebrity. “Her name in those days was enough to produce a shudder,” recalled Margaret Anderson, editor of a literary magazine. “She was considered a monster, an exponent of free love and bombs.”
During the next decade Goldman campaigned for freedom of speech all over the US and in Canada and lectured in support of Birth Control. She even developed a plan so that subscribers to Mother Earth could also get the American Journal of Eugenics, a Magazine that advocated contraception. In 1915, after Margaret Sanger was arrested for seminating information on birth control, Goldman did the same in public speeches. She was arrested and spent two weeks in jail.
Goldman regarded the Great War- and Especially American entry in it- as a calamity beyond measure. When congress passed a conscription act, she Berkman, and a few other radicals organized the No-Conscription League, not so much to persuade men to resist the draft as to provide and and comfort to anyone who did so.
In 1917, Goldman and Berkman were convicted of conspiring to persuade men not to register for the draft. They served two years in federal prison. In 1919, they were deported to Russia. Two years later, disillusioned with the Bolsheviks, she left the Soviet Union.
“Red Emma” Goldman was not a typical American, but she was in many ways a typical immigrant. She held on to the culture of the old country; most of her close friends in the United States were Russians. But at the same time she learned English and quickly became familiar with American ways. She worked hard and developed valuable skills. Gradually moved up the economic ladder: from sweatshop laborer, to factory worker, to running a shop, to nursing, to lecturing, and editing magazine. And while she was critical of the government and economic system of the United States, she was a typical immigrant also in insisting that she was an American patriot. “The kind of Patriotism which loves American with open eyes.”