Berkeley Digital Library

A Curriculum for Middle and High School Students

Goldman's Account of Her Arrival In and
Departure From the United States

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Goldman at 17
CONTEXT: In her autobiography, Living My Life, Emma Goldman describes her feelings as a seventeen­year­old arriving in a new country and her feelings as a fifty­year­old woman upon her deportation from the United States.

Emma Goldman recounts the day of her arrival in the United States in 1885:

My first contact with the sea was terrifying and fascinating. The freedom from home, the beauty and wonder of the endless expanse in its varying moods, and the exciting anticipation of what the new land would offer stimulated my imagination and sent my blood tingling. . . . Helena and I stood pressed to each other, enraptured by the sight of the harbour and the Statue of Liberty suddenly emerging from the mist. Ah, there she was, the symbol of hope, of freedom, of opportunity! She held her torch high to light the way to the free country, the asylum for the oppressed of all lands. We, too, Helena and I, would find a place in the generous heart of America. Our spirits were high, our eyes filled with tears.

...and the day of her deportation in 1919:

It was almost midnight when suddenly I caught the sound of approaching footsteps. "Look out someone's coming!" Ethel whispered. I snatched up my papers and letters and hid them under my pillow. Then we threw ourselves on our beds, covered up, and pretended to be asleep.

 Deportation photo The steps halted at our room. There came the rattling of keys; the door was unlocked and noisily thrown open. Two guards and a matron entered. "Get up now," they commanded, "get your things ready!"...

Deep snow lay on the ground; the air was cut by a biting wind. A row of armed civilians and soldiers stood along the road to the bank. Dimly the outlines of a barge were visible through the morning mist. One by one the deportees marched, flanked on each side by the uniformed men, curses and threats accompanying the thud of their feet on the frozen ground. When the last man had crossed the gangplank, the girls and I were ordered to follow, officers in front and in back of us. . . .

I looked at my watch. It was 4:20 A.M. on the day of our Lord, December 21, 1919. On the deck above us I could hear the men tramping up and down in the wintry blast. I felt dizzy, visioning a transport of politicals doomed to Siberia, the étape of former Russian days. Russia of the past rose before me and I saw the revolutionary martyrs being driven into exile. But no, it was New York, it was America, the land of liberty! Through the port­hole I could see the great city receding into the distance, its sky­line of buildings traceable by their rearing heads. It was my beloved city, the metropolis of the New World. It was America, indeed, America repeating the terrible scenes of tsarist Russia! I glanced up­­the Statue of Liberty!

Excerpted from Living My Life (p. 11, pp. 716­717).
Photo credits: International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam

Questions on Goldman's Account:
  1. What thoughts about the world did Goldman have on the day of her departure?

  2. What words describe the sounds and atmosphere of the deportation? What mood do they create?

  3. How do you think she was feeling? Why?

  4. What thoughts about the United States did she have on the day she arrived?

  5. How was she feeling then? Why?

  6. Compare her thoughts as her boat passes the Statue of Liberty in 1886 and in 1919.

  7. Speculate on her life in America in the years between these two events.

General Questions on This Exhibit:

  1. Today, where and how do people entering the United States arrive?

  2. Do people today have the same reasons for immigrating to America as they did in the past? Identify some reasons.

  3. For what reasons would you emigrate? To what country would you go?

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