Turning Private into Public: Emma Goldman and the Making of Mother Earth’s Counterfamily Space in New York City

Thursday, January 3, 2019: 2:10 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Rachel Hui-Chi Hsu, Johns Hopkins University
In 1906, Emma Goldman created a new kind of anarchist journalism by launching a monthly Mother Earth (1906-1918), from which evolved an unprecedented anarchist commune in New York. As Mother Earth’s sole proprietor, publisher, and one of its editors, Goldman located the magazine’s office in her lodging place. Either out of financial concern or editorial convenience, she hosted an increasing numbers of lodgers toiling for her magazine in her flat. Their cohabitation bonded them into what they termed “Mother Earth family,” a concept fusing their living, social, and textual spaces. Germinating from the headquarters in Gotham, Mother Earth’s core members forged an extended, symbolic, multiethnic counterfamily animated with anarchist spirit in the public space.

This paper charts the spatiotemporal working and the gender politics of Mother Earth’s counterfamily culture to reveal the inception of a diversified anarchist counterpublic. Expanding previous historians’ spatial approach beyond mono-ethnic immigrant groups, this paper delves into the making of an anarchist counterfamily as well as its permeable activity spaces. I highlight the expansive and diverse nature of Mother Earth’s headquarters culture. Members in the magazine’s office consisted of different ethnic backgrounds favoring varied propaganda strategies. Their cohabitation for the sake of Mother Earth’s revolutionary agendas illustrated how they related, cooperated, and put up with each other. The division of labor, free love romances, social networks, and mutualism within the headquarters epitomized the porous boundaries of their anarchist world.

Beyond Mother Earth’s office, core members located a range of venues to organize their “family” events, such as (semi-)annual unions and a variety of anniversaries. The counterfamily spaces where members used to produce texts and set up contexts reveal the material as well as ritualized practices that embodied their versions of anarchism.