Today we would like to commemorate the death of Emma Goldman. On May 14, 1940, Goldman passed away in Toronto, Canada. The great orator and activist had earlier suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak. Feared and revered for her eloquent speeches and orotund prose, Goldman left the world silently, as if she had wrung out every last word from her body. Her presence is alive in the Emma Goldman Papers Project—her countless letters, photographs, notes, and magazines fill our office with her lasting impression. Each of us involved in archiving and writing the life of Emma Goldman has been drawn to her for different reasons and left with experiences special and enduring. Today, somberly, we reflect on her passing by looking back to how those who knew her best mourned her passing. The following is largely excerpted from Candace Falk’s Love, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman.
At her funeral Harry Weinberger, a longtime friend and Emma’s lawyer, delivered one of several eulogies. Emma Goldman, he said, was a “tireless, fearless, uncompromising battler of freedom and justice.”
Liberty was always her theme; liberty was always her dream; liberty was always her goal… Emma Goldman in her lifetime had been ostracized, jailed, mobbed and deported from these shores for advocating that which all the world now admits should be brought about—a world without war, a world without poverty, a world with hope and the brotherhood of man…
Courage in Emma Goldman was as natural to her as it was for her to breathe.
He paused, with tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat, then continued to speak as if directly to Emma herself:
Emma Goldman, we welcome you back to America, where you wanted to end your days with friends and comrades. We had hoped to welcome you back in life—but we welcome you back in death. You will live forever in the hearts of your friends and the story of your life will live as long as stories are told of women and men of courage and idealism.
The tearful orations continued, though, as the next speaker remarked, Emma’s “eloquence [was] second to none yet uttered by any lips.”
Ben is said to have cried, in his melodramatic style, as the last shovel of dirt was thrown on her coffin, “They have taken away my savior and I know not where they have laid her.”
Her old friend Ethel Mannin memorialized Emma in her book Women and the Revolution:
Red Emma! A four-square, thick-set, domineering little woman, square-jawed, disconcertingly forthright, irascible, and as relentless in her demands on herself as on others where the revolutionary cause is concerned, and behind that forbidding exterior, a martyr burnt up with the flame of her passion for human liberty, a soldier who will die fighting; a warm and gentle woman who has known the love of men, who loves children, who has known many and enriching friendships, warmly and quickly responsive to love and affection, sympathetic to the trouble of her friends, loving beauty and peace, though there has been so little time for either in her crowded life; a truly great woman, a great Person, judged by any standard. Her heart might break; over Berkman, the martyrdom of his fourteen years’ imprisonment, the tragedy of his death; over Russia; over Spain; but whose spirit, never! Her whole life is an example of unfaltering courage and unswerving faith, in the face of persecution and bitter disappointment.
There was also a memorial service for Emma in New York. Leonard Abbot, who had written for Mother Earth as early as 1907, worked with Emma at the Ferrer Center, and had been her loyal friend, described it to Ben: “I felt that I was presiding at the end of an era rather than the rebirth of something vital. Anarchism will never really be a vital force unless it can be applied to life (as Emma Goldman applied it) in a compelling way.”