Like most working men and women of America, Emma Goldman followed the Chicago trial with great anxiety and excitement. She, too, could not believe that the leaders of the proletariat would be killed. The 11th of November, 1887, taught her differently. She realized that no mercy could be expected from the ruling class, that between the Tsarism of Russia and the plutocracy of America there was no difference save in name. Her whole being rebelled against the crime, and she vowed to herself a solemn vow to join the ranks of the revolutionary proletariat and to devote all her energy and strength to their emancipation from wage slavery. With the glowing enthusiasm so characteristic of her nature, she now began to familiarize herself with the literature of Socialism and Anarchism. She attended public meetings and became acquainted with socialistically and anarchistically inclined working men. Johanna Greie, the well-known German lecturer, was the first Socialist speaker heard by Emma Goldman. In New Haven, Conn., where she was employed in a corset factory, she met Anarchists actively participating in the movement. Here she read the Freiheit, edited by John Most. The Haymarket tragedy developed her inherent Anarchist tendencies; the reading of the Freiheit made her a conscious Anarchist. Subsequently she was to learn that the idea of Anarchism found its highest expression through the best intellects of America: theoretically by Josiah Warren, Stephen Pearl Andrews Lysander Spooner; philosophically by Emerson, Thoreau, and Walt Whitman.
Made ill by the excessive strain of factory work, Emma Goldman returned to Rochester where she remained till August, 1889, at which time she removed to New York, the scene of the most important phase of her life. She was now twenty years old. Features pallid with suffering, eyes large and full of compassion, greet one in her pictured likeness of those days. Her hair is, as customary with Russian student girls, worn short, giving free play to the strong forehead.
While on a recent lecture tour in San Francisco, I visited the Presidio, the most beautiful spot overlooking the Bay and Golden Gate Park. Its purpose should have been playgrounds for children, gardens and music for the recreation of the weary. Instead it is made ugly, dull, and gray by barracks, — barracks wherein the rich would not allow their dogs to dwell. In these miserable shanties soldiers are herded like cattle; here they waste their young days, polishing the boots and brass buttons of their superior officers. Here, too, I saw the distinction of classes: sturdy sons of a free Republic, drawn up in line like convicts, saluting every passing shrimp of a lieutenant. American equality, degrading manhood and elevating the uniform!
Havelock Ellis divides crime into four phases, the political, the passional, the insane, and the occasional. He says that the political criminal is the victim of an attempt of a more or less despotic government to preserve its own stability. He is not necessarily guilty of an unsocial offense; he simply tries to overturn a certain political order which may itself be anti-social. This truth is recognized all over the world, except in America where the foolish notion still prevails that in a Democracy there is no place for political criminals. Yet John Brown was a political criminal; so were the Chicago Anarchists; so is every striker. Consequently, says Havelock Ellis, the political criminal of our time or place may be the hero, martyr, saint of another age. Lombroso calls the political criminal the true precursor of the progressive movement of humanity.
Today, even, nine years after the tragedy, after it was proven a hundred times that Emma Goldman had nothing to do with the event, that no evidence whatsoever exists to indicate that Czolgosz ever called himself an Anarchist, we are confronted with the same lie, fabricated by the police and perpetuated by the press. No living soul ever heard Czolgosz make that statement, nor is there a single written word to prove that the boy ever breathed the accusation. Nothing but ignorance and insane hysteria, which have never yet been able to solve the simplest problem of cause and effect.
Emma Goldman soon obtained work in the clothing establishment of the Garson Co. The wages amounted to two and a half dollars a week. At that time the factories were not provided with motor power, and the poor sewing girls had to drive the wheels by foot, from early morning till late at night. A terribly exhausting toil it was, without a ray of light, the drudgery of the long day passed in complete silence — the Russian custom of friendly conversation at work was not permissible in the free country. But the exploitation of the girls was not only economic; the poor wage workers were looked upon by their foremen and bosses as sexual commodities. If a girl resented the advances of her superiors,” she would speedily find herself on the street as an undesirable element in the factory. There was never a lack of willing victims: the supply always exceeded the demand.
The horrible conditions were made still more unbearable by the fearful dreariness of life in the small American city. The Puritan spirit suppresses the slightest manifestation of joy; a deadly dullness beclouds the soul; no intellectual inspiration, no thought exchange between congenial spirits is possible. Emma Goldman almost suffocated in this atmosphere. She, above all others, longed for ideal surroundings, for friendship and understanding, for the companionship of kindred minds. Mentally she still lived in Russia. Unfamiliar with the language and life of the country, she dwelt more in the past than in the present. It was at this period that she met a young man who spoke Russian. With great joy the acquaintance was cultivated. At last a person with whom she could converse, one who could help her bridge the dullness of the narrow existence. The friendship gradually ripened and finally culminated in marriage.
Emma Goldman, too, had to walk the sorrowful road of married life; she, too, had to learn from bitter experience that legal statutes signify dependence and self-effacement, especially for the woman. The marriage was no liberation from the Puritan dreariness of American life; indeed, it was rather aggravated by the loss of self-ownership. The characters of the young people differed too widely. A separation soon followed, and Emma Goldman went to New Haven, Conn. There she found employment in a factory, and her husband disappeared from her horizon. Two decades later she was fated to be unexpectedly reminded of him by the Federal authorities.
Thus thought the two girls as they travelled, in the year 1886, from New York to Rochester. Soon, all too soon, disillusionment awaited them. The ideal conception of America was punctured already at Castle Garden, and soon burst like a soap bubble. Here Emma Goldman witnessed sights which reminded her of the terrible scenes of her childhood in Kurland. The brutality and humiliation the future citizens of the great Republic were subjected to on board ship, were repeated at Castle Garden by the officials of the democracy in a more savage and aggravating manner. And what bitter disappointment followed as the young idealist began to familiarize herself with the conditions in the new land! Instead of one Tsar, she found scores of them; the Cossack was replaced by the policeman with the heavy club, and instead of the Russian chinovnik there was the far more inhuman slave driver of the factory.
The revolutionists who were active in the Russian movement of the 80’s were but little familiar with the social ideas then agitating western Europe and America. Their sole activity consisted in educating the people, their final goal the destruction of the autocracy. Socialism and Anarchism were terms hardly known even by name. Emma Goldman, too, was entirely unfamiliar with the significance of those ideals.
The two most prominent representatives of the Anarchist idea in America, Voltairine de Cleyre and Emma Goldman — the one a native American, the other a Russian — have been converted, like numerous others, to the ideas of Anarchism by the judicial murder. Two women who had not known each other before, and who had received a widely different education, were through that murder united in one idea.