Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
THE FIRST STOP ON MY TOUR WAS IN BARRE, VERMONT. THE ACTIVE group there consisted of Italians employed mostly in the stone-quarries which furnished the principal industry of the city. Very little time was left me for introspection into my personal life; there were numerous meetings, debates, private gatherings, and discussions. I found generous hospitality with my host, Palavicini, a comrade who had worked together with me in the textile strike in Summit. He was a cultivated man, well-informed not only on the international labour movement but also on the new tendencies in Italian art and letters. At the same time I met also Luigi Galleani, the intellectual leader of the Italian activities in the New England States.
Vermont was under the blessings of Prohibition, and I was interested in learning its effects. In company with my host I made the rounds of some private homes. To my astonishment I found that almost all of them had been turned into saloons. In one such place we came upon a dozen men visibly under the influence of liquor. Most of them were city officials, my companion informed me. The stuffy kitchen, with the children of the family inhaling the foul air of whisky and tobacco, constituted the drinking-den. Many such places were thriving under the protection of the police, to whom part of the income was regularly paid. "That is not the worst evil of Prohibition," my comrade remarked; "its most damnable side is the destruction of hospitality and good-fellowship. Formerly you could offer a drink to callers or have one offered to you. Now, with most people turned into saloon-keepers, your friends expect you to buy booze or to buy it from you."
Another result of Prohibition was the increase of prostitution. We sited several houses on the outskirts of the town, all doing a flourishing business. Most of the "guests" were travelling salesmen, with a sprinkling of farmers. By the closing of the saloons the brothel became the only place where the men coming into town could find some distraction.
After two weeks' activity in Barre the police suddenly decided to prevent my last meeting. The official reason for it was supposed to be my lecture on war. According to the authorities, I had said: "God bless the hand that blew up the Maine." It was of course obviously ridiculous to credit me with such an utterance. The unofficial version was more plausible. "You caught the Mayor and the Chief of Police in Mrs. Colletti's kitchen, dead drunk," my Italian friend explained, "and you have looked into their stakes in the brothels. No wonder they consider you dangerous now and want to get you out."
It was not until I reached Chicago that I began to make my efforts count. As on my preceding tour, I was invited to speak by many labour organizations, including the conservative Woodworkers' Union, which had never before allowed an anarchist within its sacred portals. A number of lectures were also arranged for me by American anarchists. It was strenuous work and I should probably not have been able to carry it through but for the exhilarating companionship of Max Baginski.
As on previous occasions my headquarters were again with the Appels. At the same time Max and I rented a little place near Lincoln Park, our Zauberschloss (fairy-castle), as he christened it, to which we might escape in our free hours. There we would often feast on the basketfuls of delicacies, fruit, and wine the extravagantly big-natured Max would bring. Then we would read Romeo und Juliet auf dem Lande, the beautiful story by Gottfried Keller, and the works of our favourites: Strindberg, Wedekind, Gabriele Reuter, Knut Hamsun, and, best of all, Nietzsche. Max knew and understood Nietzsche and deeply loved him. It was only by the aid of his remarkable appreciation that I became aware of the full significance of the great poet- philosopher. After readings came long walks in the park and talks about interesting people in the German movement, about art and literature. The month in Chicago was filled with interesting work, the fine comradeship of new friends, and exquisite hours of joy and harmony with Max.
The Paris Exposition, which was being planned for 1900, suggested the idea to our European comrades of holding an anarchist congress at about the same time. There would be reduced fares, and many of our friends would be able to come from different countries. I had received an invitation; I spoke to Max about it and asked him to come with me. A trip to Europe together - the very thought of it transported us with ecstasy. My tour would last till August; then we could carry out our new plan. We might journey to England first; I was sure the comrades would want me to lecture there. Then to Paris. "Think of it, dearest --- Paris!" "Wonderful, glorious!" he cried. "But the fare --- have you thought of that, my romantic Emma?" "That's nothing. I will rob a church or a synagogue --- I'll get the money somehow! We must go anyhow. We must go in quest of the moon!" "Two babes in the woods," Max commented; "two sane romantics in a crazy world!"
On my way to Denver I made a side trip to Caplinger Mills, an agricultural district in south-western Missouri. My only previous contact with farm life in the United States had been years before when I had canvassed Massachusetts farmers for orders to enlarge the pictures of their worthy ancestors. I had found them so dull, so rooted in old social traditions, that I did not even care to tell them what I stood for. I was sure they would think me possessed of the devil. It very much surprised me, therefore, to receive an invitation from Caplinger Mills to lecture there. The comrade who wrote that she had arranged my meetings was Kate Austen, whose articles I had read in Free Society and other radical publications. Her writings showed her to be a logical thinker, well-informed, and of revolutionary fibre, while her letters to me indicated an affectionate, sensitive being.
At the station I was met by Sam Austen, Kate's husband, who announced that Caplinger Mills was twenty-two miles distant from the railroad. "The roads are very bad," he said; "I'm afraid I'll have to tie you to the seat of my wagon, else you may be shaken out." I soon found he had not been exaggerating. We had hardly covered half the way when there came a violent jolt and the cracking of wheels. Sam landed in a ditch, and when I attempted to get up, I felt sore all over. He lifted me out of the wagon and set me down by the wayside. Waiting and rubbing my aching joints, I tried to smile to encourage Sam.
While he was tinkering the broken wheel, my thoughts went back to Popelan and our long rides in the big sleigh drawn by a fiery troika. My blood tingled with the mystery of the night, the starry heavens above me, the white-clad expanse, the music of the merry bells, and the peasant songs of Petrushka at my side. The danger from the wolves, whose howling could be heard in the distance, made the outings more adventurous and romantic. On our return home there would be a feast of hot potato pancakes baked in delicious goose grease, steaming tea with varenya (jam) Mother had made, and vodka for the servants. Petrushka always let me taste a little from his glass. "You're a regular drunkard," he would tease me. That was indeed my reputation since the day when they had found me in a stupor in our cellar underneath a beer-barrel. Father would never permit us to taste liquor, but one day --- I was about three years old then --- I had trotted down to the cellar, put my mouth to a faucet, and drank the queer-tasting stuff. I woke up in my bed, deathly sick, and would no doubt have been given a sound thrashing had not our dear old nurse kept me hidden away from Father....
At last we arrived in Caplinger Mills at the Austen farm. "Put her to bed right away and give her a hot drink," Sam directed, "else she'll hate us for the rest of her life for having taken her over that road." After a hot bath and a good massage I felt much refreshed, though still aching in every joint.
My week with the Austens showed me new angles of the small American farmer's life. It made me see that we had been wrong to regard the farmer in the States as belonging to the bourgeoisie. Kate said it was true only of the very rich landowner who raised everything on a large scale; the vast mass of farmers in America were even more dependent than the city workers. They were at the mercy of the bankers and the railroads, not to speak of their natural enemies, storm and drought. To combat the latter and nourish the leeches who sap the farmer he must slave endless hours in every kind of weather and live almost on the edge of penury. It is his toilsome lot that makes him hard and close-fisted, Kate thought. She lamented especially the drab existence of the farmer's wife. "The womenfolk have nothing but cares, drudgery, and frequent child-bearing."
Kate had come to Caplinger only after her marriage. Before that she had lived in small towns and villages. Left in charge of eight brothers and sisters at her mother's death, when she herself was only eleven years old, she had had no time for much study. Two years in a district school was all the learning her father had been able to afford for her. I wondered how she had managed to gain so much knowledge as her numerous articles implied. "From reading," she informed me. Her father had been a constant reader, at first of Ingersoll's works, later of Lucifer and other radical publications. The events in Chicago in 1887 had exerted upon her, as also upon me, the greatest influence. Since then she had closely followed the social struggle and had studied everything she could get hold of. The range of her reading, judging by the books I found in the Austen household, was very wide. Works on philosophy, on social and economic questions, and on sex were side by side with the best in poetry and fiction. They had been her school. She was thoroughly informed, besides possessing an enthusiasm extraordinary in a woman who had hardly come in contact with life.
"How can a woman of your brains and abilities go on living in such a dull and limited sphere?" I inquired.
"Well, there is Sam," she replied, "who shares everything with me and whom I love, and the children. And there are my neighbours who need me. One can do much even here."
The attendance at my three meetings testified to Kate's influence. From a radius of many miles the farmers came, on foot, in wagons, and on horseback. Two lectures I gave in the little country schoolhouse, the third in a large grove. It was a most picturesque gathering, with the faces of my listeners lit up by lanterns they had brought with them. From the questions some of the men asked, which centred mainly on the right to the land under anarchism, I could see that at least some of them had not come out of mere curiosity, and that Kate had awakened them to the realization that their own difficulties were part of the larger problems of society.
The whole Austen family dedicated itself to me during my stay. Sam took me over the fields on horseback, having given me a sober old mare to ride. The children fulfilled my wishes almost before I had a chance to express them, and Kate was all affectionate devotion. We were much alone together, which gave her a chance to tell me about herself and her surroundings. The greatest objection some of her neighbours had to her was her stand on the sex question. "What would you do if your husband fell in love with another woman?" a farmer's wife had once asked her. "Wouldn't you leave him?" "Not if he still loved me," Kate had promptly replied. "And shouldn't you hate the woman?" "Not if she were a fine person and really loved Sam." Her neighbour had said that if she didn't know Kate so well, she would consider her immoral or crazy; even as it was, she was sure Kate could not possibly love her husband or she would never consent to share him with anybody else. "The joke of it is," Kate added, that the husband of this neighbour is known to be after every skirt, and she is not aware of it. You have no idea what the sexual practices of these farmers are. But it is the result mostly of their dreary existence, she hastened to add; "no other outlet, no distraction, no colour of any sort in their lives. It is different in the city even the poorest working-man there can sometimes go to a show or a lecture, or find some interest in his union. The farmer has nothing but long and arduous toil in the summer, and empty days in the winter. Sex is all they have. How should these people understand sex in its finer expressions, or love that cannot be sold or bound? It's an uphill fight, but we must strive on," my dear comrade concluded.
Time passed only too quickly. Presently I had to leave in order to keep my engagements in the West. Sam offered to take me to the station by a shorter route, which was "only fourteen miles." Kate and the rest of the family accompanied us.
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