Women of Valor

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Overview

Emma Goldman, 1869 - 1940

This exhibit was produced in collaboration with the Emma Goldman Papers.

"I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things."

Emma Goldman dedicated her life to the creation of a radically new social order. Convinced that the political and economic organization of modern society was fundamentally unjust, she embraced anarchism for the vision it offered of liberty, harmony and true social justice. For decades, she struggled tirelessly against widespread inequality, repression and exploitation.

Goldman's deep commitment to the ideal of absolute freedom led her to espouse a wide range of controversial causes. A fiery orator and a gifted writer, she became a passionate advocate of freedom of expression, sexual freedom and birth control, equality and independence for women, radical education, union organization and workers' rights.

Support for these ideas—many of which were unpopular with mainstream America—earned Goldman the enmity of powerful political and economic authorities. Known as "exceedingly dangerous" and one of the two most dangerous anarchists in America, she was often harrassed or arrested while lecturing, and sometimes banned outright from speaking. Insisting on the right to express herself in the face of overwhelming odds, Goldman became a prominent figure in the establishment of the right to freedom of speech in America.

Although Goldman was hostile to religion in general, her core beliefs emerged in part from a Jewish tradition that championed the pursuit of universal justice. Her early experiences in Russia and as an immigrant to the United States laid the groundwork for her later analyses of political and economic problems, and she understood that her own ideals had their roots in a Jewish historical experience shaped by longstanding oppression. Goldman's career stands as an important chapter in the history of Jewish activism in America.

Notes: 
  1. Quotation beginning "I want freedom" from Emma Goldman, Living My Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931), 56.
  2. Quotation "exceedingly dangerous" woman by United States Attorney Francis Caffey, July 12, 1917, National Archives.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Emma Goldman - Overview." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/goldman/overview>.