Women of Valor


Women's Rights

Emma Goldman, 1869 - 1940

"I demand the independence of woman," Goldman wrote in 1897, "her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases." Unlike many turn-of-the-century anarchists, who believed that any problems faced by women would simply disappear when anarchism ushered in a new society, Goldman worked from the conviction that women labored under distinct disabilities, which had distinct causes.

Throughout her career, Goldman addressed the need for the economic, social and sexual emancipation of women. According to her, the patriarchal family, sexual and reproductive repression, and financial difficulties all contributed to women's inferior status and prevented the full flowering of their individuality. Marriage, in her opinion, was simply a legalized form of prostitution, in which women traded sex for economic and social standing. Convinced that enforced childbearing further eroded women's economic and sexual autonomy, she became a prominent figure in the struggle for free access to birth control.

Goldman's determination to speak out on her controversial views on sexual and reproductive freedom led to frequent arrests. It also brought her into conflict with the mainstream women's movement, which she saw as conservative and benefiting primarily the middle class. Goldman opposed the contemporary fight for women's suffrage and efforts to open professional careers to women, believing they would result at best in the illusion of improvements to a fundamentally corrupt system. To her, these causes were mere distractions from deeper, more important internal struggles. "[Woman's] development, her freedom, her independence," she claimed, "must come from and through herself. First by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right to anyone over her body;... by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc.... By freeing herself from the fear of the public opinion and the public condemnation."

  1. Quotation beginning "I demand the independence of woman" from Emma Goldman, "Marriage," Firebrand (Portland, OR), July 18, 1897.
  2. Quotation beginning "Woman's development" from Goldman, "Woman Suffrage," in Anarchism and Other Essays (New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1910), 217.
  3. Additional information from Alix Kates Shulman, "Emma Goldman's Feminism: A Reappraisal," in Shulman, ed., Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader, 3rd edition (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, Inc. 1996), 3-19.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Emma Goldman - Women's Rights." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/goldman/womens-rights>.