A propagandist of Emma Goldman’s importance is necessarily a sharp thorn to the reaction. She is looked upon as a danger to the continued existence of authoritarian usurpation. No wonder, then, that the enemy resorts to any and all means to make her impossible. A systematic attempt to suppress her activities was organized a year ago by the united police force of the country. But like all previous similar attempts, it failed in a most brilliant manner. Energetic protests on the part of the intellectual element of America succeeded in overthrowing the dastardly conspiracy against free speech. Another attempt to make Emma Goldman impossible was essayed by the Federal authorities at Washington. In order to deprive her of the rights of citizenship, the government revoked the citizenship papers of her husband, whom she had married at the youthful age of eighteen, and whose whereabouts, if he be alive, could not be determined for the last two decades. The great government of the glorious United States did not hesitate to stoop to the most despicable methods to accomplish that achievement. But as her citizenship had never proved of use to Emma Goldman, she can bear the loss with a light heart.
The very considerable progress of Anarchist ideas in America can best be gauged by the remarkable success of the three extensive lecture tours of Emma Goldman since the Amsterdam Congress of 1907. Each tour extended over new territory, including localities where Anarchism had never before received a hearing. But the most gratifying aspect of her untiring efforts is the tremendous sale of Anarchist literature, whose propagandistic effect cannot be estimated. It was during one of these tours that a remarkable incident happened, strikingly demonstrating the inspiring potentialities of the Anarchist idea. In San Francisco, in 1908, Emma Goldman’s lecture attracted a soldier of the United States Army, William Buwalda. For daring to attend an Anarchist meeting, the free Republic court-martialed Buwalda and imprisoned him for one year. Thanks to the regenerating power of the new philosophy, the government lost a soldier, but the cause of liberty gained a man.
Made ill by the excessive strain of factory work, Emma Goldman returned to Rochester where she remained till August, 1889, at which time she removed to New York, the scene of the most important phase of her life. She was now twenty years old. Features pallid with suffering, eyes large and full of compassion, greet one in her pictured likeness of those days. Her hair is, as customary with Russian student girls, worn short, giving free play to the strong forehead.
When Emma Goldman arrived in New York in 1889, she experienced little difficulty in associating herself with active Anarchists. Anarchist meetings were an almost daily occurrence. The first lecturer she heard on the Anarchist platform was Dr. H. Solotaroff. Of great importance to her future development was her acquaintance with John Most, who exerted a tremendous influence over the younger elements. His impassioned eloquence, untiring energy, and the persecution he had endured for the Cause, all combined to enthuse the comrades. It was also at this period that she met Alexander Berkman, whose friendship played an important part through out her life. Her talents as a speaker could not long remain in obscurity. The fire of enthusiasm swept her toward the public platform. Encouraged by her friends, she began to participate as a German and Yiddish speaker at Anarchist meetings. Soon followed a brief tour of agitation taking her as far as Cleveland. With the whole strength and earnestness of her soul she now threw herself into the propaganda of Anarchist ideas. The passionate period of her life had begun. Though constantly toiling in sweat-shops, the fiery young orator was at the same time very active as an agitator and participated in various labor struggles, notably in the great cloakmakers’ strike, in 1889, led by Professor Garsyde and Joseph Barondess.
A year later Emma Goldman was a delegate to an Anarchist conference in New York. She was elected to the Executive Committee, but later withdrew because of differences of opinion regarding tactical matters. The ideas of the German-speaking Anarchists had at that time not yet become clarified. Some still believed in parliamentary methods, the great majority being adherents of strong centralism. These differences of opinion in regard to tactics led, in 1891, to a breach with John Most. Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and other comrades joined the group Autonomy, in which Joseph Peukert, Otto Rinke, and Claus Timmermann played an active part. The bitter controversies which followed this secession terminated only with the death of Most, in 1906.
In October, 1893, Emma Goldman was tried in the criminal courts of New York on the charge of inciting to riot. The “intelligent” jury ignored the testimony of the twelve witnesses for the defense in favor of the evidence given by one single man — Detective Jacobs. She was found guilty and sentenced to serve one year in the penitentiary at Blackwell’s Island. Since the foundation of the Republic she was the first woman — Mrs. Surratt excepted — to be imprisoned for a political offense. Respectable society had long before stamped upon her the Scarlet Letter.
The following day she left for Philadelphia, where she was to address a public meeting. The capitalist press again raised the alarm. If Socialists and Anarchists were to be permitted to continue agitating, there was imminent danger that the workingmen would soon learn to understand the manner in which they are robbed of the joy and happiness of life. Such a possibility was to be prevented at all cost. The Chief of Police of New York, Byrnes, procured a court order for the arrest of Emma Goldman. She was detained by the Philadelphia authorities and incarcerated for several days in the Moyamensing prison, awaiting the extradition papers which Byrnes intrusted to Detective Jacobs. This man Jacobs (whom Emma Goldman again met several years later under very unpleasant circumstances) proposed to her, while she was returning a prisoner to New York, to betray the cause of labor. In the name of his superior, Chief Byrnes, he offered lucrative reward. How stupid men sometimes are! What poverty of psychologic observation to imagine the possibility of betrayal on the part of a young Russian idealist, who had willingly sacrificed all personal considerations to help in labor’s emancipation.
Physicians diagnosed the illness as consumption, and the patient was advised to leave New York. She went to Rochester, in the hope that the home circle would help to restore her to health. Her parents had several years previously emigrated to America, settling in that city. Among the leading traits of the Jewish race is the strong attachment between the members of the family, and, especially, between parents and children. Though her conservative parents could not sympathize with the idealist aspirations of Emma Goldman and did not approve of her mode of life, they now received their sick daughter with open arms. The rest and care enjoyed in the parental home, and the cheering presence of the beloved sister Helene, proved so beneficial that within a short time she was sufficiently restored to resume her energetic activity.
Emma Goldman passed her time in the penitentiary in the capacity of nurse in the prison hospital. Here she found opportunity to shed some rays of kindness into the dark lives of the unfortunates whose sisters of the street did not disdain two years previously to share with her the same house. She also found in prison opportunity to study English and its literature, and to familiarize her self with the great American writers. In Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Thoreau, and Emerson she found great treasures.
She left Blackwell’s Island in the month of August, 1894, a woman of twenty-five, developed and matured, and intellectually transformed. Back into the arena, richer in experience, purified by suffering. She did not feel herself deserted and alone any more. Many hands were stretched out to welcome her. There were at the time numerous intellectual oases in New York. The saloon of Justus Schwab, at Number Fifty, First Street, was the center where gathered Anarchists, littérateurs, and bohemians. Among others she also met at this time a number of American Anarchists, and formed the friendship of Voltairine de Cleyre, Wm. C. Owen, Miss Van Etton, and Dyer D. Lum, former editor of the Alarm and executor of the last wishes of the Chicago martyrs. In John Swinton, the noble old fighter for liberty, she found one of her staunchest friends. Other intellectual centers there were Solidarity, published by John Edelman; Liberty, by the Individualist Anarchist Benjamin R. Tucker; the Rebel, by Harry Kelly; Der Sturmvogel, a German Anarchist publication, edited by Claus Timmermann; Der Arme Teufel, whose presiding genius was the inimitable Robert Reitzel. Through Arthur Brisbane, now chief lieutenant of William Randolph Hearst, she became acquainted with the writings of Fourier. Brisbane then was not yet submerged in the swamp of political corruption. He sent Emma Goldman an amiable letter to Blackwell’s Island, together with the biography of his father, the enthusiastic American disciple of Fourier.
To avoid indefinite camping in the parks Emma Goldman finally was forced to move into a house on Third Street, occupied exclusively by prostitutes. There, among the outcasts of our good Christian society, she could at least rent a bit of a room, and find rest and work at her sewing machine. The women of the street showed more refinement of feeling and sincere sympathy than the priests of the Church. But human endurance had been exhausted by overmuch suffering and privation. There was a complete physical breakdown, and the renowned agitator was removed to the “Bohemian Republic” — a large tenement house which derived its euphonious appellation from the fact that its occupants were mostly Bohemian Anarchists. Here Emma Goldman found friends ready to aid her. Justus Schwab, one of the finest representatives of the German revolutionary period of that time, and Dr. Solotaroff were indefatigable in the care of the patient. Here, too, she met Edward Brady, the new friendship subsequently ripening into close intimacy. Brady had been an active participant in the revolutionary movement of Austria and had, at the time of his acquaintance with Emma Goldman, lately been released from an Austrian prison after an incarceration of ten years.