Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc.,1931.
HELENA AND OUR YOUNG FOLKS IN ROCHESTER ALWAYS BROUGHT me back to that city even when I did not have to lecture there. This year there were additional reasons for visiting my home town: an opportunity to speak on the war, and the great family event of David Hochstein's first concert with the local symphony orchestra.
The Victoria Theatre had been secured for my lecture by an anarchist workman known as Dashuta. An idealist of the best type, he had paid out of his meagre savings the entire expense of the meeting and he had used all his leisure to make the lecture widely known. His help meant infinitely more to me than the "security for life" offered by the Chicago rich.
On my arrival in Rochester I found my people in anxious suspense over David's forthcoming concert. Well I knew how my sister Helena yearned for the dreams and aspirations of her own frustrated life to be realized in her youngest son. At the first signs of his talent my timid sister had developed determination and strength to defy every difficulty that beset the beloved child's artistic career. She drudged and saved to enable her children, particularly David, to have the opportunities she herself had been deprived of in life, and she was consumed by a great longing to give herself to the uttermost. On my visits she would sometimes pour out her heart to me, never complaining, but only regretting that she was able to do "so little" for her dear ones.
Now the crowning moment of her struggle had arrived. David had returned from Europe the finished artist she had slaved to help him become. Her heart trembled for his triumph. The cold critics, the unappreciative audience --- what would her darling's playing mean to them? Would they understand his genius? She refused seats in a box. "It might disturb him to see me," she said. She would feel more comfortable with Jacob in the gallery.
I had heard David in New York and I knew how his playing had impressed everyone. He was truly an artist. Handsome and of good appearance, he made a striking figure on the platform. I felt no anxiety about his Rochester engagement. My sister's excitement, however, had communicated itself to me, and all during the concert my thoughts were with her whose fierce love and hope were now being fulfilled. David's violin charmed the audience and he was acclaimed with an enthusiasm seldom accorded a young artist in his native town.
Arriving in New York, I was approached by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, controlled by the Scripps-Howard newspapers, for an essay on how the American people could help establish peace on earth and good will towards men. The subject, if treated adequately, would have required a volume, but I was asked to "keep it down" to a thousand words. The opportunity to reach a large audience, however, was too valuable to miss. In my article I pointed out that the first step to good will demands a reversal of Christ's command to "render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's." Ceasing to pay tribute to despots in heaven and on earth, I wrote, would tend towards peace among men.
On my return from a short tour I was surprised to find Donald Vose still in New York. He looked more shabby than I had seen him last, and though it was cold December, he was without an overcoat. Every day he came to our office and remained for hours "to warm up," as he said. "What about the money you expected?" I asked him; "did it ever come?" He had received it, he told me, but he had been promised a good job in New York and he had decided to stay on. Nothing had come of it, however, and now his fare was used up and he had to write home for more. It sounded plausible yet somehow I was not impressed. His constant presence was getting on my nerves.
Soon reports began to drift in that Donald was spending money on drink and that he was nightly treating his companions. I thought at first that it was mere gossip; the boy apparently could not afford an overcoat; where would he get money for drink? But the reports became more frequent, and I got suspicious. I knew his mother Gertie to be too poor to support her son, as were also most of her friends. Writing her would only make her uneasy, and I therefore communicated with some of our friends in the West. They investigated the matter in Seattle, Tacoma, and the Home Colony, where Gertie lived. No money was being supplied to Donald from any of those places. My apprehensions increased. Shortly afterwards Donald came to tell me that his fare had arrived at last and that he was returning West. I was relieved and I felt also a little ashamed of my distrust.
A week after Donald's departure we read about the arrest of Matthew A. Schmidt in New York and of David Caplan on Puget Sound. We knew that the two men were "wanted" in connexion with the Los Angeles Times explosion. The "gentlemen's agreement" made by the State of California to refrain from further prosecution of labour men after the McNamara confession was broken again. Donald Vose came to my mind, and my old suspicions were revived. Various circumstances pointed to his connexion with the arrest of the men. It seemed preposterous to think a child of Gertie Vose capable of treachery, yet I could not free myself from the thought that Donald was somehow responsible for the arrests.
Soon no room was left for doubt. Proofs sent to us by dependable friends on the Coast disclosed that Donald Vose was in the pay of Detective William J. Burns and that he had betrayed Matthew A. Schmidt and David Caplan. The son of our old comrade Gertie, raised in anarchist circles and a guest in our house, turned Judas! It was a staggering blow, one of the worst I had received in my twenty-five years of public life.
The first step I decided upon was a frank avowal in Mother Earth of the facts in the case and an explanation of how Donald Vose had happened to live in our house. But it would crush my dear friend Gertie to learn that her own child was a spy! Gertie had been so happy that her son was now "in the right atmosphere," and that he would take up the work for which she had spent her life. I wondered how the clear-thinking and observant woman could have remained so blind to the true nature of her son. She never would have sent him to our house if she had had the slightest inkling of his true nature. I hesitated to disclose the truth about Donald. Yet sooner or later Gertie would have to face the fact; moreover, there was so much involved in Donald's relation to us and to our work that I could not keep the matter under cover. Our people must be warned against him, I finally decided.
I wrote an article for our magazine giving the whole history of the case. But before it was set up, I received the request from those connected with the defence of Schmidt and Caplan to delay publishing anything about Donald because he was expected to testify at the trial. I had always hated subterfuge, but I could not ignore the wishes of the people in charge of the defence of Caplan and Schmidt.
The tenth anniversary of Mother Earth was approaching. It seemed nothing short of a miracle for our magazine to have survived a whole decade. It had faced the condemnation of enemies and the unfriendly criticism of well-wishers and had had a hard struggle to keep alive. Even most of those who had helped at its birth had expressed misgivings about its continued existence. Their fears were not groundless, in view of the reckless founding of the magazine. Blissful ignorance of the publishing business, combined with the ridiculous nest-egg of two hundred and fifty dollars, how could anyone hope to succeed with such a start? But my friends had overlooked the most important factors in the heritage of Mother Earth, a Yiddish perseverance and a boundless enthusiasm. These had proved to be stronger than gilt-edged securities, large income, or even popular support. From the very beginning I had outlined for it a twofold purpose: to voice without fear every unpopular progressive cause, and to aim for unity between revolutionary effort and artistic expression. To achieve these ends I had to keep Mother Earth untrammelled by party policies, even by anarchist policies, free from sectarian favouritism and from every outside influence, however well-intentioned. For this I was charged even by some of my comrades with using the magazine for my personal ends, and by socialists with being in the employ of capitalism and of the Catholic Church.
Its survival was due in no little measure to the devotion of a small band of comrades and friends who helped to realize my dream of an independent radical spokesman in the United States. The tributes paid at the tenth anniversary by readers in America and abroad testified to the niche in people's hearts my child had made for itself. Some of the praise was especially touching because it came from persons with whom I had been compelled to clash swords over the war.
After my return from the Neo-Malthusian Conference, held in Paris in 1900, I had added to my lecture series the subject of birth-control. I did not discuss methods, because the question of limiting offspring represented in my estimation only one aspect of the social struggle and I did not care to risk arrest for it. Moreover. I was so continually on the brink of prison because of my general activities that it seemed unjustifiable to court extra trouble. Information on methods I gave only when privately requested for it. Margaret Sanger's difficulties with the postal authorities over her publication of The Woman Rebel, and the arrest of William Sanger for giving his wife's pamphlet on methods of birth-control to a Comstock agent, made me aware that the time had come when I must either stop lecturing on the subject or do it practical justice. I felt that I must share with them the consequences of the birth-control issue.
Neither my birth-control discussion nor Margaret Sanger's efforts were pioneer work. The trail was blazed in the United States by the grand old fighter Moses Harman, his daughter Lillian, Ezra Heywood, Dr. Foote and his son, E. C. Walker, and their collaborators of a previous generation. Ida Craddock, one of the bravest champions of women's emancipation, had paid the supreme price. Hounded by Comstock and faced with a five-year sentence, she had taken her own life. She and the Moses Harman group were the pioneers and heroes of the battle for free motherhood, for the right of the child to be born well. The matter of priority, however, in no way lessened the value of Margaret Sanger's work. She was the only woman in America in recent years to give information to women on birth-control and she had revived the subject in her publication after many years of silence.
E. C. Walker, president of the Sunrise Club, had invited me to speak at one of its fortnightly dinners. His organization was among the few libertarian forums in New York open to free expression. I had often lectured there on various social topics. On this occasion I chose birth-control as my theme, intending openly to discuss methods of contraception. I faced one of the largest audiences in the history of the club, numbering about six hundred persons, among them physicians, lawyers, artists, and men and women of liberal views. Most of them were earnest people who had come together to lend moral support to the test case that this first public discussion represented. Everyone felt certain that my arrest would follow, and some friends had come prepared to go bail for me. I carried a book with me in case I should have to spend the night in the station-house. That possibility did not disturb me, but I did feel uneasy because I knew that some of the diners had come out of curiosity, for the sex thrills they expected to experience on this evening.
I introduced my subject by reviewing the historical and social aspects of birth-control and then continued with a discussion of a number of contraceptives, their application and effects. I spoke in the direct and frank manner that I should use in dealing with ordinary disinfection and prophylaxis. The questions and the discussion that followed showed that I had taken the right approach. Several physicians complimented me on having presented so difficult and delicate a subject in a "clean and natural manner."
No arrest followed. Some friends feared I might be picked up on my way home, and insisted on seeing me to my door. Days passed and the authorities had taken no steps in the matter. It was the more surprising in view of the arrest of William Sanger for something he had not said nor written himself. People wondered why I, who had been so frequently arrested when I had not broken the law, should be allowed to go unpunished when I had done so deliberately. Perhaps Comstock's failure to act was due to the fact that he knew that those who were in the habit of attending the Sunrise Club gatherings were probably already in possession of contraceptives. I must therefore deliver the lecture at my own Sunday meetings, I decided.
Our hall was packed, mostly with young people, among them students from Columbia University. The interest evinced by my audience was even greater than at the Sunrise dinner, the questions put by the young folks of a more direct and personal nature. I did not mince matters, yet there was no arrest. Evidently I should have to make another test on the East Side.
I had to postpone the matter for a while because of previous engagements. Students from the Union Theological Seminary, frequent attendants at my Sunday lectures, had invited me to address them. I had consented after having warned the boys that they were likely to meet with opposition from the faculty. As soon as it became known that the heathen was to invade the theological sanctum, a tempest broke out which lasted beyond the day set for my lecture. The students insisted on their right of hearing whom they pleased until the faculty gave in, and another date was agreed upon.
In the mean time I had to deliver another lecture, on the "Failure of Christianity," with particular reference to Billy Sunday, whom I considered the modern clown of religion and whose circus was in Paterson at the time. In view of the tsarist methods employed by the authorities in dealing with strike meetings and radical gatherings, the police protection given Billy and his performances was doubly outrageous. Our comrades in Paterson were planning some protest, and they invited me to speak. I felt that it would not be fair to discuss Billy Sunday without first learning the calibre of the man and seeing what he was passing out as religion. I went with Ben to Paterson to hear the self-appointed voice of Christ.
Never did Christianity appear to me so divested of meaning and decency. Billy Sunday's vulgar manner, his coarse suggestiveness, erotic flagellation, and disgusting lasciviousness, clad in theological phraseology, stripped religion of the least spiritual significance. I was too nauseated to hear him to the end. Fresh air brought relief from the atmosphere of the lewd mouthings and sexual contortions with which he goaded his audience to salacious hysteria.
Some days later I lectured in Paterson on the "Failure of Christianity" and cited Billy Sunday as the symbol of its inner collapse. The next morning's newspapers stated that I had provoked the wrath of God by my blasphemy. I learned that the hall in which I had spoken had caught fire after I had left and burned to the ground.
My tour this year met with no police interference until we reached Portland, Oregon, although the subjects I treated were anything but tame: anti-war topics, the fight for Caplan and Schmidt, freedom in love, birth-control, and the problem most tabooed in polite society, homosexuality. Nor did Comstock and his purists try to suppress me, although I openly discussed methods of contraception before various audiences.
Censorship came from some of my own comrades because I was treating such "unnatural" themes as homosexuality. Anarchism was already enough misunderstood, and anarchists considered depraved; it was inadvisable to add to the misconceptions by taking up perverted sex-forms, they argued. Believing in freedom of opinion, even if it went against me, I minded the censors in my own ranks as little as I did those in the enemy's camp. In fact, censorship from comrades had the same effect on me as police persecution; it made me surer of myself, more determined to plead for every victim, be it one of social wrong or of moral prejudice.
The men and women who used to come to see me after my lectures on homosexuality, and who confided to me their anguish and their isolation, were often of finer grain than those who had cast them out. Most of them had reached an adequate understanding of their differentiation only after years of struggle to stifle what they had considered a disease and a shameful affliction. One young woman confessed to me that in the twenty-five years of her life she had never known a day when the nearness of a man, her own father and brothers even, did not make her ill. The more she had tried to respond to sexual approach, the more repugnant men became to her. She had hated herself, she said, because she could not love her father and her brothers as she loved her mother. She suffered excruciating remorse, but her revulsion only increased. At the age of eighteen she had accepted an offer of marriage in the hope that a long engagement might help her grow accustomed to a man and cure her of her "disease." It turned out a ghastly failure and nearly drove her insane. She could not face marriage and she dared not confide in her fiance or friends. She had never met anyone, she told me, who suffered from a similar affliction, nor had she ever read books dealing with the subject. My lecture had set her free; I had given her back her self-respect.
This woman was only one of the many who sought me out. Their pitiful stories made the social ostracism of the invert seem more dreadful than I had ever realized before. To me anarchism was not a mere theory for a distant future; it was a living influence to free us from inhibitions, internal no less than external, and from the destructive barriers that separate man from man.
Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco were record-breaking in the size of our meetings and the interest shown. In Los Angeles I was invited by the Women's City Club. Five hundred members of my sex, from the deepest red to the dullest grey, came to hear me speak on "Feminism." They could not excuse my critical attitude towards the bombastic and impossible claims of the suffragists as to the wonderful things they would do when they got political power. They branded me as an enemy of woman's freedom, and club-members stood up and denounced me.
The incident reminded me of a similar occasion when I had lectured on woman's inhumanity to man. Always on the side of the under dog, I resented my sex's placing every evil at the door of the male. I pointed out that if he were really as great a sinner as he was being painted by the ladies, woman shared the responsibility with him. The mother is the first influence in his life, the first to cultivate his conceit and self-importance. Sisters and wives follow in the mother's footsteps, not to mention mistresses, who complete the work begun by the mother. Woman is naturally perverse, I argued; from the very birth of her male child until he reaches a ripe age, the mother leaves nothing undone to keep him tied to her. Yet she hates to see him weak and she craves the manly man. She idolizes in him the very traits that help to enslave her -- his strength, his egotism, and his exaggerated vanity. The inconsistencies of my sex keep the poor male dangling between the idol and the brute, the darling and the beast, the helpless child and the conqueror of worlds. It is really woman's inhumanity to man that makes him what he is. When she has learned to be as self-centred and as determined as he, when she gains the courage to delve into life as he does and pay the price for it, she will achieve her liberation, and incidentally also help him become free. Whereupon my women hearers would rise up against me and cry: " You're a man's woman and not one of us."
Our experience in San Diego two years previously, in 1913, had exerted the same effect on me as the night ride in 1912 had on Ben. I was set on returning to deliver my suppressed lecture. In 1914 one of our friends had gone to San Diego to try to secure a hall. The socialists, who had their own place, refused to have anything to do with me. Other radical groups were equally brave, so that my plan had to be abandoned. Only temporarily, I had promised myself, however.
This year, 1915, I was fortunate in having to deal with real men instead of with mere apologies in male attire. One of them was George Edwards, the musician who had offered us the Conservatory of Music on the occasion of our first trouble with the Vigilantes. The other was Dr. A. Lyle de Jarnette, a Baptist minister who had resigned from the Church and had founded the Open Forum. Edwards had become a thorough anarchist who devoted his time and abilities to the movement. He had set to music Voltairine de Cleyre's The Hurricane, Olive Schreiner's Dream of Wild Bees, and "The Grand Inquisitor" from Dostoyevsky's Brothers Karamazov. Now he was determined to help me come back to San Diego and establish the right of free speech there. Dr. Jarnette had organized the Open Forum as a protest against Vigilante suppression. The association had since grown into a large and vital body. Arrangements were made for me to deliver three lectures there, in an attempt to break the San Diego conspiracy.
The recently elected mayor of the city, reputed to be a liberal, had assured the Open Forum that I would be allowed to speak, and that no Vigilante interference would be permitted. It was a new tone for San Diego, probably due to the circumstance that its exposition had greatly suffered as a result of the three-year boycott. But our former experiences in the city did not justify too much trust in official declarations. We preferred to prepare ourselves for possible emergencies.
I had long before decided that I would return to San Diego without Ben. I had planned to go alone, but fortunately Sasha was in Los Angeles at the time. I knew I could count on his poise in a difficult situation and on his utter fearlessness in the face of the gravest danger. Sasha and my romantic admirer Leon Bass left for San Diego two days ahead of me to look over the field. Accompanied by Fitzi and Ben Capes, I departed quietly from Los Angeles in an auto. Nearing the Vigilante city, the picture of Ben surrounded by fourteen thugs rose before me. They had covered the same route, with Ben at the mercy of savages who were beating and humiliating him. I thought of him writhing in pain, with no one to succour him or alleviate his terror. Barely three years had passed. I was free, with dear friends at my side, securely riding through the balmy night. I could enjoy the beauty around me, the golden Pacific on one side, majestic mountains on the other, their fantastic formations towering above us. The very glory of this magnificent country-side must have been mockery to Ben, a mockery in league with his torturers. May 14, 1912 -- June 20, 1915 -- what an incredible change! Yet what might be awaiting us in San Diego?
We arrived at four-thirty in the morning and drove straight to the small hotel where Sasha had engaged rooms for us. He reported that the hall-keeper had declared that I could not speak in his place, but that Dr. Jarnette and the other members of the Open Forum were determined to see our plans through. The hall was theirs by yearly lease, the key was in their hands, and it had been decided to take possession of the hall and guard every entrance.
When our meeting opened, at eleven in the morning, we became aware that a number of Vigilantes were present. The situation was tense, the atmosphere charged with suppressed excitement. It furnished a fitting background for my subject, which was Ibsen's Enemy of the People. Our men were on the alert, and no untoward incident took place, the Vigilantes evidently not daring to start any hostile demonstration.
The afternoon lecture was on Nietzsche, and again the hall was crowded, but this time the Vigilantes remained away. In the evening I spoke on the struggle of Margaret and William Sanger, dealing with the importance of birth-control. The day ended without any disturbance. I felt that our triumph was due mostly to the comrades martyred for free speech three years previously -- to Joseph Mikolasek, who had been murdered in the fight, and the hundreds of I.W.W.'s and other victims, including Ben, who had been beaten, thrown into prison and driven out of town. The thought of them steeled me and urged me on.
Ben insisted on visiting San Diego again, and he returned there later on, not in any public capacity, but just to convince himself that he was not afraid. He went to the exposition in the company of his mother and several friends. No one paid any attention to them. The Vigilante conspiracy had been broken.
Among my numerous friends in Los Angeles none was more helpful in my work and welfare than Dr. Percival T. Gerson, together with his wife. They interested scores of people in my lectures, gave me the opportunity to address gatherings in their home, and entertained me lavishly. It was also Dr Gerson who procured for me an invitation to speak before the Severance Club, named in honour of Caroline M. Severance, co-worker of Susan B. Anthony, Julia Howe, and the group of militants of the preceding generation.
Before I began my lecture, I was introduced to a man who, in the absence of the president, had been asked to preside. There was nothing striking about him as he sat buried in my volume of Anarchism and Other Essays. In his opening remarks this chairman, whose name was Tracy Becker, astonished the audience by the announcement that he had been connected with the District Attorney's office in Buffalo when President McKinley was killed. Until very recently he had considered Emma Goldman a criminal, he said -- not one who had courage to do murder herself, but one who unscrupulously played on weak minds and induced them to commit crimes. During the trial of Leon Czolgosz he felt certain, he continued, that it was I who had instigated the assassination of the President and he had thought that I ought to be made to pay the extreme penalty. Since he had read my books and had talked to some of my friends, he realized his mistake and he now hoped that I would forgive him the injustice he had done me.
Dead silence followed his remarks, and everybody's eyes were turned on me. I felt frozen by the sudden resurrection of the Buffalo tragedy, and in an unsteady voice, at first, I declared that since we are all links in the social chain, no one can avoid responsibility for such deeds as that of Leon Czolgosz; not even the chairman. He who remains indifferent to the conditions that result in violent acts of protest cannot escape his share of blame for them. Even those of us who see clearly and work for fundamental changes are not entirely exempt from guilt. Too absorbed in efforts for the future, we often turn a deaf ear to those who reach out for sympathetic understanding and who hunger for the fellowship of kindred spirits. Leon Czolgosz had been one of such.
I talked with growing feeling as I proceeded to describe the bleak background of the boy, his early environment and life. I related the impressions of the Buffalo newspaper woman who had sought me out to tell me what she had experienced during Czolgosz's trial, and I pointed out the motives of Leon's act and martyrdom. I felt no resentment against the man who had confessed his eagerness to send me to the electric chair. Indeed, I rather admired him for frankly admitting his error. But he had revived in my memory the fury of that period, and I was in no mood to meet him or to listen to his idle pleasantries.
The San Francisco Exposition was at its height, and the population of the city; had almost doubled. Our meetings, totalling forty within one month, successfully competed with the gate receipts of the big show. The great event was my appearance at the Congress of Religious Philosophies. The astonishing thing was made possible by Mr. Power, who was in charge of the sessions of the congress. He had known me in the East, and when he learned of my presence in San Francisco, he invited me to speak.
The public conclave of the religious philosophers took place in the Civic Auditorium, one of the largest halls in the West. The place of the chairman, a reverend gentleman who suddenly fell ill when he heard that I was to speak, was taken by a member of the newspaper fraternity. I was thus between the devil and the deep sea, and I began my talk on atheism by saying so. My introduction put the audience in a light mood. Surrounded on the platform by gentlemen of the cloth of every known denomination, I needed all my humour to rise to the solemnity of the occasion.
Atheism is rather a delicate subject to handle under such circumstances, but somehow I managed to pull through. I saw consternation on the faces of the theologians, who protested that my treatment of religion was scandalous. But the vast audience evidently enjoyed it, for its hilarious approval came perilously near breaking up the congress when I got through. I was followed by a rabbi, who began by saying that "in spite of all Miss Goldman has said against religion, she is the most religious person I know."
To Chapter 43
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