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Emma Goldman: A Fight For Women and Equal Rights

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
1 class period (60 minutes)
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
This will be an individual learning assignment that will require the use of artifacts and other primary sources from the Emma Goldman Papers project by the University of California-Berkeley and Public Broadcasting Station (PBS).

This will be an individual learning assignment that will require the use of artifacts and other primary sources from the Emma Goldman Papers project by the University of California-Berkeley and Public Broadcasting Station (PBS).

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

During her life, Goldman was a freethinking, controversial figure in the women's movement of the early twentieth century. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love, and homosexuality. A strong anarchist, students need to understand the issues, both positive and negative, behind anarchism and why people such as Emma Goldman believed in the philosophy. Goldman is one of the most controversial figures of the early twentieth century, yet the majority of students have cannot fathom who Emma Goldman was or the significance of her life for women.

Lesson Objectives - the student will
  • The student will be able to evaluate the controversial figure of Emma Goldman and her contributions to women's rights.
  • The student will be able to analyze primary sources and comprehend Emma Goldman's stance on issues of free love, marriage, and anarchism.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met
  • Social Studies GLE 2a-5
  • Social Studies GLE 2a-6
  • Social Studies GLE 6-2
  • Social Studies GLE 6-5
  • Social Studies GLE 7-5
  • Show-Me Standard SS2, SS6, SS7
  • Show-Me Standard Goal 1(5)
  • Show-Me Standard Goal 2(1)

KANSAS STANDARDS (High School-US History)

Benchmark 1: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the emergence of the modern United States (1890-1930).

8. (K) retraces the progress of the women’s suffrage movement from the state to the national arena (e.g., Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, states granting voting rights in the 19th Amendment).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Brief introductory article on Emma Goldman:

Goldman Curricula

    Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

    Interview with Emma Goldman "What is There in Anarchy for Woman?" St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 24, 1897

    Women’s Rights Interview

      Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
      • Students will first read a "Brief Introduction to Emma Goldman" at Goldman Curriculum (10 minutes)
      • Students will then be able to follow along and look at an 1897 interview given to the St. Louis Post- Dispatch illustrating Goldman’s ideas on love and marriage. (20 minutes)
      • Three students will volunteer to act out the interview with one person being the narrator, one person being the interviewer, and the other person being Emma Goldman. Other students will quietly follow along and enjoy the enhancement of the article.
      • After the article is read, students will work individually to answer the questions from the interview. (30 minutes)
      • The teacher will be watching the reenactment of the interview and offering constructive criticism on the performance when necessary for clarification.

      What Is There in Anarchy for Woman?

      "WHAT does anarchy hold out to me - a woman?"

      "More to woman than to anyone else - everything which she has not - freedom and equality."

      Quickly, earnestly Emma Goldman, the priestess of anarchy, exiled from Russia, feared by police, and now a guest of St. Louis Anarchists, gave this answer to my question.

      I found her at No. 1722 Oregon avenue, an old-­style two-story brick house, the home of a sympathizer - not a relative as has been stated.

      I was received by a good-natured, portly German woman, and taken back to a typical German dining-room - everything clean and neat as soap and water could make them. After carefully dusting a chair for me with her apron, she took my name back to the bold little free-thinker. I was welcome. I found Emma Goldman sipping her coffee and partaking of bread and jelly, as her morning’s repast. She was neatly clad in a percale shirt waist and skirt, with white collar and cuffs, her feet encased in a loose pair of cloth slippers. She doesn’t look like a Russian Nihilist who will be sent to Siberia if she ever crosses the frontier of her native land.

      "Do you believe in marriage?" I asked.

      "I do not," answered the fair little Anarchist, as promptly as before. "I believe that when two people love each other that no judge, minister or court, or body of people, have anything to do with it. They themselves are the ones to determine the relations which they shall hold with one another. When that relation becomes irksome to either party, or one of the parties, then it can be as quietly terminated as it was formed."

      Miss Goldman gave a little nod of her head to emphasize her words, and quite a pretty head it was, crowned with soft brown hair, combed with a bang and brushed to one side. Her eyes are the honest blue, her complexion clear and white. Her nose tough rather broad and of a Teutonic type, was well formed. She is short of stature, with a well-rounded figure. Her whole type is more German than Russian. The only serious physical failing that she has is in her eyes. She is so extremely near-sighted that with glasses she can scarcely distinguish print.

      "The alliance should be formed," she continued, "not as it is now, to give the woman a support and home, but because the love is there, and that state of affairs can only be brought about by an internal revolution, in short, Anarchy."

      She said this as calmly as though she had just expressed an ordinary every-day fact, but the glitter in her eyes showed the "internal revolutions" already at work in her busy brain.

      "What does Anarchy promise woman?"

      "It holds everything for woman - freedom, equality - everything that woman has not now."

      "Isn’t woman free?"

      "Free! She is the slave of her husband and her children. She should take her part in the business world the same as the man; she should be his equal before the world, as she is in the reality. She is as capable as he, but when she labors she gets less wages. Why? Because she wears skirts instead of trousers."

      "But what is to become of the ideal home life, and all that now surrounds the mother, according to a man’s idea?"

      "Ideal home life, indeed! The woman, instead of being the household queen, told about in story books, is the servant, the mistress, and the slave of both husband and children. She loses her own individuality entirely, even her name she is not allowed to keep. She is the mistress of John Brown or the mistress of Tom Jones; she is that and nothing else. That is the way I think of her."

      Miss Goldman has a pleasant accent. She rolls her r’s and changes her r’s into v’s and vice-versa, with a truly Russian pronunciation. She gesticulates a great deal. When she becomes excited her hands and feet and shoulders all help to illustrate her meanings.

      "What would you do with the children of the Anarchistic era?"

      "The children would be provided with common homes, big boarding schools, where they will be properly cared for and educated and in every way given as good, and in most cases better, care than they would receive in their own homes. Very few mothers know how to take proper care of their children, anyway. It is a science only a very few have learned."

      "But the women that desire a home life and the care of their own children, the domestic woman, what of her?"

      "Oh, of course, the women that desire could keep their children home and confine themselves as strictly to dome