Living My Life : Volume 1, Chapter 27
(1869 - 1940) ~ Russian-American Mother of Anarcho-Communism : She is an Anarchist, pure and simple. She represents the idea of Anarchism as framed by Josiah Warren, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy. Yet she also understands the psychologic causes which induce a Caserio, a Vaillant, a Bresci, a Berkman, or a Czolgosz to commit deeds of violence. (From : Hippolyte Havel Bio.)
• "The individual educator imbued with honesty of purpose, the artist or writer of original ideas, the independent scientist or explorer, the non-compromising pioneers of social changes are daily pushed to the wall by men whose learning and creative ability have become decrepit with age." (From : "Minorities Versus Majorities," by Emma Goldman.)
• "Man's greatest battles have been waged against man-made obstacles and artificial handicaps imposed upon him to paralyze his growth and development. Human thought has always been falsified by tradition and custom, and perverted false education in the interests of those who held power and enjoyed privileges." (From : "The Place of the Individual in Society," by Emma ....)
• "...Anarchism, or any other social theory, making man a conscious social unit, will act as a leaven for rebellion. This is not a mere assertion, but a fact verified by all experience." (From : "The Psychology of Political Violence," by Emma Go....)
Volume 1, Chapter 27
MEMORIES OF MY FORMER LIFE WITH ED FILLED ME WITH LONGING for what had again been just within my reach, only snatched away. Recollections of the past compelled me to look into scene the most hidden crevices of my being; their strange contradictions tore me between my hunger for love and my inability to have it for long. It was not only the finality of death, as in the case of Ed, nor the circumstances that had robbed me of Sasha in the springtime of our lives, that always came between. There were other forces at work to deny me permanency in love. Were they part of some passionate yearning in me that no man could completely fulfill or were they inherent in those who for ever reach out for the heights, for some ideal or exalted aim that excludes aught else? Was not the price they exacted conditioned in the very nature of the thing I wished to achieve? The stars could not be climbed by one rooted in a clod of earth. If one soared high, could he hope to dwell for long in the absorbing depths of passion and love? Like all who had paid for their faith, I too would have to face the inevitable. Occasional snatches of love; nothing permanent in my life except my ideal.
Yegor remained in my flat, while I accompanied my patient and his mother to Liberty, New York. I had never nursed consumptives before and had not witnessed their indomitable will to live and the consuming fires of their withering flesh. At the moment when everything seemed at an end, my patient would take a new leap, followed by days of rekindled hope for a future of work that would tax the vitality of the strongest. Here was the boy of eighteen, a mere bundle of bone and skin, with burning eyes and hectic cheeks, talking of the life he might never have.
With his reawakened will invariably came the urge of the body, the craving for sex. It was not until I had spent four months with him that I realized what the youth had been desperately trying to suppress. I was far from the thought that it was my presence that was adding fuel to the smoldering fires within him. A few things had aroused my suspicion, but I had put them aside as signs of my patient's feverish state. Once, as I was taking his pulse, he suddenly seized my hand and pressed it excitedly in his own. At another time, when I bent over to straighten his covers, I felt his hot breath very close to the back of my neck. Often I noticed his large burning eyes following me about.
The boy slept in the open, on the screened veranda. To be within reach, at night I stayed in the room adjoining the porch. His mother was always with him part of the day to give me some time to rest. Her bedroom was behind the dining-room, farthest away from the veranda. The care of my tubercular case was more exacting than any I had nursed before, but years of experience had made me alert to the least stirring of a patient. It was hardly ever necessary for the boy to use the little bell on his table; I could hear him the moment he began to move.
One night I had gone in to my patient several times to find him peacefully slumbering; very tired, I also fell asleep. I was awakened by a feeling of something pressing on my chest. I discovered my patient sitting on my bed, his hot lips pressed to my breast, his burning hands caressing my body. Anger made me forget his precarious condition. I pushed him away and leaped to the floor. "You madman!" I cried; "get to your bed at once or I will call your mother!" He held out his hands in silent entreaty and started to walk towards the porch. Halfway over, he fell down, shaken by a paroxysm of coughing. Frightened out of my resentment, I was for a moment at a loss what to do. I dared not call his mother; his presence in my room would make her think I had failed her son when he had called me. Nor could I leave him where he was. He weighed little, and desperation increases one's strength. I raised him up and carried him to his bed. His excitement brought on a new hæmorrhage and my anger gave way to pity for the poor boy, so near death, yet so tenaciously reaching out for life.
All through his attack he clung to my hand, between fits of coughing begging me to spare his mother and forgive him for what he had done. I kept on turning over in my mind how I could resign. It was clear I should have to leave. What excuse could I give? I could not tell his mother the truth; she would not believe it of her son, and even if she did, she would be too shocked and hurt to understand the urge that had impelled the boy. I should have to say that I was tired out by constant nursing and needed rest; and of course I would give her time to find another nurse. But weeks passed before I could carry out my resolve. My patient was very ill and his mother herself almost a physical wreck from anxiety. When at last the patient had once more escaped his doom and was better again, I begged to be allowed to go.
On my return to New York I found that I should have to look for a new abode again: once more my neighbors had objected to having Emma Goldman in the house. I moved into a larger place, my brother Yegor and our young comrade Albert Zibelin sharing the apartment with me. Various elements were combined in Albert's make-up; his father, an active anarchist, was French; his mother an American Quaker of sweet and gentle disposition. He was born in Mexico, where as a child he had roamed freely in the hills. Later he lived with Elisé Reclus, the celebrated French scientist and exponent of anarchism. His fine heritage and the beneficial influences in his early life had produced splendid results in Albert; he was beautiful in body and spirit. He grew into an ardent lover of freedom and became a tender and thoughtful friend, altogether a rare character among the young American boys of my acquaintance.
This time our co-operative venture began more promisingly. Each member talked less of equal responsibility and did more to relieve the burden of the others. It was doubly fortunate for me because of the many calls of the movement upon my energies. With Albert as chef, and the help of Yegor and Dan, when the latter visited us, I was able to devote myself more to my public interests, which were shared also by the boys.
Since I had begun writing to Sasha again, we had been drawing closer together. He had not quite three years more to endure, and he was full of new hope, planning what he would do after his release. For several years past he had been much interested in one of his prison mates, a consumptive boy by the name of Harry. In every letter Sasha referred to his friend, especially while I was nursing my tubercular patient. I had to keep him informed of the methods and treatment I applied. His interest in Harry had even suggested to him the study of medicine when he should leave prison. Meanwhile he was eager for what I could send him: medical books, journals, and everything else bearing on the white plague.
Sasha's letters breathed a zest in life that carried me along and filled me with increased admiration for him. I, too, began to dream and plan for the great moment when my heroic boy would be free again and united with me in life and work. Only thirty-three months more and his martyrdom would be at an end!
Meanwhile John Turner had announced his coming to the States. He had been in America in 1896 and had lectured extensively during seven months. He was planning a new tour and wished especially to study the conditions of the men and women employed as clerks and sales-people in the United States. He had been very successful in England with the Shop Assistants' Union, which he had developed into a powerful organization. Under his leadership the status of those employes had been improved to a very considerable degree. While the conditions of that class of workers in America were not quite so bad as in England prior to the efforts of Turner and his union colleagues, we were sure that the men needed awakening. There was no one so capable of accomplishing it as John Turner.
For that reason, as well as because of the contribution Turner would make to the more general spread of our ideas, we hailed his proposed visit and immediately began to arrange a series of lectures for our brilliant English comrade. His first meeting we organized for October 22 at Murray Hill Lyceum.
Like so many others, John Turner had become an anarchist as a result of the Haymarket tragedy of 1887. His attitude to the State and to political action had induced him to refuse the candidacy for Parliament offered him by his union. "My place is among the rank and file," Turner had stated at the time; "my work is not in so-called 'public affairs,' which are part of the organized exploitation of labor. Even the small palliatives possible through Parliament would be gained by organized Labor much quicker by pressure from outside than by the representatives inside the House of Commons." His stand showed his grasp of social forces and his devotion to his ideal. While he had never ceased to work for anarchism, he considered activity in the unions his most vital purpose. He maintained that anarchism without the masses is bound to remain a mere dream, lacking living force. He felt that to reach the toilers one must take part in their daily economic struggle.
His opening address was on "Trade Unionism and the General Strike." Murray Hill Lyceum was filled to the doors with people from every walk of life. The police were present in large numbers. I introduced our British comrade to the audience and then went to the rear of the hall to look after our literature. When John had finished speaking, I noticed several plain-clothes men approach the platform. Sensing trouble, I hastened over to John. The strangers proved immigration officials who declared Turner was under arrest. Before the audience had time to realize what was happening, he was rushed out of the hall.
Turner was given the honor of being the first to fall under the ban of the Federal Anti-Anarchist Law passed by Congress on March 3, 1903. Its main section reads: "No person who disbelieves in or who is opposed to all organized governments, or who is a member of or affiliated with any organization entertaining or teaching such disbelief in or opposition to all governments...shall be permitted to enter the United States." John Turner, well known in his own country, respected by thinking people and having access to every European land, was now to be victimized by a statute conceived in panic and sponsored by the darkest elements in the United States. When I announced to the audience that John Turner had been arrested and would be deported, the meeting unanimously resolved that if our friend had to go, it should not be without a fight.
The Ellis Island authorities thought they were going to have it all their own way. For several days no one, not even his lawyer, was allowed to see Turner. Hugh O. Pentecost, whom we engaged to represent the prisoner, immediately started habeas corpus proceedings. That stayed the deportation and checked the arbitrary methods of the Ellis Island Commissioner. At the first hearing the judge sustained, of course, the immigration authorities by ordering Turner deported. But we still had an appeal to the Federal Supreme Court in reserve. Most of our comrades opposed such a step as inconsistent with our ideas, a waste of money that could achieve no results. While I had no illusions about what the Supreme Court was likely to do, I felt that the fight for Turner would be splendid propaganda by bringing the absurd law to the attention of the intelligent public. Last but not least it would serve to awaken many Americans to the fact that the liberties guaranteed in the United States, among which the right of asylum was the most important, had become nothing but empty phrases to be used as fire-crackers on the Fourth of July. The main point, however, was whether Turner would be willing to continue a prisoner on Ellis Island, perhaps for many months, until the Supreme Court should decide his case. I wrote to ask him about it, receiving an immediate reply to the effect that he was "enjoying the hospitality of Ellis Island," and that he was entirely at our disposal to help make the fight.
While there had been a decided change in public opinion towards me since 1901, I was still very much taboo to the majority. I realized that if I wished to help Turner and participate in the activities against the deportation law, I had better remain in the background. My assumed name of Smith secured for me a willing ear with people who were sure to see red on meeting Emma Goldman. Still, a goodly number of American radicals knew me and were advanced enough not to be frightened by my ideas. With their help I succeeded in organizing a permanent Free Speech League, its members coming from various liberal elements. Among them were Peter E. Burroughs, Benjamin R. Tucker, H. Gaylord Wilshire, Dr. E. B. Foote, Jr., Theodore Schroeder, Charles B. Spahr, and many others well known in progressive circles. At its first meeting the league decided to have Clarence Darrow represent Turner before the Supreme Court.
The next step taken by the league was to arrange a meeting in Cooper Union. The Free Speech Leaguers were mostly professional men and very busy. It was left to me to do the suggesting and directing and to pester people until they promised their support. I had to visit numerous unions, as a result of which I collected sixteen hundred dollars. What was more difficult, I succeeded in persuading Yanofsky, editor of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, who was at first opposed to the appeal, to open his columns to our publicity. Gradually I got other persons interested, the most active being Bolton Hall and his secretary, A. C. Pleydell, both untiring in their work on the case.
Bolton Hall, whom I had met several years before, was one of the most charming and gracious personalities it has been my good fortune to know. An unconditional libertarian and single-taxer, he had entirely emancipated himself from his highly respectable background except for his conventional dress. His frock-coat, high silk hat, gloves, and cane made him a conspicuous figure in our ranks, particularly so when he visited trade unions in behalf of Turner, or when he appeared before the American Longshoremen's Union, whose organizer and treasurer he was. But Bolton knew what he was about. He claimed that nothing impressed working-men so much as his fashionable attire. To my remonstrances he would reply: "Don't you see it is my silk hat that gives my speech importance?"
The Cooper Union meeting met with tremendous success, the speakers representing all shades of political opinion. Some were apologetic for having come to plead in behalf of an anarchist; as congressmen and college professors they could not afford to be as outspoken as they felt. Others, more daring, however, set the real tone of the meeting. Among them were Bolton Hall, Ernest Crosby, and Alexander Jonas. Letters and telegrams were read from William Lloyd Garrison, Edward M. Shepard, Horace White, Carl Schurz, and the Rev. Dr. Thomas Hall. They were unconditional in their condemnation of the outrageous law and of the attempts of Washington to destroy the fundamental principals guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
I sat in the audience, very much gratified with the results of our efforts, amused to think that most of those good people on the platform were unaware that it was Emma Goldman and her anarchist comrades who had arranged and managed the meeting. No doubt some of the respectable liberals, those who always offered profuse apologies for every bold step they contemplated making, would have been shocked out of their wits had they known that "wild-eyed anarchists" had had anything to do with the affair. But I was a hardened sinner; I did not feel the least scruple for having gone into a conspiracy to induce the timid gentlemen to express themselves on such a vital issue.
Amid the excitement of the campaign I was called by Dr. E. B. Foote to a case. I had tried several times previously to get work with him, but although he was a prominent free-thinker, he had yet fought shy of employing the dangerous Emma Goldman. Since the Turner appeal we had come in contact a good deal, and that was probably what had changed his mind. At any rate he sent for me to take charge of one of his patients, and New Year's Eve 1904 found me at the bedside of the man entrusted to my care. The midnight merry-making on the street awakened memories of the great day, a year past, spent with Max, Millie, and Ed.
Being compelled to move to new quarters every now and then had become a habit with me, and I no longer minded it. I now rented part of a flat at 210 East Thirteenth Street, the rest of the apartment being occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Horr, friends of mine. I was preparing to go on tour. Yegor had work outside the city, and Albert was leaving for France, so I was glad when the Horrs offered to share their flat. Little did I dream that I was going to remain ten years in the place.
The Free Speech League had asked me to visit a number of cities in behalf of the John Turner fight, and I had also received two other invitations: one from the garment-workers in Rochester, and the other from miners in Pennsylvania. The Rochester tailors had had trouble with some clothing firms, among them that of Garson and Meyer. It was strangely significant that I should be called to speak to the wage-slaves of the man who had once exploited my labor for two dollars and fifty cents a week. I welcomed the opportunity, which would also enable me to see my family.
Within the last few years I had felt more drawn to my people, Helena remaining nearest to me. I always stayed with her on my visits to Rochester, and my folks had learned to take it as a matter of course. My arrival this time was the occasion for a general family reunion. It gave me a chance to get in closer touch with my brother Herman and his charming young wife, Rachel. I learned that the boy who could not memorize his lessons at school had become a great mechanical expert, his specific line the construction of intricate machinery. When it grew late and the other members of the family retired, I remained with my dear Helena. We always had much to say to each other, and it was nearly morning when we separated. Sister consoled me by saying I could sleep late.
I had hardly dozed off when I was awakened by a messenger bringing a letter. Glancing at the signature first, in a half-drowsy state, I saw with surprise that it was signed "Garson." I read it several times to make sure that I was not dreaming. He felt proud that a daughter of his race and city had achieved nation-wide fame, he wrote; he was glad of her presence in Rochester and he would consider it an honor to welcome me at his office soon.
I handed the letter to Helena. "Read it," I said, "and see how important your little sister has become." When she got through, she asked: "Well, what are you going to do?" I wrote on the back of the letter: "Mr. Garson, when I needed you, I came to you. Now that you seem to need me, you will have to come to me." My anxious sister was worried about the outcome. What could he want and what would I say or do? I assured her that it was not difficult to guess what Mr. Garson wanted, but I intended, nevertheless, to have him tell it to me in person and in her presence. I would receive him in her store and treat him "as a lady should."
In the afternoon Mr. Garson drove up in his carriage. I had not seen my former employer for eighteen years, and during that time I had hardly given him a thought. Yet the moment he entered, every detail of the dreadful months in his shop stood out as clearly as if it had happened but yesterday. I saw the shop again and his luxurious office, American Beauties on the table, the blue smoke of his cigar swelling in fantastic curves, and myself standing trembling, waiting until Mr. Garson would deign to notice me. I visioned it all again and I heard him saying harshly: "What can I do for you?" Everything to the minutest detail I recalled as I looked at the old man standing before me, silk hat in hand. The thought of the injustice and humiliation his workers were suffering, their driven and drained existence, agitated me. I could barely suppress the impulse to show him the door. If my life depended on it, I could not have asked Mr. Garson to sit down. It was Helena who offered him a chair-more than he had done for me eighteen years before.
He sat down and looked at me, evidently expecting me to speak first. "Well, Mr. Garson, what can I do for you?" I finally asked. The expression must have recalled something to his mind; it seemed to confuse him. "Why nothing at all, dear Miss Goldman," he presently replied; "I just wanted to have a pleasant talk with you." "Very well," I said, and waited. He had worked hard all his life, he related, "just like your father, Miss Goldman." He had saved penny by penny and in that way had accumulated a little money. "You may not know how difficult it is to save," he went on, "but take your father. He works hard, he is an honest man, and he is known in the whole city as such. There isn't another man in Rochester more respected and who has so much credit as your father."
"Just a moment, Mr. Garson," I interrupted; "you forgot something. You forgot to mention that you had saved by the assistance of others. You were able to put aside penny by penny because you had men and women working for you."
"Yes, of course," he said apologetically, "we had 'hands' in our factory, but they all made good livings."And were they all able to open factories from their savings of penny by penny?
He admitted that they were not, but it was because they were ignorant and spendthrift. "You mean they were honest working-men like my father, don't you?" I continued. "You've spoken in such high terms of my father, you certainly will not accuse him of being a spend thrift. But though he has worked like a galley-slave all his life, he has accumulated nothing and he has not been able to start a factory. Why do you suppose my father and others remained poor, while you succeeded? It is because they lacked the forethought to add to their shears the shears of ten others, or of a hundred or several hundred, as you have done. It isn't the saving of pennies that makes people rich; it is the labor of your 'hands' and their ruthless exploitation that has created your wealth. Eighteen years ago there was an excuse for my ignorance of it, when I stood like a beggar before you, asking for a rise of a dollar and a half in pay. There is no excuse for you, Mr. Garson --- not now, when the truth of the relation between labor and capital is being cried from the house-tops."
He sat looking at me. "Who would have thought that the little girl in my shop would become such a grand speaker?" he said at last. "Certainly not you!" I replied, "nor could she have if you had had your way. But let's come down to your request that I visit your office. What is it you want?"
He began talking about labor's having its rights; he had acknowledged the union and its demands (whenever reasonable) and had introduced many improvements in his shop for the benefit of his workers. But times were hard and he had sustained heavy losses. If only the grumblers among his employes would listen to reason, be patient awhile, and meet him half-way, everything could be amicably adjusted. "Couldn't you put this before the men in your speech," he suggested, "and make them see my side a little? Your father and I are great friends, Miss Goldman; I would do anything for him should he be in trouble --- lend him money or help in any way. As to his brilliant daughter, I have already written you how proud I am that you come from my race. I should like to prove it by some little gift. Now, Miss Goldman, you are a woman, you must love beautiful things. Tell me what you'd like best."
His words did not rouse my anger. Perhaps it was because I had expected some such offer from his letter. My poor sister was regarding me with her sad, anxious eyes. I rose quietly from my chair; Garson did the same and we stood facing each other, a senile smile on his withered face.
"You've come to the wrong person, Mr. Garson," I said; "you cannot buy Emma Goldman."
"Who speaks of buying?" he exclaimed. "You're wrong; let me explain."
"No need of it," I interrupted him. "Whatever explanation is necessary I will make tonight before your workers who have invited me to speak. I have nothing more to say to you. Please go."
He edged out of the room, silk hat in hand, followed by Helena, who saw him to the door.
After careful consideration I decided to say nothing at the meeting about his offer. I felt it might obscure the main issue, the wage dispute, and possibly affect the chances of a settlement in favor of the employes. Moreover, I did not want the Rochester papers to get hold of the story; it would have been too much grist for their scandalmongering mills. But I did relate to the workers that evening the venture of Garson into political economy, repeating the explanation he had given as to how he had acquired his wealth. My audience was greatly amused, which was the only result of Garson's visit.
During my brief stay in Rochester I had another caller, much more interesting than Mr. Garson: a newspaper woman who introduced herself as Miss T. She came to interview me, but she stayed to tell a remarkable story. It was about Leon Czolgosz.
She had been on the staff of one of the Buffalo dailies in 1901, she related, assigned to the Exposition grounds during the President's visit. She had stood very near McKinley and had watched the people filing by to shake his hand. In the procession she noticed a young man pass along with the rest, a white handkerchief wrapped around his hand. Reaching the President, he raised a revolver and fired. A panic followed, the crowd scattering in all directions. Bystanders picked up the wounded McKinley and carried him into Convention Hall; others pounced upon the assailant and beat him as he lay prostrate. Suddenly there was a fearful scream. It came from the boy on the ground. A burly Negro was over him, digging his nails into the youth's eyes. The ghastly scene made her sick with horror. She hastened to her paper's office to write her account.
When the editor had read her story, he informed her that the stuff about the Negro gouging Czolgosz's eyes would have to come out. "Not that the anarchist dog didn't deserve it," he remarked; "I'd have done it myself. But we need the sympathy of our readers for the President, not for his murderer."
Miss T. was not an anarchist; in fact, she knew nothing of our ideas, and she was against the man who had attacked McKinley. But the scene she had witnessed and the brutality of the editor softened her towards Czolgosz. She tried repeatedly to get an assignment to interview him in jail, but without success. She learned from other reporters that Czolgosz had been so badly beaten and tortured that he could not be seen. He was ill and it was feared he might not live to be taken to court. Some time later she was ordered to cover the trial.
The court-room was guarded by a heavily armed force and filled with curiosity-seekers, mostly well-dressed women. The atmosphere was tense with excitement, all eyes on the door from which the prisoner was to enter. Suddenly there was a stirring in the crowd. The door was flung open, and a young man, supported by policemen, was half-carried into the room. He looked pale and emaciated; his head was bandaged, his face swollen. It was a repulsive sight until one caught his eyes --- large, wistful eyes, that kept roving over the court-room, searching with terrible intensity, apparently for some familiar face. Then they lost their intentness, turning brilliant as if illuminated by some inner vision. "Dreamers and prophets have such eyes," Miss T. continued; "I was filled with shame to think that I did not have the courage to cry out to him that he was not alone, that I was his friend. For days afterwards those eyes haunted me. During two years I couldn't go near a newspaper office; even now I am only doing free-lance work. The moment I think of a steady job that might bring me another such experience, I see those eyes. I have always wanted to meet you," she added, "to tell you about it."
I pressed her hand in silence, too overcome to speak. When I had mastered my emotion, I told her I wished I could believe that Leon Czolgosz had been conscious that there was at least one friendly spirit near him in the court-room full of hungry wolves. What Miss T. told me bore out all that I had guessed and what I had learned about Leon in 1902 when I visited Cleveland. I had hunted up his parents; they were dark people, the father hardened by toil, the stepmother with a dull, vacant look. His own mother had died when he was a baby; at the age of six he had been forced into the street to shine shoes and sell papers; if he did not bring enough money home, he was punished and deprived of meals. His wretched childhood had made him timid and shy. At the age of twelve he began his factory life. He grew into a silent youth, absorbed in books and aloof. At home he was called "daft"; in the shop he was looked upon as queer and "stuck-up." The only one to be kind to him was his sister, a timid, hard-working drudge. When I saw her, she told me that she had been once to Buffalo to see Leon in jail, but he had asked her not to come again. "He knew I was poor," she said; "our family was pestered by the neighbors, and father was fired from his job. So I didn't tgo again," she repeated weeping.
Perhaps it was just as well, for what could the poor creature give to the boy who had read queer books, had dreamed queer dreams, had committed a queer act, and had even been queer in the face of death. People out of the ordinary, those with a vision, have ever been considered queer; yet they have often been the sanest in a crazy world.
In Pennsylvania I found the condition of the miners since the "settlement" of the strike worse than in 1897 when I had gone through the region. The men were more subdued and helpless. Only our own comrades were alert, and even more determined since the shameful defeat of the strike, brought about by the treachery of the union leaders. They were working part time, barely earning enough to live on, yet somehow they managed to contribute to the propaganda. It was inspiring to see such consecration to our cause.
Two experiences stood out on my trip. One happened down in a mine, the other in the home of a worker. As on my previous visits, I was taken to the pit to talk to the men in one of the shafts during lunch-hour. The foreman was away, and the miners eager to hear me. I sat surrounded by a group of black faces. During my talk I caught sight of two figures huddled together --- a man withered with age and a child. I inquired who they were. "That's Grandpa Jones," I was told; "he's ninety and he has worked in the mines for seventy years. The kid is his great-grandchild. He says he's fourteen, but we know he's only eight." My comrade spoke in a matter-of-fact manner. A man of ninety and a child of eight working ten hours a day in a black pit!
After the first meeting I was invited by a miner to his home for the night. The small room assigned me had already three occupants: two children on a narrow cot, and a young girl in a folding bed. I was to share the bed with her. The parents and their infant girl slept in the next room. My throat felt parched; the stifling air in the room made me cough. The woman offered me a glass of hot milk. I was tired and sleepy; the night was heavy with the breathing of the man, the pitiful wailing of the infant, and the monotonous tramp of the mother trying to quiet her baby.
In the morning I asked about the child. Was it ill or hungry that it cried so much? Her milk was too poor and not enough, the mother said; the baby was bottle-fed. A horrible suspicion assailed me. "You gave me the baby's milk!" I cried. The woman attempted to deny it, but I could see in her eyes that I had guessed correctly. "How could you do such a thing?" I upbraided her. "Baby had one bottle in the evening, and you looked tired and you coughed; what else could I do?" she said. I was hot with shame and overcome with wonder at the great heart beneath that poverty and those rags.
Back in New York from my short tour, I found a message from Dr. Hoffmann calling me again to nurse Mrs. Spenser, I could undertake only day duty, my evenings being taken up with the Turner campaign. The patient consented to the arrangement, but after a few weeks she urged me to take care of her during the night. She had become more to me than merely a professional case, but her present surroundings were repugnant. It was one thing to know that she lived from the proceeds of a brothel, quite different to have to work in such a house. To be sure, my patient's business now went by the respectable name of a Raines hotel. Like all legislation for the elimination of vise, the Raines Law only multiplied the very thing it claimed to abolish. It relieved the keepers of responsibility towards the inmates and increased their revenue from prostitution. The customers no longer had to come to Mrs. Spenser. The girls were now compelled to solicit on the street. In rain or cold, well or ill, the unfortunates had to hustle for business, glad to take anyone who consented to come, no matter how decrepit or hideous he might be. They had, furthermore, to endure persecution from the police and pay graft to the department for the right to "work" in certain localities. Each district had its price, according to the amount the girls were able to get from the men. Broadway, for instance, paid more in graft than the Bowery. expected. The policeman on the beat took care that there should be no unauthorized competition. Any girl who dared trespass on another's beat was arrested and often sent to the workhouse. Naturally the girls clung to their territory and fought the intrusion of any colleague who did not "belong" there.
The new law also resulted in certain arrangements between the Raines-hotel-keepers and the street girl: the latter received a percentage from the liquor she could induce her guests to consume. That became her main source of income since brothels had been abolished and she was thrown out on the street. She was forced to accept what she could from the man, especially because he had also to pay for the hotel room. To meet the many claims on her she had to imbibe heavily in order to induce her customers to drink more. To see those poor slaves and their males going in and out of Mrs. Spenser's hotel all through the night, tired, harassed, and generally drunk, to be compelled to overhear what went on, was more than I could bear. Moreover, Dr. Hoffmann had told me that there was no hope of permanent cure for our patient. Her persistent use of drugs had broken her will and weakened her power of resistance. No matter how well we should succeed in weaning her, she would always go back to them. I informed my patient that I must resign. She flew into a rage, berating me bitterly and concluding by saying that if she could not have me when she wanted me, she preferred that I leave altogether.
I needed all my strength for public work, of which the John Turner campaign was the most important. While his appeal was pending, the attorneys succeeded in getting our comrade out on five-thousand-dollar bail. He immediately started on tour, visiting a number of cities and delivering lectures to crowded houses. Had he not been arrested and threatened with deportation, he would have reached only very limited audiences, whereas now the press dealt at length with the Anti-Anarchist Law and with John Turner, and large crowds had the opportunity of hearing anarchism expounded in a logical and convincing manner.
John had come to America on a leave of absence from his union. It was nearing expiration and he resolved to return to England without waiting for the verdict of the Supreme Court. When the decision was finally handed down, it proved to be just what he had expected. It upheld the constitutionality of the Anti-Anarchist Law and sustained the order for Turner's deportation. However, the ridiculous statute would hereafter defeat its own ends: European comrades wishing to come to the United States would no longer feel bound to confide their ideas to the busybodies of the Immigration Department.
Henceforth I gave more time to English propaganda, not only because I wanted to bring anarchist thought to the American public, but also to call attention to certain great issues in Europe. Of these the struggle for freedom in Russia was among the least understood.
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Living My Life
Current Work in Living My Life
Volume 1, Chapter 27
Next Work in Living My Life >>
All Nearby Works in Living My Life