Emma Goldman: Still too hot to handle? U.C. Berkeley set to pull plug on anarchist’s archive

Sidebar: Anarchist, feminist, free speech champion

As U.C. Berkeley celebrates the 50th anniversary of the free speech movement this month, a long-simmering feud over funding for the Emma Goldman Papers  — an archival project dedicated to the life and work of the iconic Jewish radical and free speech advocate — is coming to a head.

After 34 years of U.C. Berkeley affiliation, and more than $1.2 million of funding spread across the decades, the project could be reaching the end of the line.

The university has informed the project’s editor and director, Candace Falk, that her employment will terminate at the end of October due to lack of funding. That decision, which the university’s chancellor has deemed final, could effectively shut down the Emma Goldman Papers Project, which has been housed on or near the U.C. Berkeley campus since its inception.

“It feels like the rug is being pulled out from under us,” said Falk, who founded the project in 1980 with a grant from the National Archives. “Just as we are within a year of finishing the last volume of our series on Goldman’s American years, we’re in danger of shutting down.”

Falk, 67, has dedicated the better part of her adult life to collecting, organizing and publishing Goldman’s letters and writings, as well as trial transcripts and surveillance reports from when the Russian-born anarchist was imprisoned in 1917 for speaking out against the U.S. entry into World War I. In some ways, Falk, who was born seven years after Goldman’s death in 1940, has come to embody Goldman’s anti-authoritarian spirit, wrangling for decades with university officials over funding for the project.

But despite Falk’s insistence that the project has been given short shrift, university officials argue that its funding has, in fact, been generous over the years. It’s Falk’s repeated delays in publishing her four-volume series that has stymied her, they say, not a shortage of funds on the part of the university.

Candace Falk receiving an award from the Society for American Archivists in August

“It has been a major effort and we’ve generously funded it,” said Nils Gilman, associate chancellor and the chancellor’s chief of staff. “You give people a certain amount of time to get their projects done, and then you make choices. To continue to fund this is to not fund something else.”

Robert Price, the university’s associate vice chancellor for research, pointed to a 2003 status report prepared for then-chancellor Robert M. Berdahl, outlining the numerous delays in Falk’s publication schedule. “The Emma Goldman Papers Project has had difficulty meeting the publication deadlines to which it has committed itself in grant applications, publisher’s contracts and communications with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research,” the report read.

Falk attributed those delays to the detailed and painstaking nature of archival work, a revolving door of staff owing to funding difficulties, as well as two bouts with breast cancer. She noted that it took 15 years just to gather the trove of documents on Goldman — about 40,000 items, more than half of which have been put on microfilm.

Falk’s goal now, she said, is to complete the fourth and final volume of her series on Goldman’s American years (1890-1919) in time for the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. She also hopes to digitize the archive in order to make it accessible to scholars and students; to that end, the project has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the New York–based Lucius N. Littauer Foundation.

Until two years ago, the project received funding from the National Archives in Washington, DC,  to the tune of about $100,000 annually. U.C. Berkeley funding began in 1988 and ended in 2003, after being extended under a previous vice chancellor. The project has also received intermittent funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A cartoon from a Yiddish newspaper in 1909. The caption reads: “Emma Goldman the noisemaker and free speech in America.”

But now all wells have run dry, Falk said, and she has no reliable source of funding. While she has had success raising monies from private donors, those contributions have not been enough to cover her annual costs, which total $250,000.

According to Falk, the project pays its own $1,700 monthly rent plus utilities for an office adjacent to campus, and currently has one full-time employee and two three-quarter-time employees.

Her termination would mean the university will no longer provide her with research associates or work-study students, health care benefits or accounting services. Without those services acting as an umbrella for her as she attempts to raise funds, she says she will be unable to operate.

Like Goldman, who was deported to Russia in 1919, Falk is mistrustful of authority and believes that the reasons for her funding woes are political in nature. She points to the Mark Twain Papers and Project, which is housed at U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and has its general editor’s salary paid by the university, as evidence of a double standard. “They have embraced that project, but they have not done so with the Emma Goldman Papers,” Falk said of the university. “I think there’s a fear of a woman anarchist immigrant.”

Victor Fischer, associate editor of the Mark Twain Papers and Project, said that he admired Falk’s commitment, and that he was “horrified” by the funding difficulties she has faced. Asked what he saw as the reason for the funding discrepancy between the two projects, Fischer said, “The obvious one is that Emma Goldman is a Russian Jewish anarchist and her politics don’t necessarily meet with everybody’s politics. I can’t say for sure that’s why, but for some reason, Mark Twain is a figure who has been embraced by everybody no matter what their politics.”

University officials staunchly deny Falk’s claim that her subject’s radical politics played any part in the decision to end funding for the archival project. “To say that after decades of funding, [Falk] is a victim of political discrimination strikes me as peculiar,” said Gilman, the associate chancellor. “If we were politically discriminatory, funding would have been cut a long time ago.”

Nobody doubts the value of the Emma Goldman Papers Project, including Gilman, who said that as a historian and a former student at U.C. Berkeley, he has had friends participate in it. Indeed, hundreds of university research associates have worked at the EGPP, and in many cases, their involvement has helped launch them into successful academic careers. “It’s been a great way to bring people into the process of archival management,” Gilman said.

Other repositories of Goldman’s papers can be found in Amsterdam, for example, at the International Institute of Social History, or online at the Jewish Women’s Archive digital archive. But Berkeley’s accumulation is the most comprehensive, organized collection of Goldman-related materials in the world and integrates copies of smaller private and university collections. Its roughly 40,000 documents include Goldman-related newspaper coverage, legal documents, government surveillance records, and third-party letters between Goldman’s friends and associates regarding her political activities.

Even a necklace of Goldman’s, donated by a relative in New York, is housed at the archive. Last summer, when Falk was awarded the 2014 Philip M. Hamer and Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award by the Society of American Archivists, she wore it to the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.

“The collection is unparalleled in terms of the materials it pulls together,” said Judith Rosenbaum, the executive director of the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Steven Zipperstein, the Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University, who brought Falk’s publication series to Stanford University Press, also lauded the work of the EGPP.

“I don’t know of any other collection quite like it in its comprehensiveness, or in its capacity to draw on such a wide range of material to understand not only Emma Goldman’s personal and political life, but the world around her,” Zipperstein said.

Falk, who recently sent out an emergency fundraising letter to supporters and colleagues, said that she has raised enough private monies to float the archival project through December, but after that, the future remains uncertain. If the university pulls the plug, she has no Plan B for the precious materials, but says she is “forging ahead” nevertheless.

“I’ve been working on this project for 34 years,” she said. “I’m determined to finish.”

Rebecca Spence is a freelance writer currently at work on her first novel.

Anarchist, feminist, free speech champion

Emma Goldman was a Russian-born Jewish anarchist and political activist known for her militant support of women’s rights, social issues and anarchist philosophy.

Born in 1869 in Kovno, in what is now Lithuania, Goldman immigrated to New York City in 1885, where she joined the nascent anarchist movement. She was jailed several times for “inciting to riot” and distributing information about contraception, which was still illegal. In 1917, she and her longtime lover, Alexander Berkman, also an anarchist firebrand, were imprisoned for two years for encouraging draft evasion during World War I. After her release in 1919, she was deported to Russia.

Goldman continued her activism and writing in Russia, England, Canada and Spain — where she supported the anarchist forces in the 1936 Spanish Civil War. She died in Toronto in 1940.

Often reviled during her lifetime for her opposition to the existing order, Goldman gained new admirers among 1970s-era feminists. According to the Jewish Women’s Archive, which noted that her “core beliefs emerged in part from a Jewish tradition that championed the pursuit of universal justice,” Goldman was a “fiery orator and a gifted writer… a passionate advocate of freedom of expression, sexual freedom and birth control, equality and independence for women, radical education, union organization and workers’ rights” and free speech.

“Goldman’s career,” writes the JWA, “stands as an important chapter in the history of Jewish activism in America.”  — j. staff

on the cover


Emma Goldman mugshot from 1901, when she was implicated in the assassination of President William McKinley

Rebecca Spence
Rebecca Spence

Rebecca Spence is a freelance writer and editor. She is currently at work on her first novel. www.rebeccaspence.com