Our collections at the Women’s Museum of California constantly remind us how often the arguments and issues of the past still resonate and closely anticipate debates on some of today’s most important political and social issues, such as the rights of immigrants, the value of dissent, and the true meaning of patriotism.

“The most violent element in society is ignorance.” – Emma Goldman

Founded and edited by communist activist Emma Goldman in 1906, Mother Earth was an anarchist journal that described itself as “A Monthly Magazine Devoted to Social Science and Literature”.

It published articles on a variety of topics including the labor movement, education, literature and the arts, state and government control, women’s emancipation and sexual freedom, and was an early supporter of birth control. Contributors included German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche and British writer Mary Wolstonecraft. Its subscribers and supporters formed a virtual “who’s who” of the radical left in the United States in the years prior to 1920.

In 1917, Mother Earth began to openly call for opposition to US entry into World War I and specifically to disobey government laws on conscription and registration for the military draft. After the journal continued to advocate against conscription, the offices at Mother Earth were thoroughly searched, and volumes of files and detailed subscription lists from Mother Earth were seized.

Mother Earth remained in monthly circulation until August 1917.

“The Most Dangerous Woman in America”

“I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”                   

During her life, Mother Earth founder and editor Emma Goldman was both lionized as a freethinking “rebel woman” by admirers, and denounced by detractors as an advocate of politically motivated violent revolution. Convinced that the political and economic organization of modern society was fundamentally unjust, she embraced anarchism for the vision it offered of liberty, harmony and true social justice. For decades, she struggled tirelessly against widespread inequality, repression and exploitation. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including freedom of speech, capitalism, prison reform,  militarism, sexuality, and free love.  Although she distanced herself from first-wave feminism and its efforts toward women’s suffrage, she developed new ways of incorporating gender politics into anarchism.

Goldman traveled around the country nonstop, delivering lectures and agitating for social change. The coalitions formed in opposition to the Anarchist Exclusion Act had given her an appreciation for reaching out to those of other political positions. When the US Justice Department sent spies to observe, they reported the meetings as “packed”. Writers, journalists, artists, judges, and workers from across the spectrum spoke of her “magnetic power”, her “convincing presence”, her “force, eloquence, and fire”.

She was eventually found guilty of violating the 1917 Espionage Act, and was later deported.

After decades of obscurity, Goldman gained iconic status in the 1970s by a revival of interest in her life, when feminist and anarchist scholars rekindled popular interest.