Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
IN PLANNING OUR TOUR TO TAKE PLACE DURING THE Presidential campaign we had overlooked the interest of the American masses in the political circus. The result was failure of the initial part our trip. In Indianapolis, the first city to bring out a large attendance, my lecture was suppressed in the usual manner. The Mayor expressed regret that the police had overstepped their powers, but of course he could not act against the department. The Chief said that stopping the meeting might have been bad law, but that it was good common sense.
We were more fortunate in St. Louis, where we experienced no interference. There I met William Marion Reedy, the editor of the St. Louis Mirror. He and his paper were an oasis in the desert of American intellectuality. Reedy, a man of ability, broad culture, and rich humour, also possessed a courageous spirit. His fellowship made our stay in St. Louis a pleasant event and brought me large and varied audiences. After my departure he published in his weekly an article at he called "The Daughter of the Dream." No finer appreciation my ideas and no greater tribute to me had ever been written by a non-anarchist before.
In Seattle Ben and I were arrested. His offence consisted in putting his weight too heavily against the door of the hall, which he had found barred; mine was in protesting against his arrest. At the station-house it developed that the price of my manager's offence was a dollar and a half, representing the amount the landlord demanded for his broken lock. After we paid for this injury to the sanctity of property, we were both released. Of course, there were no further meetings in Seattle and no redress for the loss we had sustained.
In Everett no hall was open to us. In Bellingham our train was met by detectives. They followed us to the hotel, and when we went out to find a restaurant, they put us under arrest. "Would you please wait until we have dined?" Ben asked with an engaging smile. "Sure," said our protectors, "we will wait." It was bright and warm in the restaurant, drizzling and chilly outside, but we took no pity on our watch-dogs. We lingered long over our meal, well aware that we should have the whole night before us in a place neither warm nor bright. In the station-house we were presented with the warrant. It was a document worthy of immortality. "Emma Goldman and Dr. Ben L. Reitman," it read, "anarchists and outlaws, having conspired to hold an unlawful assembly," and so forth in the same spirit. We were given the choice between leaving Bellingham at once or going to the city jail. It being the first hospitality offered us in the State of Washington, we decided in favour of the jail. At midnight the offer to get out of town was repeated, but having already made myself at home in the cell, I refused to leave. Ben did likewise.
In the morning we were taken before a magistrate, who placed us under five-thousand-dollar bail. It was only too apparent that the judge knew that the police had undertaken more than they would be able to carry through. We could not be tried for merely "attempting" to hold a meeting, but we were at their mercy, just the same. We knew no one in town likely to bail us out, and we had no means of getting in touch with a lawyer. I was interested, however, to find out how far legalized stupidity could go.
In the afternoon two strangers arrived. They introduced themselves as Mr. Schamel, attorney, and Mr. Lynch. The former volunteered his services gratis; the latter offered to be our bondsman.
"But you don't know us," I said in astonishment. "How can you risk so much money?"
"Oh, yes," said Mr. Schamel, "we do know you. We are not anarchists, but we feel that anyone who will stand up for an ideal as you have done is worthy of trust."
If I had not been afraid of shocking them, I should have embraced them in open court. The old fossil on the bench, who had blustered when we appeared friendless before him in the morning, was personified politeness now. We were quickly bailed out, entertained at a restaurant by our new friends, and accompanied to the train.
When we reached Blaine, on the Canadian border, a man came into our car, walked straight up to me, and inquired: "You are Emma Goldman, are you not?"- "And who are you?"- "I am a Canadian immigration inspector. I have orders to invite you to leave the train." What could one do but comply with such a gentlemanly request? At the office the inspector in charge seemed very much surprised that I looked like a lady and had no bombs about me. He assured us that he had gathered from the stories in the American press that I was a very dangerous person. He had therefore decided to hold up my entry into Canada until he could receive instructions from Ottawa. Meanwhile he asked me, as his guest, to make myself at home in his hut. I could have anything I wanted in the way of food and drink. In case of delay we would be given the best rooms in the local hotel. He spoke in a polite manner, his tone more friendly than I had ever heard from an American official. While the result was the same, I did not feel quite so indignant over the new interference.
The next morning our jovial inspector informed us that Ottawa had wired to let Emma Goldman proceed. There was no law in monarchical Canada to forbid my entry into the country. American democracy, with its anti-anarchist laws, was made to appear rather ludicrous.
San Francisco held a special attraction. The ex-soldier William Buwalda, as a result of our agitation
in his behalf, had been pardoned by President Roosevelt. He was released after ten months'
imprisonment, two weeks before our arrival in the city.
Owing to a terrific rain-storm my first meeting, in the Victory Theatre, was poorly attended. We were not discouraged, however, because of the wide publicity given my series of eight lectures and two debates. The following afternoon William Buwalda called on me, a very different man in his civilian clothes from the soldier whose hand I had clasped for a fleeting moment that memorable afternoon on the platform of Walton's Pavilion. His fine, open face, intelligent eyes, and firm mouth were indicative of an independent character. I wondered how he had stood fifteen years of military service without becoming warped. Buwalda related that he had joined the Army mainly because of tradition. American-born, he was of Dutch stock and nearly all the men of his family had done military service in Holland. He had believed in American freedom and he had considered its army forces a necessary protection. On several occasions he had come across my name in the papers. He had thought Emma Goldman a crank and had paid little attention to articles about me. "That is not very flattering," I interrupted: "how could you be so rude to a lady?"
"It is true, though," he replied with a smile. Military people live in a world of their own, he explained, and he had been particularly occupied for several years past. He had taken up a course of veterinary surgery because he was passionately fond of horses, and he had also studied shorthand. Added to his duties in the barracks, it had kept him too busy for other interests.
He had come upon my meeting accidentally, while out for a walk. He had seen the large crowd and the police before the Walton Pavilion. It had made him curious and he thought it a good opportunity to practise his stenography by taking down the speech. "Then you appeared," he continued, "a little, unassuming figure in black, and you started to talk. I began to feel disturbed. I thought at first it was the heat in the hall and the tense atmosphere. I did not forget the purpose that had brought me. For a while I was able to follow you; then I became distracted by your voice. I felt myself carried along by your sledge-hammer arraignment of all I held high. I was filled with resentment. I wanted to raise my voice in protest, to challenge your statements before the whole assembly. But the more I resisted your influence, the more I fell under its sway. Your eloquence held me breathless to the end of your speech. I felt confused and eager to escape. Instead I was caught by the crowd and found myself standing on the platform holding out my hand to you."
"And then?" I asked. "Did you see the detectives following you? Did you realize that they would cause you trouble?"
" I don't remember how I got out of the hall, and I did not feel that I had done anything wrong. I was upset by what I had heard and in the grip of the turmoil you had caused in me. All the way to the Presidio I kept thinking: 'She's wrong, she's entirely wrong! Patriotism is not the last resort of scoundrels. Militarism isn't only murder and destruction!' After the plain-clothes men had reported me to my superior officer, I was put under arrest. I thought it was all a mistake, that I had been taken for someone else and that I should be freed in the morning. To think otherwise would have meant that you were right, and my whole being rebelled against that. For several days I clung to the belief that you had misrepresented the Government which I had served for fifteen years; that my country was too fair and too just to be guilty of your unreasonable charges. But when I was brought before the military tribunal, I began to see that you had spoken the truth. I was asked what you had done for me that I should mix with such a dangerous person, and I replied: 'She has made me think.' Yes, you had made me think, Emma Goldman, for the first time in all my forty years."
I held out my hand to him and said: "Now that you are free from your military shackles, we can shake hands without fear. Let us be friends."
He took my hand eagerly. "Friends for life and comrades as well, dear, big, little Emma."
I was so carried away by his story that I had forgotten it was time to prepare for my meeting. Never being able to eat before a lecture, I did not mind going without dinner. But for my guest I had proved a poor hostess. My new comrade gallantly assured me that he did not care for food.
When we came within a block of the hall, we saw the streets filled with people. I thought it was our announcements that had brought out the vast crowd, but when we reached the Victory Theatre, I was received with open arms by detectives and put under arrest. Buwalda protested and was also arrested. We were hustled into the patrol wagon to find that Ben, too, had met with the same fate. As the wagon rattled through the streets, he hurriedly related that the police had ordered everyone out of the theatre, freely using their clubs. He had objected to their methods, of course, and was put under arrest. He had sent someone with a warning to me, but evidently the comrade had found me gone.
At police headquarters William Buwalda was discharged with a severe reprimand for associating with "dangerous criminals." Ben and I were charged with "conspiracy, making unlawful threats, using force and violence, and disturbing the public peace." In the morning we were taken before a judge, who held us for trial under sixteen-thousand-dollar bail each. The same day Alexander Horr was arrested for distributing a handbill protesting against the action of the authorities. The task of raising our bond and arranging for counsel and publicity fell to Cassius V. Cook, a man I had met only casually a few years before. But he proved to be a tower of strength.
Within a few days Sasha and other New York friends telegraphed that five thousand dollars would be sent towards our bail and that money was being raised for our defence. From all over the country protests and contributions began pouring in. Charles T. Sprading, of Los Angeles, whom I had first met in Denver on my maiden tour to the Coast in 1897, our buoyant Charlie, of ready wit and merry pranks, wired two thousand dollars as bail. The Forresters, and other friends, helped in a similar way. What did our trouble matter with such good comradeship to aid us?
Our lawyers, Messrs. Kirk and King, intelligent and brave men, exerted themselves in our behalf, and within a few days Mr. Kirk succeeded in having our bail released. We were to be liberated and placed in his custody. But unexpectedly another indictment came, charging us with "unlawful assemblage, denouncing as unnecessary all organized government," and- horror of horrors- with "preaching anarchist doctrines." Bail was set at two thousand dollars each. I was to be tried first, Ben to follow.
Among the sensational reports in the San Francisco press regarding the raid of our meeting and our arrest was one enlarging upon "Emma Goldman's lack of sentiment and feeling." While in jail, she had been given a telegram announcing her father's death, the paper stated, which she received without the least sign of emotion. As a matter of fact, my father's end, though not unexpected, had affected me deeply and had recalled to me the details of his wasted life. An invalid for over thirty years, he had of late been more frequently ill than usually. When I had seen him on my last visit to Rochester, in October, I had been shocked to find him so near death. The giant he had once been was now shattered by the storms of life.
With the passing years had come to me better understanding of Father, and mutual sympathy had drawn us gradually closer. My beloved Helena had had much to do with my change towards him. It was helped also by my awakening to the complexities of sex as a force dominating our feelings. I had learned to understand better my own turbulent nature, and my experiences had made me see what had been obscure to me so long in the character of my father. His violence and hardness had only been symptoms of an intensely sexual nature that had failed to find adequate expression.
My parents had been brought together in the traditional Jewish orthodox fashion, without love. They were mismated from the first. Mother had been left a widow at twenty-three, with two children, a little store her only earthly possession. Whatever love she had had died with the young man to whom she had been married at the age of fifteen. Father had brought into the match a fire of passionate youth. His wife was only one year his senior and radiantly beautiful. The impelling need of his nature drove him to her and made him more insistent in proportion as Mother fought back his insatiable hunger. My coming had marked her fourth childbirth, each one nearly bringing her to the grave. I recalled some remarks I had heard her make when I was too young to understand their meaning. They illuminated much that had been dark to me and caused me to realize what a purgatory my parents' intimacy must have been for them both. No doubt they would have been shocked had anyone called to their attention the true source of the struggle between them and of Father's uncontrollable temper. With the decline of health came also a lessening of his erotic vitality and a resultant psychic change. Father grew more mellow, patient, and kindly. The affection he had rarely shown his own children he now lavished on those of my two sisters. When I once referred to the harsh methods he had used towards us, he assured me that it could not be true. The tenderness that had come into his nature blotted out even the remembrance of past severity. The best in him, formerly hidden by emotional stress, by the struggle for existence and years of physical suffering, came into its own at last. He now felt and gave us a newly born affection, which in its turn awakened our love for him.
The court farce in San Francisco, ending in our acquittal, did more for anarchism than months of our propaganda might have accomplished. But the most significant event was William Buwalda's letter to the military authorities and his entry into our ranks. The historic document, published in the May 1909 issue of Mother Earth, read as follows:
April 6, 1909
Hon. Joseph M. Dickinson,
Secretary of War,
Washington, D. C.
After thinking the matter over for some time I have decided to send back this trinket to your Department, having no further use for such baubles, and enable you to give it to some one who will appreciate it more than I do.
It speaks to me of faithful service, of duty well done, of friendships inseparable, friendships cemented by dangers and hardships and sufferings shared in common in camp and in the field. But, sir, it also speaks to me of bloodshed --- possibly some of it unavoidably innocent --- in defence of loved ones, of homes; homes in many cases but huts of grass, yet cherished none the less.
It speaks of raids and burnings, of many prisoners taken and, like vile beasts, thrown in the foulest of prisons. And for what? For fighting for their homes and loved ones.
It speaks to me of G. O. 100, with all its attendant horrors and cruelties and sufferings; of a country laid waste with fire and sword; of animals useful to man wantonly killed; of men, women, and children hunted like wild beasts, and all this in the name of Liberty, Humanity, and Civilization.
In short, it speaks to me of War --- legalized murder, if you will --- upon a weak and defenceless people. We have not even the excuse of self-defence.
R. R. No. 3
Our departure for Australia had been set for January. The arrest and subsequent free-speech fight in San Francisco forced us to postpone it until April. At last we were ready, our trunks packed, a grand farewell party arranged for us. We were about to secure passage when a telegram from Rochester demolished our plans. "Washington revoked Kershner's citizenship papers," it read; "dangerous to leave country."
My sister had written me months before that two suspicious-looking individuals had been snooping about to secure data on Kershner. He had left the city years previously and nothing had been heard from him since then. Not finding Kershner, the men had pestered his parents and tried to get information from them. I had dismissed the matter from my mind at the time as of no consequence. But now the blow came. I was deprived of my citizenship without even an opportunity to contest the action of the Federal authorities. I knew that if I should leave the country, I should not be permitted to re-enter it. My Australian tour had to be abandoned at a great financial loss, not to mention the expenditures invested by our Australian friends in preparing for my activities there. It was a bitter disappointment, much mitigated, fortunately, by the undaunted optimism of my hobo manager. His zeal merely increased with the obstacles we encountered. His energy was dynamic and tireless.
Australia eliminated from our itinerary, we went to Texas instead. El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston were new ground. I was cautioned to avoid the Negro question, but though I made no concessions to the prejudices of the South, I was in no way molested, nor was there any police interference. I even walked with Ben from El Paso to Mexico and back again before the United States immigration inspector had time to realize the chance he had missed to save his Government from the Emma Goldman menace.
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