1869-06-27

EMMA GOLDMAN, anarchist and feminist (d. 1940); An anarchist known for her political activism, writing, and speeches. She was lionized as a free-thinking “rebel woman” by admirers, and derided as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution by her critics. Although she was hostile to first-wave feminism and its suffragist goals, Goldman advocated passionately for the rights of women, and is today heralded as a founder of anarcha-feminism, which challenges patriarchy (Harry Hay preferred the term “androarchy” as the rule was by men, not fathers necessarily) as a hierarchy to be resisted alongside state power and class divisions. In 1897 she wrote: “I demand the independence of woman, her right to support herself; to live for herself; to love whomever she pleases, or as many as she pleases. I demand freedom for both sexes, freedom of action, freedom in love and freedom in motherhood.”

A nurse by training, she was an early advocate for educating women concerning contraception. Like many contemporary feminists, she saw abortion as a tragic consequence of social conditions, and birth control as a positive alternative. Goldman was also an advocate of free-love, and a strong critic of marriage. She saw early feminists as confined in their scope and bounded by social forces of Puritanism and capitalism. She wrote: “We are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits. The movement for women’s emancipation has so far made but the first step in that direction.”

Goldman was an outspoken critic of prejudice against homosexuals. Her belief that social liberation should extend to Gays and Lesbians was virtually unheard of at the time, even among anarchists. As Magnus Hirschfeld wrote, “she was the first and only woman, indeed the first and only American, to take up the defense of homosexual love before the general public.”

In numerous speeches and letters she defended the rights of Gays and Lesbians to love as they pleased and condemned the fear and stigma associated with homosexuality. As Goldman wrote in a letter to Hirschfeld,

“It is a tragedy, I feel, that people of a different sexual type are caught in a world which shows so little understanding for homosexuals and is so crassly indifferent to the various gradations and variations of gender and their great significance in life.”