Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
IN THE LATTER PART OF 1909 NEW YORK AGAIN EXPERIENCED A vice crusade. The reformers had discovered the white-slave traffic They got busy, though they were without the slightest notion regarding the sources of the evil they were trying to eradicate.
I had had considerable opportunity to come in contact with prostitution; first in the house in which I was once compelled to live, then during the two years when I nursed Mrs. Spenser, and finally at Blackwell's Island. I had also read and gathered much material on the subject. I therefore felt much better equipped to discuss the problem than the moral busybodies who were now attracting so much attention. I prepared a lecture on the white-slave traffic, dealing with its causes, effects, and possible elimination. It became the strongest drawing card in my new course and also aroused the most heated criticism and discussion. The lecture was published in the January issue of Mother Earth and subsequently in pamphlet form.
Shortly afterwards Ben and I went on our annual tour. Everywhere we met with complaints from our subscribers that they had not received the January number of the magazine. I wired Sasha about it and he went after the postal authorities. He was informed that some copies had been held up on the complaint of Anthony Comstock. While we felt flattered that we were at last given a place among other victims of Comstockery, we nevertheless demanded to know the reason for the unexpected honour.
After several calls Sasha succeeded in getting into the august presence of the keeper of American morals. Comstock admitted that Mother Earth had been held up, but denied that it had been done on his complaint.
"The matter is now in my hands," he told Sasha; "the reason for it is Miss Goldman's article on the white-slave traffic." At Comstock's request Sasha accompanied him to the office of the District Attorney, where St. Anthony held a secret conference lasting two hours. After that came a prolonged consultation with the Chief Post Office Inspector. Finally the censor declared that nothing objectionable had been found in the article.
The next day the New York Times contained an interview with Comstock in which he entirely denied the whole matter. It was "a scheme of Emma Goldman to attract attention to her publication," he stated. He had made no complaint against the magazine, he said, nor had it been held up by the Post Office. It required another week of energetic work by Sasha, canvassing various postal departments and repeatedly wiring to Washington, before the January issue was finally released.
If Comstock had been decent enough at least to inform us of his intention in advance, we should have printed fifty thousand copies of the proscribed number. Even as it was, his interference helped to advertise our publication. The demand for Mother Earth greatly increased, but unfortunately we had only our usual edition on hand.
For the first time since the free-speech fight in Chicago in 1908 I could go back to that city. The police, perhaps mindful of the publicity they had given anarchism at that time by their treatment of me, actually assured Ben that I should not be molested any more. The promise made my manager enthusiastic with anticipation of the work awaiting us in his native town. He wired for dates and subjects and then threw himself with all his elemental strength into the arrangements for a series of lectures.
Chicago had been significant in my life. I owed my spiritual birth to the martyrs of 1887. Ten years later I found Max there, whose understanding and tender companionship had not ceased to inspire and sustain me through the years. It was also in Chicago, in 1901, that I had been brought close to death because of my attitude towards Leon Czolgosz, and was it not Chicago that had given me Ben? Ben, with all his faults, irresponsibility, and obsessions --- the man who had already caused me greater agony of spirit than anyone else in my life, and who had brought me deeper devotion and a complete consecration to my work. Only two years we had been together, and during that period he had tested my soul a hundred times, my brain always in rebellion against the strange boy whose nearness was yet a vital need to me.
I had been lecturing in the city on Lake Michigan since 1892, but it was only on this visit that I realized its possibilities. Within ten days I addressed six English and three Yiddish meetings, attended by large crowds that were sufficiently interested to pay admission and to purchase large quantities of our literature. It was certainly a notable achievement, and it was brought about almost entirely through the efforts of Ben. My satisfaction in having gained ground in Chicago was mingled with pride in him, pride because his most antagonistic opponents in our ranks had come to see and admire his sincerity and his talent for organizing. In this city at least Ben had conquered the hearts of many comrades and had won their co-operation and support.
In my travels through the United States I had always found university towns the most indifferent to the social struggle. American student bodies were ignorant of the great issues in their native land and lacked sympathy with the masses. I was therefore not enthusiastic when Ben suggested our invading Madison, Wisconsin.
Great was my surprise when I discovered an entirely new note in the University of Wisconsin. I found the professors and pupils vitally interested in social ideas, and a library containing the best selection of books, papers, and magazines. Professors Ross, Commons, and Jastrow and several others proved to be exceptions to the average American educator. They were progressive, alive to the problems of the world, and modern in the interpretation of their subjects.
A group of students invited us to lecture in the Y.M.C.A. hall on the campus. Ben spoke on the relation between education and agitation, and I discussed the difference between Russian and American college men. It was news to our hearers to learn that the Russian intelligentsia saw in education, not a mere means to a career, but something to enable them to understand life and the people, so that they could teach and help them. American students, on the other hand, were interested mostly in their diplomas. As to the social struggle, American university men knew little about it and cared still less. Our talks on this occasion were followed by spirited discussions and proved to us that our audiences had become very much aware of their relation to the masses and of their debt to the workers who produced all wealth.
The trustees of the Y.M.C.A. building could think of nothing wiser than to refuse the hall for our further gatherings. It was, of course, the best advertising for our meetings. It brought scores of students to the hall we had secured in town and made them more eager than ever to hear us speak. Subsequently I learned from the librarian that there had been a greater demand for books on anarchism since I had come to the city than during the entire previous existence of the library.
The excitement my presence in Madison created and the large attendance at our meetings were too much for the conservative townsfolk. Their spokesman, the Democrat, sounded the alarm against "the spirit of anarchy and the revolution rampant in college." The editor chose as his special target Professor Ross, who had been my host and who had also advised the students to go to my lectures and had even attended them himself. The newspaper almost caused the dismissal of the professor. Fortunately he had left on a long-planned trip to China shortly after my visit. The ravings of the Democrat soon died out, and when Dr. Ross returned from the Orient, he was able to take up his work without further molestation.
As manager of the Orleneff troupe I had often attended social functions, but as propagandist I had always managed to keep away from idle entertainments. The man who now steered me through the shoals of society luncheons and would-be Bohemian dinners was William Marion Reedy, the brilliant editor of the St. Louis Mirror. His suave manner could smuggle the most dangerous contraband into the enemy's camp. There were many questions hurled at me at my first luncheon with the "nice" people of St. Louis, where plenty of water was served and little spirit. The one enlivening element at the affair was Bill Reedy, who was like sparkling wine at a prayer-meeting.
My second appearance was at the Artists' Guild, a society composed of "respectable" Bohemians. Their bohemianism made me think of Jack London's exploits in the East End of London as portrayed in his Children of the Abyss, when he had stood in the bread-line, waited hours to be given a chance to shovel coal, and had himself locked up in the workhouse, in the comforting consciousness that at any time he could go back to his lodgings, take a bath, change his linen, and eat a hearty dinner.
The majority of the Guilders impressed me as people to whom "bohemianism" was a sort of narcotic to help them endure the boredom of their lives. Of course there were others, those who knew the struggle that is the lot of every sincere and free person, whether he aspires to an ideal in life or in art. To them I addressed my talk on "Art in Life," pointing out, among other things, that life in all its variety and fullness is art, the highest art. The man who is not part of the stream of life is not an artist, no matter how well he paints sunsets or composes nocturnes. It certainly does not mean that the artist must hold a definite creed, join an anarchist group or a socialist local. It does signify, however, that he must be able to feel the tragedy of the millions condemned to a lack of joy and beauty. The inspiration of the true artist has never been the drawing-room. Great art has always gone to the masses, to their hopes and dreams, for the spark that kindled their souls. The rest, "the many, all too many," as Nietzsche called mediocrity, have been mere commodities that can be bought with money, cheap glory, or social position.
My lecture on the drama was particularly apropos because of the efforts which were being made at the time by ministers and virtuous ladies to purify the stage. It was, however, my talk on Francisco Ferrer that brought the largest audience and aroused the deepest interest.
More satisfactory than "breaking into society" were the hours spent at Faust's with Billy Reedy and the sweet companionship of Ben and Ida Capes. In theory Bill and I were five thousand years apart. He had said as much in his pen portrait of me, "The Daughter of the Dream." But in reality the editor of the St. Louis Mirror was very much of an anarchist. His breadth of vision, tolerance, and generous support of every social rebel brought him very near to me. We had many literary testes in common, and his rich Irish humour and ready wit enlivened the hours we passed together.
I told him about another evening I had spent at Faust's, in 1901, with Carl Nold and the other friends, before I had gone to Chicago to give myself up to the police. "You sat here enjoying food and drink while two hundred detectives were searching for you up and down the land!" he exclaimed. "Oh, my God, my God, what a woman!" He broke into spasms, his eyes bulging in wonder, his fat belly shaking with laughter. After receiving several slaps on the back and a few gulps of water, Billy regained his breath, but he continued to cry all through the evening: "Oh, my God, what a woman!"
The Capeses were near to me in a deeper sense than Bill because of the bond of our ideal and our struggle for it. Long before I had met them, I had heard of their zeal in our cause and their ever-ready response to its needs. Much later I learned how Ben had become awakened to social consciousness. "It was at one of your meetings in St. Louis," he told me; "I had come with a bunch of kids to rotten-egg you because you were an enemy of God and man. Your talk that evening moved me profoundly and changed the entire course of my life. I had come to scoff, and I remained to pray to the new vision you had created for me." Since then he had never faltered in his devotion to this vision, nor to our friendship, which became stronger and more beautiful through the years.
Michigan State University is only ten hours removed from the University of Wisconsin, but in spirit it was fifty years behind. Instead of broad-minded professors and keen students, I was confronted with five hundred university rowdies in our hall, whistling, howling, and acting like lunatics. I had addressed difficult crowds in my day --- longshoremen, sailors, steel-workers, miners, men aroused by war hysteria. They resembled boarding-school girls compared with the tough gang that had come this time, evidently intent upon breaking up the meeting. Before I reached the hall, these believers in the sanctity of private property had torn up all our literature. This done, they were amusing themselves by throwing pieces of coal at the cut-glass vase on the platform. The place was packed with men, only one other woman besides myself being present, Dr. Maud Thompson. She, poor soul, was jammed in at the door and could not reach the platform. In any event she would have done no good, as I had no intention of appealing to the "chivalry" of these adolescents.
Several students who had entertained us at a fraternity dinner grew anxious about my safety and offered to call the police. I felt that such a step would only aggravate the situation and perhaps cause a riot. I informed them that I would face the music myself and take the consequences.
My appearance on the platform was greeted with shouts, bells, stamping of feet, and cries of "Here she is, the anarchist bombthrower; here's the free lover! You can't speak in our town, Emma! Get out --- you'd better get out!"
I saw clearly that if the situation was to be met, I must not show nervousness or lose patience. I folded my arms and stood there facing the young savages while the deafening noises continued. During a slight lull I said: "Gentlemen, I can see you are in a sporting mood, you want a contest. Very well, you shall have it. Just go on with the noise. I will wait until you are through."
There was an amazed silence for a moment, and then they again broke loose. I continued to stand, my arms folded, all my will-power concentrated in my stare. Gradually the yelling subsided and then someone cried: "All right, Emma, let's hear about your anarchism!" The cry was taken up by others, and after a while comparative quiet prevailed. Then I began to speak.
I talked for an hour amid repeated interruptions, but before long, silence settled over the assembly. Their behaviour, I told them, was the best proof of the effects of authority and of its system of education. "You are the result of it," I said; "how can you know the meaning of freedom of thought and speech? How can you feel respect for others or be kind and hospitable to a stranger in your midst? Authority at home, in the school, and in the body politic destroys those qualities. It turns the individual into a parrot repeating time-worn slogans, until he becomes incapable of thinking for himself or of feeling social wrongs. But I believe in the possibilities of youth," I continued, "and you are young, gentlemen, very, very young. That is fortunate, because you are still uncorrupted and impressionable. The energy you have so ably demonstrated this afternoon could be put to better use. It could be applied for the benefit of your fellows. But you have wasted your efforts in smashing a beautiful vase and in destroying the literary labours of men and women who live, work, and often die for their vision of a better future."
As soon as I had finished, they broke out with the college yell. It was the highest tribute, I was told later, that I could receive. Towards the evening a committee of students came to my hotel to offer apologies for the behaviour of their comrades and to pay the damage for the literature and vase. "You won, Emma Goldman," they said, "you have made us ashamed. Next time you visit our city, we will give you a different welcome."
This was not the only interesting event that happened to us in Ann Arbor. There was also the meeting with Dr. William Boehm, instructor at the university, and with his wife, Dr. Maud Thompson, a very fine woman of tender nature. On the day of my lecture Ben and I had been their guests at luncheon. We spent the hour in a heated argument with Boehm, an adherent of "scientific socialism." At the meeting afterwards he forgot our theoretic differences; comradely sympathy and concern spoke louder than his cold science, and he was ready to fight for me.
In Buffalo we found an unusual personality in the secretary of the Mayor. Only America could produce such a contradiction: he was a radical and a non-believer, yet he was at the same time bound by his New England conscience. He was a dreamer of great dreams, wasting his energies in small deeds; a politician and an opportunist, afraid of public opinion, yet recklessly ignoring it. He had nothing to gain and considerable to lose in urging the Mayor to let me speak. But he championed my rights with a Puritan doggedness.
The Chief of Police attempted to stop my meeting. The Mayor, urged on by his secretary, refused to acquiesce. It was a contest in which superior intelligence scored over official narrow-mindedness.
The ways of the gods are strange; for some reason there was no further interference on this tour. We went on our way quietly, ploughing old fields, breaking new ground, and meeting interesting people who added zest and colour to our work.
Fair newspaper treatment of an anarchist was by no means an everyday occurrence. In Denver, much to my surprise, three papers devoted their columns to verbatim accounts of my lectures. The dramatic critic of the local Times even made a discovery. "Emma Goldman," he wrote, "is being treated as an enemy of society because, like Dr. Stockmann in Ibsen's Enemy of the People, she is pointing out our ills and defects."
As the divorce-mill of the country, Reno attracts a certain class of women. They flock there to buy their freedom from one owner in order to sell themselves more profitably, as often is the case, to another. Respectability has it easy. No heart-aches, no soul-struggle of the free woman, who suffers a thousand torments in the readjustment from an old to a new emotional experience. Just a piece of paper, easily obtainable when one has money to appease public opinion and one's own conscience. Yet the divorcees in the hotel where we had registered were scandalized.
"What, Emma Goldman under the same roof with us! Emma Goldman, the champion of free love! Such a person cannot be tolerated," they declared. What could the poor owner do? The divorcees, like the poor, are always there and are profitable guests. I had to leave the hotel. The humour of the situation was that the very women who had objected to my staying in the same place with them helped to crowd my lectures on "The Failure of Marriage" and "The Meaning of Love."
It was in Reno that I was inaugurated into the art of gambling. I had never before seen gambling-houses wide open, with people besieging the roulette tables. It was interesting to watch the expression and behaviour of the men and women obsessed by the passion. I, too, tried my "luck," but after losing fifty cents I gave up the attempt to coax fortune.
In San Francisco I learned that Jack London lived in the neighbourhood. I had met him with other young socialist students at the Strunskys' on my first visit to California, in 1897. I had since read most of his works and I was naturally eager to renew our acquaintance. There was also another reason: the Modern School the Ferrer Association was planning to establish in New York. We had been fortunate in securing the active help of some very vital persons in its educational work, among them Lola Ridge, Manuel Komroff, Rose and Mary Yuster. I wanted to interest Jack London in our project. I wrote requesting him to attend my lecture on Francisco Ferrer.
His reply was characteristic. "Dear Emma Goldman," it read, "I have your note. I would not go to a meeting even if God Almighty were to speak there. The only time I attend lectures is when I am to do the talking. But we want you here. Will you not come to Glen Ellen and bring whomever you have with you?"
Who could resist such an amiable invitation? I had only two friends with me, Ben and my erstwhile attorney, E. E. Kirk, but even if I had brought a whole caravan, Jack and Charmian London would have welcomed them, so warm and genuine was the hospitality of those two dear people.
How different was the real Jack London from the mechanical, bell-button socialist of the Kempton-Wace Letters! Here was youth, exuberance, throbbing life. Here was the good comrade, all concern and affection. He exerted himself to make our visit a glorious holiday. We argued about our political differences, of course, but there was in Jack nothing of the rancour I had so often found in the socialists I had debated with. But, then, Jack London was the artist first, the creative spirit to whom freedom is the breath of life. As the artist he did not fail to see the beauties of anarchism, even if he did insist that society would have to pass through socialism before reaching the higher stage of anarchism. In any case it was not Jack London's politics that mattered to me. It was his humanity, his understanding of and his feeling with the complexities of the human heart. How else could he have created his splendid Martin Eden, if he did not have in himself the elements that had contributed to the soul-struggle and undoing of his hero? It was this Jack London, and not the devotee of a mechanistic creed, who lent meaning and joy to my visit to Glen Ellen.
Charmian, Jack's wife, was a gracious hostess, gentle and loving in her expectant motherhood. She was as active and spirited as if she were not so near to the birth of her child --- too strenuous, I feared, in her daily occupations. During our three days' stay Charmian hardly rested, except after dinner, when she would sew on the outfit for the baby while we argued, joked, and drank into the wee hours of the morning.
For fifteen years before this my lectures had been made possible by my comrades, who had always given me their best assistance. But they had never been able to reach a large American public. Some of them had been too centred in their own language-group activities to trouble about interesting the native element. The results during those years were scant and unsatisfactory. Now with Ben as my manager my work was lifted out of its former narrow confines. On this tour I visited thirty-seven cities in twenty-five States, among them many places where anarchism had never been discussed before. I lectured one hundred and twenty times to vast audiences, of which twenty-five thousand paid admission, besides the great number of poor students or unemployed admitted without charge. The most gratifying part of the enlarged scope of my work was that ten thousand pieces of literature were sold and five thousand distributed free. Not least important were the various free-speech fights, with the entire expense for them raised at our own gatherings. Nor had other activities been neglected. Our appeals for the newly organized Francisco Ferrer Association and for many strikes had brought considerable material response.
Nevertheless I was roundly condemned by some of the comrades. They considered it really treason that I, an anarchist, should travel with a manager, and an ex-tramp at that, a man of unsettled habits, who was not even a comrade. I was not disturbed, however, though it was painful to find such sectarianism in our ranks. I took heart in the certainty that during the past two years I had done better work and that I had made anarchism more widely known than in the previous years. And it had been the skill and devotion of Ben that had brought it about.
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