Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was exceptionally famous during her era. If she were alive today she would have her own reality show: Blowin’ Shit Up With Emma on the TLC network.
During her lifetime, Goldman was described by the press as “the most dangerous woman in America”. She was a multi-hyphenate: Atheist-Feminist-Agitator-Prison Reformer-War Resister-Unionist-Birth Control Advocate-Cabaret Artist. After her death, and through the middle part of the 20th century, her fame faded. Historians viewed her as a great orator and activist but did not regard her as an important political philosopher or theoretical thinker.
But, her detractors were wrong. She played a pivotal role in the development of political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Goldman was a freethinking “rebel woman”. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love, and homosexuality.
After decades of obscurity, Goldman gained iconic status with a revival of interest in her life in the 1970s, when feminist scholars rekindled popular interest.
At a time when it was nearly unthinkable, Goldman spoke out publicly in defense of gay individuals, defending their right to choose who and how they loved. She faced criticism from others on the Left who feared that embracing the cause of equal rights for homosexuals would damage their other political work. Goldman was as unaffected by these fears as she was by the condemnation of those on the right. She continued to support Gay Rights throughout her life. Goldman was the first American I know of to truly take up the Civil Rights of LGBTQ people before the general public. In her speeches and publications, she defended the fundamental right of gay men and lesbians and she condemned the fear and stigma associated with homosexuality. Goldman:
“It is a tragedy, I feel, that people of a different sexual type are caught in a world which shows so little understanding for homosexuals and is so crassly indifferent to the various gradations and variations of gender and their great significance in life.”