Emma Goldman—the Invigorating—in Portland

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By Daisy D. Ross

UPON radical thinkers—who—like myself—are compelled for economic reasons to spend eight hours of every day in the depressingly respectable and commonplace atmosphere of a business office, hearing Miss Goldman talk has much the same effect as a glass of fine, old wine. I sit and listen— growing more and more excited and stimulated with each powerful sentence of hers, until finally, I feel that I can sit quietly no longer, but just must give expression somehow to the surge of thought and feeling she awakens. This year she seemed bigger than ever, and, as if in reaction from the inertia of last year, her audiences were better and more interested and on her opening night when she spoke on “Anarchism and Human Nature”—the hall was filled to its seating capacity. I think most people whose study of and interest in Anarchism has been induced by Miss Goldman’s spoken or written word, were most eager to hear this lecture, in order to answer for themselves some of the questions that surge and crowd upon each other when one tries to imagine the transition from an enslaved to an emancipated human race. It is easy to see that the natural instinct of Man is to be free, and that therefore real Human Nature and the ideal of Anarchism strike a beautiful harmony. But the human nature we know whose outstanding trait is selfishness, based upon the primal instinct of self-preservation—how that human nature is to be led to accept an ideal which teaches the highest form of unselfishness—an unselfishness which does not include self-sacrifice—until a complete transformation, through evolution, has taken place —that is, it seems to me one of the huge stumbling blocks to the average earnest student. It was a disappointment to me that Miss Goldman did not dwell at length upon this point in her lecture, but the points she did bring out were so stimulating, so clear, and beautiful, that one felt it was a pity the whole world could not hear and see.

The second lecture on “The Gary System” in the public schools, showed the speaker at her best. Every one knows that Emma Goldman is a well educated woman in the very biggest and best sense of that much-abused term. But I think I make a safe guess when I say that very little of her education was derived from the public schools. The audience, composed largely of teachers and educators, listened with intense interest to her expose of the newest form of capitalistic plunder, “The Gary System,” and at the close of the lecture, fairly fired their questions at her. Since the lecturer bases the success of each lecture upon the interest shown in this “open meeting” part of the evening, I am sure Miss Goldman must have felt this evening to be a great success.

The talk on “Preparedness” was not largely attended, which was a pity. I wished every man and woman in Portland, especially every working man and woman, might have heard her powerful denunciation of this preparation which the speaker took to be not so much a preparedness for war with a foreign foe, as for the safeguarding of the life and interests of Capitalism, in case of a social revolution, and to better meet the prevailing note of industrial interest manifesting itself everywhere amongst the exploited.

The last of her lectures on “Birth Control” was well attended. As Ben said, “Portland is already on the map as a Birth Control town,” so the crowd which came was expected, as a matter of course. Possibly also, a few of those who came, expected some of the recent Margaret Sanger excitement, in the way of arrests. But if so, they were disappointed. Portland almost wakes up once a year,—when Emma Goldman comes to town. At other times it seems the radical element is almost hopelessly inert and sleepy.

“Big Ben” was there with his books and his big personality. We were glad he got out of jail in time to be present, for surely Miss Goldman’s meetings would not seem quite complete without him.

And so we will look forward to next year’s intellectual feast, trusting that in the intervening months, we may be able to retain at least a spark of the enthusiasm her message and her personality bring to us.

  • Daisy D. Ross, “Emma Goldman—the Invigorating—in Portland,” Mother Earth 11, no. 7 (September 1916): 622-624.

  • Daisy D. Ross, “Emma Goldman—the Invigorating—in Portland,” Mother Earth 11, no. 7 (September 1916): 622-624.