Women of Valor


Jacob Kershner

Emma Goldman, 1869 - 1940

Goldman met Jacob Kershner, a fellow immigrant and factory worker, soon after her arrival in America. An attractive man, Kershner shared Emma's interests in reading, dancing and traveling, and he seemed to offer an escape from the drudgery and narrowness of her life at home and at work. When Kershner proposed marriage after only four months, Goldman hesitated but finally agreed. They were married in February 1887.

Marriage failed to bring Goldman the freedom of which she dreamed. The first disappointment was immediate: on their wedding night, Goldman learned that Kershner was impotent. Humiliated and depressed, Kershner immersed himself in playing cards, spurning the books and dancing that had brought the couple together and wasting the little money they had.

Goldman began to feel even more isolated and confined than she had in the midst of her own family. Having left her job in deference to the belief that married women should not do factory work, her financial worries grew as her hope for the future waned. After only a year, she braved the disapproval of the traditional Jewish community and divorced her husband.

Following her divorce, Goldman moved temporarily to New Haven, CT, to work in a corset factory. Upon her return to Rochester, Goldman succumbed to Kershner's threats of suicide and remarried him, but their second attempt at marriage, too, was an immediate failure. After her second divorce, the Jewish community—including Abraham and Taube Goldman—shunned her completely. Only her sister Helena stood by her. The opposition only strengthened Goldman's resolve to escape a stifling life that had become unbearable to her.

Women of Valor Parent: 
Emma Goldman
Women of Valor Parent path: 
  1. Candace Falk, Love, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984), 20-25, revised paperback edition from Rutgers University Press, 1990, 1999.
  2. Emma Goldman, Living My Life (Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1931), 17-25.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Emma Goldman - A Dedicated Anarchist - Jacob Kershner." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/goldman/dedicated-anarchist/jacob-kershner>.