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Emma Goldman undoubtedly one of the most notable and influential women in modern American history consistently promoted a wide range of controversial movements and principles including union organization and the eight-hour day sexual freedom and birth control equality and independence for women and freedom of thought and expression for all Goldmans advocacy of these causes which many deemed subversive at the time helped set the historical context for some of todays most important political and social debates Poverty oppression and the longing for deliverance marked Emma Goldmans early years Born into a poor Jewish family in a backward anti-Semitic country Goldman struggled to escape first through flights of imagination then through formal education and finally by means of emigration1 On June 27 1869 Emma Goldmans life began in Kovno a small imperial Russian city now in Lithuania Her family suffered from the anti-Semitism of the times living in Jewish ghettos and moving often in search of opportunity Brutalized by this life Goldmans father directed his anger against his family His often violent assertion of authority over them led young Emma perhaps more acutely aware than he of the injustice of their situation to imagine instead directing violence outward against the enemies of the Jewish people in the manner of Judith the Biblical heroine with whom she identified2 Goldman became interested in more modern ideas at twelve after the family moved to St Petersburg There she glimpsed the possibility of ending the old order when Czar Alexander II was assassinated Excited by the ideas of the Russian Populists and Nihilists Emma eagerly devoured Chernishevskys What Is to Be Done and promptly replaced her childhood heroine Judith with Chernishevskys modern Vera a political organizer and cooperative worker3 Soon after Goldman left Russia to seek what she hoped would be a modern education in a German Gymnasium But Emma rejected the rote learning and authoritarian teaching methods she encountered in her school and she fought with her German
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