Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
IN DENVER I HAD THE RATHER UNUSUAL EXPERIENCE OF SEEING A judge preside at my lecture on birth-control. It was Ben B. Lindsey. He spoke with conviction on the importance of family limitation and he paid high tribute to my efforts. I had first met the Judge and his very attractive wife several years previously and I had spent time with them whenever I visited Denver. Through friends I had learned of the shameful treatment he had received at the hands of his political enemies. They had not only circulated the most scurrilous reports about his public and private integrity, but they had even directed their attacks against Mrs. Lindsey, anonymously threatening and terrorizing her. Yet I found Judge Lindsey free from bitterness, generous towards his enemies, and determined to pursue his own course.
While in the city, I had the opportunity of attending a lecture by Dr. Stanley Hall on "Moral Prophylaxis." I was familiar with his work and I believed him to be a pioneer in the field of sex psychology. In his writings I had found the subject illumined sympathetically and with understanding. Dr. Hall was introduced by a minister, which circumstance may have handicapped his freedom of expression. He talked badly and endlessly on the need of the churches' taking up sex instruction as "a safeguard for chastity, morality, and religion," and he voiced antiquated notions that had no bearing either on sex or on psychology. It made me sad to see him grown so feeble, particularly mentally, since we had met at the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Clark University and at my own lectures. I felt sorry for the American people who were accepting such infantile stuff as authoritative information.
My lectures in Los Angeles were organized by Sasha, who had specially come for the purpose from San Francisco, where he was publishing the Blast. He had worked energetically, and my meetings proved to be successful in every way. Yet I missed Ben, Ben with all his weaknesses, his irresponsibility and ways that were so often harsh. But my longings were stilled by the urgent needs of the Los Angeles situation.
My lecture on "Preparedness" happened to fall on the day of the Preparedness Parade. We could have chosen no more opportune date had we known in advance of the planned militarist demonstration. In the afternoon the people of Los Angeles were treated to a patriotic spectacle, at which they were assured that "the lover of peace must go armed to the teeth," while in the evening they heard it emphasized that "he who goes armed is the greatest menace to peace." Some patriots had come to our meeting with the intention of breaking it up. They changed their minds, however, when they saw that our audience was not in a mood to listen to jingo appeals.
The brothers Ricardo and Enrico Flores Magón were being held in the Los Angeles jail, and the local comrades had so far not succeeded in bailing them out. Twice before had these men been rail-roaded to prison for their bold advocacy of liberty for the Mexican people. During their ten years' residence in the United States they had been imprisoned five years. Now Mexican influence in America sought to send them up for the third time. The people who knew and loved the Magóns were too poor to bail them out, while those who had means believed them to be the dangerous criminals they were pictured by the press. Even some of my American friends, I found, had been influenced by the newspaper ravings. Sasha and I set to work to secure the needed ten-thousand-dollar bond. Because of the official denunciation of everything Mexican our task proved to be extremely difficult. We even had to compile material to show that the only offence of the Magóns consisted in their selfless devotion to the cause of Mexican liberty. After much effort we succeeded in procuring their release on bond. The happy surprise on the faces of Ricardo and Enrico, who doubted the possibility of bailing them out, was the highest appreciation of our work in their behalf.
An impressive scene took place in court when the Magón brothers appeared for their hearing. The court-room was filled with Mexicans. When the judge entered, not one of them stood up, but when the Magóns were led in, they rose to a man and bowed low before them. It was a magnificent gesture that demonstrated the place these two brothers held in the hearts of those simple people.
In San Francisco Sasha and Fitzi had prepared everything to make my month's stay in the city pleasant and useful. My first lectures were most satisfactory, and they held out much promise for the rest of my series. I had my own apartment, as I was expecting Ben to join me in July. But I spent a great deal of my free time with Sasha and Fitzi in their place.
On Saturday, July 22, 1916, I was lunching with them. It was a golden California day, and the three of us were in a bright mood. We were a long time over our luncheon, Sasha regaling us with a humorous account of Fitzi's culinary exploits. The telephone rang, and he stepped into his office to answer it. When he returned, I noticed the extremely serious expression on his face, and I intuitively felt that something had happened.
"A bomb exploded in the Preparedness Parade this afternoon,'' he said; "there are killed and wounded." "I hope they aren't going to hold the anarchists responsible for it," I cried out. "How could they?" Fitzi retorted. "How could they not?" Sasha answered; "they always have."
My lecture on "Preparedness" had originally been scheduled for the 20th. But we learned that the liberal and progressive labour elements had arranged an anti-preparedness mass meeting for the same evening, and, not wishing to conflict with the occasion, postponed my talk for the 22nd. It struck me now that we had barely escaped being involved in the explosion; had my meeting taken place as scheduled, prior to the tragedy, everyone connected with my work would have undoubtedly been held responsible for the bomb. The telephone call had come from a newspaper man who wanted to know what we had to say about the explosion --- the usual question of reporters and detectives on such occasions.
On the way to my apartment I heard newsboys calling out extra editions. I bought the papers and found what I had expected --- glaring headlines about an "Anarchist Bomb" all over the front pages. The papers demanded the immediate arrest of the speakers at the anti-preparedness meeting of July 20. Hearst's Examiner was especially bloodthirsty. The panic that followed on the heels of the explosion exposed strikingly the lack of courage, not only of the average person, but of the radicals and liberals as well. Before the 22nd of July they had filled our hall every evening for two weeks, waxing enthusiastic over my lectures. Now at the first sign of danger they ran to cover like a pack of sheep at the approach of a storm.
On the evening following the explosion there were just fifty people at my meeting, the rest of the audience consisting of detectives. The atmosphere was very tense, everybody fidgeting about, apparently in terror of another bomb. In my lecture I dealt with the tragedy of the afternoon as proving more convincingly than theoretic dissertations that violence begets violence. Labour on the Coast had been opposed to the preparedness parade, and union members had been asked not to participate. It was an open secret in San Francisco that the police and the newspapers had been warned that something violent might happen if the Chamber of Commerce kept insisting on the public demonstration of its mailed fist. Yet the "patriots" had permitted the parade to take place, deliberately exposing the participants to danger. The indifference to human life on the part of those who had staged the spectacle gave a foretaste of how cheaply life would be considered should America enter the war.
A reign of official terror followed the explosion. Revolutionary workers and anarchists were, as always, the first victims. Four labour men and one woman were immediately arrested. They were Thomas J. Mooney and his wife, Rena, Warren K. Billings, Edward D. Nolan, and Israel Weinberg.
Thomas Mooney, long a member of Moulders' Union, Local 164, was known throughout California as an energetic fighter in the cause of the workers. For many years he had been an effective factor in various strikes. Because of his incorruptibility he was cordially hated by every employer and labour politician on the Coast. The United Railways had tried, a few years previously, to put Mooney behind the bars, but even the farmer jury had refused to credit the frame-up against him. Recently he had sought to organize again the motormen and conductors of the street-car combine. He had attempted, unsuccessfully, to call a strike of the platform-men a few weeks before the parade, and the United Railways marked him for their victim. They posted bulletins on the car barns, warning their men to have nothing to do with the "dynamiter Mooney," on pain of immediate discharge.
On the night following the posting of the bulletins, some power --- towers of the company were blown up, and those who knew smiled at the obvious attempt of the railway bosses to "get" Mooney by the peculiarly "timely" branding of him as a dynamiter.
Warren K. Billings, formerly president of the Boot and Shoe Workers' Union, had for years been active in labour struggles, and the employers had once before succeeded in railroading him to prison on a trumped-up charge in connexion with strike troubles in San Francisco.
Edward D. Nolan was a man greatly admired and respected by labour elements on the Coast for his clear social vision, intelligence, and energy. He had, a few days previous to the preparedness parade, returned from Baltimore, where he had been sent as a delegate to the Machinists' convention. Nolan was also chief of the pickets in the local machinists' strike, and he had long since been put on the employers' black-list.
Israel Weinberg was a member of the executive board of the Jitney Bus Operators' Union, which had incurred the enmity of the United Railways by seriously embarrassing its receipts. The street-car company was trying to drive the jitneys off the principal streets, and the opportunity to discredit the Jitney Bus Union by charging a prominent member with murder was not to be lost by District Attorney Fickert of San Francisco, whom the railways had helped to office that he might quash the indictments against their corrupt officials --- which he promptly did as soon as elected.
Mrs. Rena Mooney, the wife of Tom Mooney, was a well-known music-teacher. An energetic and devoted woman, her arrest was a police coup to prevent her efforts in behalf of Tom.
To charge these men with responsibility for the preparedness-parade explosion was a deliberate attempt to strike Labour a deadly blow through its most energetic and uncompromising representatives. We expected a concerted response in behalf of the accused from the liberal and radical elements, regardless of political differences. Instead we were confronted by complete silence on the part of the very people who had for years known and collaborated with Mooney, Nolan, and their fellow-prisoners.
The McNamara confession was still haunting, ghostlike, the waking and sleeping hours of their erstwhile friends among the labour politicians. There was not a single prominent man in the unions on the Coast who now dared speak up for his arrested brothers There was no one to offer a penny for their defence. Not one word appeared even in Organized Labor, the organ of the powerful building trades, of which Olaf Tweetmore was editor. Not a word in the Labor Clarion, the official weekly of the San Francisco Labor Council and of the State Federation of Labor. Even Fremont Older, who had so staunchly defended the McNamaras and who had always bravely championed every unpopular cause, was silent now, in the face of the evident Chamber of Commerce conspiracy to hang innocent men.
It was a desperate situation. Only Sasha and I dared speak up for the prisoners. But we were known as anarchists and it was a question whether the accused, of whom only Israel was an anarchist, would wish to have us affiliated with their defence; they might feel that our names would hurt their case rather than do them good. I myself knew them but slightly, and Warren K. Billings I had never met. But we could not sit by idly and be a party to the conspiracy of silence. We should have come to their assistance even if we had thought them guilty of the charges, but Sasha knew all of the accused well and he was absolutely certain of their innocence. He considered none of them capable of throwing a bomb into a crowd of people. His assurance was sufficient guarantee for me that they had had no connexion whatever with the preparedness-parade explosion.
During the two weeks following the tragedy of July 22 the Blast and my meetings were the only expression of protest against the terrorist campaign carried on by the local authorities, at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce. Robert Minor, summoned by Sasha from Los Angeles, came to help in our preparations for the defence of the accused innocent men.
Ben, who had arrived from New York upon the completion of his prison term, was violently opposed to my remaining in San Francisco to finish my lecture series. My meetings were under police surveillance, the hall filled with hordes of detectives, whose presence kept my audiences away. He could not stand defeat; the mere handful of faithful friends in our hall, holding a thousand, was too much for him. Something else also seemed to be on his mind. He was more than usually restless and he besought me to discontinue my lectures and leave the city. But I could not go back on my engagements and I stayed on. I succeeded in raising at my meetings a hundred dollars and in borrowing a considerable sum for the defence of the arrested labour men. But so terrified was San Francisco that no attorney of standing would accept the case of the prisoners, who had already been condemned by every paper in the city.
It required several weeks of the most strenuous effort on our part to awaken some semblance of interest even among the radicals. With Sasha, Bob Minor, and Fitzi in charge of the activities, I now felt free to continue my tour, though I was very uneasy about their own fate. The Blast's unconditional support of Mooney and his comrades had already subjected Sasha and his associates, Fitzi and our good "Swede" Carl, to the scrutiny of the police authorities. Some days after the explosion, detectives had forcibly entered the Blast office and had for hours ransacked it, taking away everything they could lay their hands on, including the California subscription list of Mother Earth. They had taken Sasha and Fitzi to headquarters, severely grilled them on their activities, and threatened to arrest them.
The sublime and the ridiculous often overlap each other. At the height of all the worry and anxiety about the San Francisco situation, while on my way to Portland with Ben, he was seized with one of his periodic fits to "nurse his soul, tabulate his ideas, and get acquainted with himself." His plaint was again that he could not continue for ever a "mere office boy," carrying bundles and selling literature; he had other ambitions; he wanted to write. He had wanted to write all along, he said, but I had never given him the chance. Sasha, he declared, was my god, Sasha's life and work my religion. In every difficulty that had arisen between him and Sasha I had always sided with the latter, he said. Ben had never been permitted his way in anything; I had even denied him his longing for a child. He insisted he had not forgotten that I had told him I had made my choice and that I could not allow a child to handicap my work in the movement. My attitude had hung over him like a pall, he declared, and it had made him afraid to confess that he had been living with another girl. His yearning for a child, always very strong, had become more compelling since he had met that girl. During his imprisonment in the Queens County Jail he had determined to allow nothing to stand in the way of the fulfilment of his great wish.
"But you have a child," I said, "your little Helen! Have you ever shown paternal love for her, or even the least interest, except on Valentine's Day, when I would pick out your cards for her?"
He was only a mere youth when the child was born, he replied; and the whole thing had been an accident. Now he was thirty-eight, with a "conscious feeling for fatherhood."
I knew there was no use in arguing. Unlike his confession in the first year of our love, which had struck me like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky, this new disclosure hardly shocked or wounded me. The other had left scars too deep to heal or ever to allow me freedom from doubt. I had always guessed his deceptions; so accurately, indeed, that he called me a Sherlock Holmes "from whose eyes nothing is hidden."
Peculiar irony of circumstances! In New York Ben had started a "Sunday-school class," which exposed me to the ridicule of my comrades. "A Sunday-school in an anarchist office!" they laughed; "Jesus in the sanctum of the atheist." I sided with Ben. Free speech included his right to Jesus, I said. I knew that Ben was no more a Christian than the millions of others who proclaim themselves followers of the Nazarene. It was rather the personality of the "Son of Man" that appealed to Ben, as it had ever since his early youth. His religious sentimentalism would do no thinking person any harm, I thought. Most of his Sunday-school pupils were girls who were much more attracted to their teacher than to his Lord. I felt that Ben's religious emotionalism was stronger than his anarchistic convictions, and I could not deny him his right of expression.
To maintain consistency in a world of crass contradictions is not easy, and I had frequently been anything but consistent in regard to Ben. His love-affairs with all sorts of women had caused me too many emotional upheavals to allow me to act always in consonance with my ideas. Time, however, is a great leveller of feeling. I no longer cared about Ben's erotic adventures, and his newest confession did not affect me deeply. But it was indeed the height of tragicomedy that my stand in favour of Ben's Sunday-school in the Mother Earth office should result in an affair with one of his girl pupils. And then my anxiety about leaving Ben in the jail and going on tour without him at the very time he was absorbed in his new obsession! It was all so absurd and grotesque --- I felt unutterably weary and possessed only of a desire to get away somewhere and forget the failure of my personal life, to forget even the cruel urge to struggle for an ideal.
I decided to go to Provincetown for a month, to visit with Stella and her baby. With them I would rest and perhaps find peace, peace.
Stella a mother! It seemed such a short while since she herself had been a little baby, the one ray of sunshine in my bleak Rochester days. When she was about to give birth to her child, I longed to be with her in that supreme moment. Instead I had been obliged to lecture in Philadelphia, while my heart palpitated with anxiety for my dear Stella in the throes of bringing forth new life. Time had passed with giant strides, and now I beheld Stella radiant in her young motherhood, and her little one, six months old, a striking replica of what my niece had looked at that age.
The charm of Provincetown, Stella's care, and the baby's loveliness filled my visit with a delight I had not known in years. There was also Teddy Ballantine, Stella's husband, a man of fine texture, vital and interesting, and the frequent calls of persons of outstanding individuality, such as Susan Glaspell, George Cram Cook, and my old friends Hutch Hapgood and Neith Boyce, the latter a most intriguing personality. There were also John Reed and adventurous Louise Bryant, more sophisticated than she had been in Portland two years before. There was beautiful Mary Pine, already doomed by consumption, her transparent skin and the lustre of her eyes heightened by a mass of copper hair. There was crude Harry Kemp, comically clumsy and awkward alongside of ethereal Mary. Variegated in mind and heart was that Provincetown group, and its company stimulating, but no one exerted such a restful effect on me as did Max, who had come at my invitation to spend a few weeks with me. He had remained unchanged, his fine spirit and intuitive understanding even more mellowed with the years. Kind and wise, he always found the right word to soothe distress. An hour with him was like a spring day, and I found solace and peace at his side. A month spent with him, in the circle of Stella's little family, would make me strong to conquer the world.
Alas, there was no month and no conquest! The eternal struggle for liberty was calling. Letters and telegrams from Sasha cried for help to save the five lives endangered in San Francisco. Could I think of rest, he indignantly demanded, while Tom Mooney and his comrades were facing death? Had I forgotten San Francisco, the terrorized prejudice against the victims in jail there, the cowardice of the labour leaders, the lack of funds for the defence of the prisoners, and the impossibility of securing a good lawyer for them? A note of desperation, unusual with Sasha, sounded in his letters, and he besought me to return to New York to secure for the defence a man prominent in the legal profession. That failing, I should go to Kansas City and try to prevail upon Frank P. Walsh to take the case.
My peace was gone; the forces of reaction had broken in on my golden freedom and had robbed me of the rest I needed so much. I even resented Sasha's strange impatience, but somehow I felt guilty. I was tormented by the feeling that I had broken faith with the victims of a social system which I had fought for twenty-seven years. Days of inner conflict and of galling indecision followed. Then came Sasha's telegram informing me that Billings had been convicted and sentenced to prison for life. There was no more hesitancy on my part. I prepared to leave for New York.
On the last day of my Provincetown stay I went for a walk with Max across the dunes. The tide was out. The sun hung like a golden disk, no ripple on the transparent blue of the ocean in the distance. The sand seemed a sheet of white stretched far out and disappearing into the coloured crystal of the waters. Nature breathed repose and wondrous peace. My mind, too, was at rest; peace had come with my resolve. Max was frolicsome, and I felt in tune with his mood. We slowly made our way across the vast expanse towards the sea. Oblivious of the world of strife outside, we were held rapt by the spell of the enchantment around us. Fishermen returning laden with their spoils recalled us to the lateness of the day. With light step we started on our way back, our gay song ringing in the air.
We were barely half-way across to the beach when we caught the sound of gurgling water rising from somewhere. Sudden apprehension silenced our song. We turned to look back, and then Max gripped my hand and we ran for the shore. The tide was welling in with a fast sweep. It rose from a cove that emptied into the sea at that point. It was already close behind us, the waves rushing over the sand with increasing speed and volume. The terror of being caught drove us on. Now and then our feet would sink in the soft sand, but the foaming peril at our back kept steeling the instinctive will to live.
Terrified, we reached the bottom of a hill. With a last effort we scrambled up and fell exhausted on the green soil. We were safe at last!
On our way to New York we stopped off in Concord. I had always wanted to visit the home of America's past cultural epoch. The museum, the historic houses, and the cemetery were the only remaining witnesses of its days of glory. The inhabitants gave little indication that the quaint old town had once been a centre of poetry, letters, and philosophy. There was no sign that men and women had existed in Concord to whom liberty was a living ideal. The present reality was more ghostlike than the dead.
We visited Frank B. Sanborn, the biographer of Henry David Thoreau, the last of the great Concord circle. It was Sanborn who, half a century before, had introduced John Brown to Thoreau, Emerson, and Alcott. He looked the typical aristocrat of intellect, his manner simple and gracious. With evident pride he spoke of the days when together with his sister he had, at the point of a gun, driven the tax-collectors from his homestead. He talked with reverence of Thoreau, the great lover of man and of beast, the rebel against the encroachments of the State on the rights of the individual, the supporter of John Brown when even his own friends had denied him. In detail Sanborn described to us the meeting Thoreau had carried through in memory of the black man's champion, in spite of almost unanimous opposition from the Concord coterie.
Sanborn's estimate of Thoreau bore out my conception of the latter as the precursor of anarchism in the United States. To my surprise, Thoreau's biographer was scandalized at my remark. "No, indeed!" he cried; "anarchism means violence and revolution. It means Czolgosz. Thoreau was an extreme non-resistant." We spent several hours trying to enlighten this contemporary of the most anarchistic period of American thought about the meaning of anarchism.
From Provincetown I had written Frank P. Walsh about the San Francisco situation, telling him that I would go to Kansas City to talk the matter over further if there was any chance of his taking charge of the Mooney defence. His reply awaited me in New York. He could not accept my suggestion, Walsh wrote; he was involved in an important criminal case in his own city, and he had also undertaken to line up the liberal elements in the East for the Woodrow Wilson campaign. He was of course interested in the San Francisco labour cases, his letter continued; he would soon be in New York and take the question up with me; perhaps he would be able to make some useful suggestions.
Frank P. Walsh was the most vital person I had met in Kansas City. He did not flaunt his radicalism in public, but he could always be depended upon to aid an unpopular cause. By nature he was a fighter; his sympathies were with the persecuted. I was aware of his interest in the labour struggle, and his letter therefore greatly disappointed me. Moreover, it was puzzling. If he could come to New York to take charge of the Wilson campaign, he could not be so tied up at home. Or did he consider electioneering more important than the five lives in peril on the Coast, I wondered. I was sure he was not familiar with the real state of affairs in San Francisco, and I decided to put the situation clearly before him. Perhaps it would induce him to change his mind.
At the Wilson campaign headquarters in New York, presided over by Frank P. Walsh, George West, and other intellectuals, I had a long talk with Walsh about the Mooney case. He seemed much impressed and he assured me that he would like to step in and do something for the prisoners. It was a serious situation, he said, but a far graver issue was facing the country --- the war. The militarist elements were anxious for Wilson to get out of office so they could have their own man as President. It was up to all liberal-minded and peace-loving persons to re-elect Woodrow Wilson, Walsh emphasized. Even the anarchists, he thought, ought to set aside at this crucial moment their objections to participation in politics and help keep Wilson in the White House because "he has kept us out of war so far." It was my duty in particular, Walsh insisted, not to neglect the chance to demonstrate that my efforts against war were not mere talk. I could effectively silence the charge that I preached violence and destruction by proving that I was indeed the true champion of peace.
I was not a little surprised to find Frank P. Walsh such a defender of politics, after the very decided stand he had taken in behalf of the Mexican Revolution. I had once gone to Kansas City to solicit his contribution to that struggle, and he had eagerly responded, at the same time expressing his belief that action speaks louder than words. It was a far cry indeed from that attitude to his present notion that investing Woodrow Wilson with more political power would "save the world."
I left Walsh with a feeling of impatience at the credulity of this radically minded man and his co-workers in the Wilson campaign. It was an additional proof to me of the political blindness and social muddle-headedness of American liberals.
I knew no one in the New York legal profession whom I could approach in connexion with the Mooney case. I therefore had to inform Sasha of my failure. He replied that he himself was coming to New York to see what could be done. The International Workers' Defence League of San Francisco had requested him to go east to secure an able attorney and to rouse the labour elements to the peril of the arrested men.
In the latter part of October Bolton Hall's trial in connexion with our birth-control meeting at Union Square the previous May took place. A number of witnesses, including myself, testified that the defendant had given no contraceptive information on that occasion, and Bolton Hall was found not guilty. On leaving the court-room I was arrested on the same charge of which Hall had just been acquitted.
Persecution of birth-control advocates went merrily on. Margaret Sanger, her sister Ethel Byrne, a trained nurse, and their assistant, Fanya Mandell, were rounded up in a raid on Mrs. Sanger's clinic in Brooklyn. They had been tricked by a woman detective, who posed as the mother of four children, to give her contraceptives. Among the other cases were those of Jessie Ashley and of several I.W.W. boys. The guardians of law and morality throughout the country were determined to suppress the spread of information on birth-control.
The various hearings and trials in connexion with this matter proved that at least the judges were being educated. One of them declared that he distinguished between persons who gave out birth-control information free because of personal conviction and those who sold it. Certainly no such differentiation had been made previously, in William Sanger's case, in Ben's, or in mine. Even more striking proof that the agitation for family limitation was beginning to have an effect was given by Judge Wadhams during the trial of a woman charged with theft. Her husband, tubercular and out of work for a long time, was unable to support his large family. In summing up the causes that had led the prisoner to crime Judge Wadhams remarked that many nations in Europe had adopted birth-regulation with seemingly excellent results. "I believe we are living in an age of ignorance," he continued, "which at some future time will be looked upon aghast as we now look back on the dark ages. We have before us the case of a family increasing in numbers, with a tubercular husband, the woman with a child at her breast and with other small children at her skirts, in poverty and want."
We had reason to feel that it was worth going to jail if the urgency of limiting offspring was getting to be admitted even by the bench. Direct action, and not parlour discussion, was responsible for these results.
Early in November Sasha arrived in New York, and in less than two weeks he was able to rally to the support of the San Francisco fight nearly all of the organized Jewish labour, as well as a number of American trade unions. He was equally successful in his efforts to secure an attorney. By aid of some friends he prevailed upon W. Bourke Cockran, the famous lawyer and orator, to examine the transcript of the Billings case. Cockran was so impressed by Sasha's presentation of it and so aroused by the obvious frame-up that he offered to go to the Coast without a fee and take charge of the defence of Mooney, Nolan, and the other San Francisco prisoners. Sasha also prevailed upon the United Hebrew Trades, the largest and most influential central Jewish labour organization in the country, to call a mass meeting in Carnegie Hall to protest against the conspiracy of big business in California. The delegates of that body being fully occupied with their own duties, the entire brunt of organizing the mass meeting and securing speakers fell to Sasha and the active and efficient young comrades who were helping him in the campaign. Unfortunately, I could give him no assistance, owing to my lecture engagements in various points between New York and the Middle West. I promised, however, to speak at Carnegie Hall, even if it necessitated my return from Chicago to do so.
After seventeen lectures in that city and four in Milwaukee I hastened back to New York, arriving on the morning of December 2, the day of the big gathering. In the afternoon a demonstration took place on Union Square, a protest in favour of Mooney and his comrades and also in behalf of Carlo Tresca and his fellow victims of the Minnesota steel interests at the Messaba Range strike. The evening meeting in Carnegie Hall was attended by a very large audience, which was addressed by Frank P. Walsh, Max Eastman, Max Pine, secretary of the Hebrew Trades, Arturo Giovannitti, poet and labour leader, Sasha, and myself. It fell to me to make the appeal for funds, and the assembly generously responded with aid for the Californians' defence. The same night I left for the West to continue my interrupted tour.
At my lecture in Cleveland on "Family Limitation" Ben conceived the idea of calling for volunteers to distribute birth-control pamphlets. A number of people responded. At the end of the meeting Ben was arrested. A hundred persons, each carrying the forbidden pamphlet, followed him to the jail, but only Ben was held for trial. We immediately organized a Free Speech League, which combined with the local birth-control organization to fight the case.
Cleveland had for years been a free-speech stronghold, owing to the libertarian conditions established there by the single-tax mayor, the late Tom Johnson. Brave citizens of different political views had since zealously guarded those liberties. Among them I had many friends, but none more helpful than Mr. and Mrs. Carr, Fred Shoulder, Adeleine Champney, and our old philosopher Jacobs. They had always exerted themselves to make my public work successful and to enhance my leisure hours by charming fellowship. It was therefore a severe shock to see this exceptional city go back on its traditions. But the ready response to our call to organize a fight against the suppression held out the hope that the right of free expression would again prevail in Tom Johnson's home town.
Similar experiences attended my lectures in various cities, as well as those of other advocates of family limitation. Sometimes it was Ben who was arrested, at other times I and the friends who were actively co-operating with us, or other lecturers who were trying to enlighten the people on the proscribed issue. In San Francisco the Blast was held up by the post-office on account of an article on birth-control and because of lesè-majesté against Woodrow Wilson. Birth-control had become a burning issue, and the authorities exerted every effort to silence its advocates. Nor did they shrink from foul means to accomplish their ends. In Rochester Ben was arrested for having sold at one of our meetings a copy of Dr. William J. Robinson's Family Limitation and Margaret Sanger's pamphlet What Every Woman Should Know. The arresting officers were seemingly ignorant that those publications were being openly sold in book-shops. But it soon appeared that there was method in their madness. At the police station a pamphlet on contraceptives was "found" between the pages of Dr. Robinson's book. We knew some detective had placed it there to "get" Ben. And, indeed, he was held for trial.
While still on tour, I received a telegram from Harry Weinberger, my New York attorney, informing me that I had been denied a jury trial. On January 8 my case came up before three judges. Presiding Judge Cullen warned me severely that he would not permit any theories of the defendant to be aired in court. But he might have saved himself the trouble, because my case collapsed before either my lawyer or I had a chance to say anything. The evidence given by the detectives to the effect that I had distributed birth-control pamphlets on Union Square in May was so obviously contradictory that even the Court refused to take it seriously. I was acquitted.
Ben was not so fortunate, however, in regard to the Cleveland charge against him. He had been subpoenaed for my trial, and as his own was to take place the following day, he had wired his Cleveland attorney and bondsman to secure a postponement. They replied that he need have no anxiety, and that they would get him an extension of time. To make doubly sure, Ben telegraphed and also sent a copy of the subpoena to the Cleveland court. But on the afternoon of January 9 he received word from his lawyer, informing him that, far from consenting to a postponement, Judge Dan Cull had issued a warrant for Ben's arrest for contempt of court. Ben took the first train to Cleveland. The next morning his case was called. Judge Cull "graciously" consented to dismiss the charge of contempt of court and to try Ben only on the birth-control case. The Judge was a Roman Catholic and rigidly opposed to any form of sex hygiene. He talked at length about the carnal sins of the flesh and denounced birth-control and anarchism. Of the twelve jurymen five were Catholics. The others were apparently loath to convict, for they held out for thirteen hours without coming to an agreement. The Court sent them back, however, with instructions to remain out until they could bring in a verdict. Long hours in a stuffy room will cause most juries to grow unanimous. Ben was found guilty and sentenced to six months in the workhouse and to pay a thousand dollars' fine. It was the heaviest penalty imposed for a birth-control offence. Ben made a frank avowal of his belief in family limitation, and on the advice of counsel he appealed the case.
The result of the trial was due mainly to the absence of proper publicity. Margaret Sanger had lectured in the city a short time previously, and it had been expected that she would take note of the situation and urge her hearers to rally to Ben's support. Her refusal to do so had incensed our friends at the inexcusable breach of solidarity, but unfortunately no time had been left to arouse public sentiment in regard to Ben's case.
It was not the first occasion on which Mrs. Sanger had failed to aid birth-control advocates caught in the meshes of the law. While my trial in New York was pending, she was touring the country and lecturing at meetings arranged by our comrades, largely at my suggestion. Strange to say, Mrs. Sanger, who had begun her birth-control work in our quarters on One Hundred and Nineteenth Street, would not even mention my approaching trial. Once, at a meeting in the Bandbox Theatre, she was called to account for her silence by Robert Minor. She upbraided him for daring to interfere with her affairs.
In Chicago Ben Capes had to resort to questions from the floor during a meeting to compel Mrs. Sanger to refer to my work for birth-control. Similar occurrences happened in Detroit, Denver, and San Francisco. From numerous places friends wrote me that Mrs. Sanger had given the impression that she considered the issue as her own private concern. Subsequently Mr. and Mrs. Sanger publicly repudiated birth-control leagues organized by us, as well as our entire campaign for family limitation.
The lack of backing for Ben in Cleveland taught us the need of an organized protest in connexion with his coming trial in Rochester. On the eve of it a large meeting took place, the local speaker, Dr. Mary E. Dickinson, sharing the platform with Dolly Sloan, Ida Rauh, and Harry Weinberger, all of whom had come from New York for the occasion. The next day an effective demonstration was staged in court. Willis K. Gillette proved to be a very exceptional judge. I almost envied Ben the opportunity of being tried before a man who believed that the court is a place where the defendant should feel unafraid to speak out. With such a judge and with the fighting persistency of an attorney like Harry Weinberger, Ben was sure of fair treatment. He declared that he did not believe in the law that forbids giving birth-control information. He had broken it before and he would do it again, he said. But in the case on trial he was innocent, he maintained, because he did not know how the contraceptive pamphlet had happened to be in Dr. Robinson's book. He was acquitted.
We felt that we had reason for some satisfaction with our share in the campaign. We had presented the ideas of family limitation throughout the length and breadth of the country, bringing the knowledge of methods into the lives of the people who needed them most. We were ready now to leave the field to those who were proclaiming birth-control as the only panacea for all social ills. I myself had never considered it in that light; it was unquestionably an important issue, but by no means the most vital one.
In San Francisco the Blast had been suppressed and its office raided twice because of the paper's anti-war work and its efforts in behalf of Mooney. During the last raid Fitzi was brutally handled and her arm almost broken by an official ruffian. It became impossible to continue the publication on the Coast, and Fitzi brought it to New York, where she joined Sasha in his activities for the California defence.
Tom Mooney had been convicted and sentenced to death. Neither the eloquence of W. Bourke Cockran, nor the absolute demonstration that the leading witnesses of the prosecution had perjured themselves availed nothing. The grip of the Chamber of Commerce upon official justice in California proved to be stronger than the most unshakable evidence in favour of the labour defendant. There was hardly a citizen in San Francisco who did not know that the State's witnesses, the McDonalds and the Oxmans, were of the very dregs of debased humanity, their testimony bought and paid for by District Attorney Charles Fickert, the willing tool of the employers. But innocence did not count. The bosses who had declared themselves for the "open shop" had determined to hang Tom Mooney, as a warning to other labour organizers, and Mooney's doom was sealed.
Nor was the State of California the only section of the country where law and order had centred all their might to crush the workers and effectively stifle further protest on the part of the disinherited and humiliated. In Everett, Washington, seventy-four I.W.W. boys were fighting for their lives, and in every other State of the Union the jails and prisons were filled with men convicted for their ideals.
The political sky in the United States was darkening with heavy clouds, and the portents were daily growing more disquieting, yet the masses at large remained inert. Then, unexpectedly, the light of hope broke in the east. It came from Russia, the land tsar-ridden for centuries. The day so long yearned for had arrived at last --- the Revolution had come!
To Chapter 45
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