Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Combining essays and lectures from various published and unpublished sources, Red Emma Speaks contains the best of Emma Goldman’s writings on political and social issues. Emma Goldman was a national figure—if not a household word—in the two decades preceding World War I, and she was considered by many, including the young J. Edgar Hoover, the most dangerous woman in America when she was deported during the “Red Scare” of 1919. Though not a Communist, she was for nearly fifty years misunderstood by the American public as “Red Emma,” the implacable enemy of polite society, a woman whose only goal was the destruction of the institutions that make America strong and, ultimately, America itself. Goldman did target such institutions as marriage, the family, government, and religion, but her contention was always that these institutions weakened and enslaved humankind. Red Emma Speaks focuses on Goldman’s wide-ranging thought on the events and issues of her time and on her vision of anarchism (the absence of government) as the single truth that she hoped would reshape the world.

The importance of Emma Goldman’s life and work to women’s issues and concerns should not be underestimated. Although she disagreed with many of the leading feminists of her day on major issues confronting women, she was a more innovative, more radical, and certainly more militant advocate for the emancipation of women than were the acknowledged...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Emma Goldman’s impact on the women’s movement in her own era is difficult to measure. Though she was a superb—and world-famous—speaker and writer, she was so closely identified with the anarchist movement, which most Americans perceived as a foreign threat, that she was often judged by her notoriety rather than by her beliefs. Her insistence on sexual and reproductive autonomy for women and her advocacy of contraception even offended many anarchists. Her frequent lecture tours, during which she typically spoke in small but packed halls, sometimes reached as many as twenty thousand listeners, and there are numerous accounts of people who went to hear her out of curiosity but left the hall converted to anarchism and committed to the liberation of women. Neglected by history in the years following her death, Goldman’s writings have, since the late 1960’s, enjoyed a resurgence in popularity and influence as part of the ongoing feminist recovery of women writers. As Alix Kates Shulman points out in her introductory essay on Goldman’s feminism, her works are now widely available, her face has become a familiar symbol of liberation, and she is now accepted as a hero of the women’s movement.

In addition to the essays and lectures compiled in Red Emma Speaks, Emma Goldman produced two other collections of essays, Anarchism and Other Essays (1910) and The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914). A number of her speeches appear in Anarchism on Trial: Speeches of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman Before the United States District Court in the City of New York, July 1917 (1917), and many of her letters were compiled in Nowhere at Home: Letters from Exile of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman (1975, edited by Richard and Anna Maria Drinnon). My Disillusionment in Russia (1922) chronicles Goldman’s disenchantment with the workers’ revolution in the Soviet Union, and Living My Life (1931) is a two-volume autobiography.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Chalberg, John. Emma Goldman: An American Individualist. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. This brief, popular biography of Goldman focuses on her refusal and/or inability to maintain permanent alliances, either politically or personally.

Drinnon, Richard. Rebel in Paradise: A Biography of Emma Goldman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961. Perhaps the definitive Goldman biography, this work places Goldman’s work in context with other political and social movements of her day. Its thorough bibliographic essay is indispensable for students of Goldman’s life and work.

Falk, Candace. Love, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984. Quoting liberally from many intimate—and carefully edited— letters, Falk examines Goldman’s free and open attitudes toward sex, love, and marriage as revealed in her numerous love affairs, particularly those with Alexander Berkman, Edward Brady (1859-1904), and Ben Reitman.

Morton, Marian J. Emma Goldman and the American Left: “Nowhere at Home.” New York: Twayne, 1992. This political biography examines the relations between Goldman’s anarchism and other popular left-wing movements of the early twentieth century.

Wexler, Alice. Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984. A study of Goldman’s personal life from childhood to 1919, when she was deported to Russia. Especially interesting is the clash between Goldman’s belief in free love and her intense jealousy over Ben Reitman, the great love of her life, who was a compulsive womanizer.