Friday, May 2, 2008

Emma Goldman in Dayton

Emma Goldman. This ragtime radical was nearly forgotten until the New Left and feminism of the late 1960s led to the renewed study of US political radicalism and the new field of woman’s history.

As an anarchist and a strong female voice in politics Goldman was of interest to both feminist and left-oriented scholars, resulting in a flood of writing on her life and work. Her life embodied certain stereotypes of the romantic, revolutionary; never ascetic, somewhat tragic, and always resilient. Then there was the high drama of political conflict (often violent). So she became a lefty pop culture figure outside academia. In short, Emma Goldman led a colorful life that embodied certain American values of individuality, freedom, standing up for the underdog, speaking one’s mind and do-what-you-will.

Goldman was a traveling agitator, moving about the country giving speeches. Often she was prevented from speaking by local authorities, occasionally even being arrested. This restriction of political speech (not just Goldman but other radicals, too) eventually led to the creation of the ACLU.

It was an early free speech group that brought Goldman to Dayton the first time. The tiny (five members) Dayton branch of the “Free Speech League of American” rented Mallory’s Hall “…an amusement place for colored people” and brought Goldman to Dayton on 28 January 1911. She stayed at the Algonquin Hotel, today’s Doubletree, where she was interviewed by the Dayton Daily News reporter for this front page story:

Apparently “The Queen of the Revolutionists” was an early celebrity, as the DDN article tone assumes readers have some familiarity with the subject. The article is written in a light, chatty style, not too negative. Also note that the final passage quotes the mayor that they won’t be interfering or watching her oration. This was quite different from her reception in some of the other cities on her lecture tour from the American Experience PBS website on an Emma Goldman documentary: click here for the interactive version).

1911 lecture site then and now (Mallory’s Hall is the large building in the center).

As sort of an early comment on feminism here is this exchange between the reporter on Goldman on the police interest in her speeches:

The reporter writes about Goldman’s problems being chased by the law elsewhere:
“Miss Goldman is still in the little game of tag and so far has managed to outwit the sleuths. Not that they ‘want her’, but just that they don’t want her to talk.”

To which Goldman replies:
Its perfectly natural that a man shouldn’t want a woman to talk so I don’t mind.”

And another news report, this time from the Dayton Herald:

Goldman returned to Dayton on February 19 1912 for a double engagement at the Jewel Theatre, formerly Beckels’ Opera House, on Jefferson Street. There are no good images of the Jewel, so here is a Sanborn showing the site and a pix of what’s there now:

The first half was a Sunday afternoon debate with a local socialist who was on the outs with his party, which led to the Dayton socialists telling their members not to attend. The second half was very poorly attended Sunday evening talk on ‘Motherhood’, which sounds like it might have been the “Why The Poor Should Not Have Children” lecture.

…the image was from a different lecture site (Butte, Montana), but note the central figure in the mustache. This was Ben Rietman, an associate and sometime lover of Goldman, who acted as a sort of advance man for her lecture tours. He might have been the one who set up the 1912 Dayton gig.

Press reports were ill tempered this time, with the DDN report being quite a contrast with the 1911 article.

Dayton Herald had this to say:
And the Dayton Journal had the event on the front page, with a pretty nice pix of Goldman (which unfortunately did not reproduce well), but a headline saying she was “All but Ignored by Dayton”, giving attendance figures of 200 for the afternoon debate and 33 for the evening lecture

The paper also mentions that $22 ($483 in todays’ money) was raised for the "Lawrence textile strike". This was the well-know (to labor historians) Bread and Roses Strike, organized by the IWW and a bit of a national cause célèbre at the time.

Anarchism never took hold in Dayton, nor anywhere else for that matter (except for Spain, where the Catalonian anarchists were featured in George Orwell’s writing). Emma Goldman was deported in 1919 along with hundreds of other radicals, and died an exile. She did return in death and is buried in Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery, near her former beau Ben Reitman and other radicals of the past, in the so-called “Communist plot”.

(to enlarge the news articles mouse over the image and click)