June 1, 2016
Emma Goldman (1869–1940), the Lithuanian Jewish anarchist, was widely known in America as Red Emma for her defense of free speech, labor protests, women’s rights and birth control. Although she was deported from the United States in 1919, starting in the 1970s increasing numbers of historians and readers have been drawn to Goldman’s personality and advocacy. Recently, the Forward’s Benjamin Ivry spoke with Donna M. Kowal, author of “Tongue of Fire: Emma Goldman, Public Womanhood, and the Sex Question” (State University of New York Press) and associate professor atSUNY’s the College at Brockport, about the abiding allure of Red Emma.
Benjamin Ivry: In 1896, Emma Goldman praised bomb-throwing anarchists in France and Russia. She conspired to commit one murder, of American industrialist Henry Clay Frick, and refused to condemn the assassination of President McKinley by someone who claimed she had inspired him. Why has Goldman become such a beloved character of late?
Donna M. Kowal: You know she’s been a beloved character for decades in terms of the women’s movement. She really became an icon because of her brazen personality and also her demand for sexual freedom. I think she was a firebrand, she was a sensation. First of all, as a woman playing a public role, she violated gender norms. Not just advocating suffrage, she wanted to go far beyond that and upend the entire political and economic system with her ideas defending working people, poor people and the unemployed.