Women’s 20th Century Political Power: Emma Goldman and Pamela Harriman

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If ever placed in a room together – and a transatlantic trip would have made it possible, for their lives overlapped by 20 years – Emma Goldman and Pamela Harriman probably would not have liked each other at all.
Harriman, the younger by more than three decades, would have disdained claiming Goldman as an enabler of her own later success; and the elder would likely have despised Harriman as a betrayer of the principles for which Goldman endured adversity, denunciation and imprisonment.
Nevertheless parallels can be drawn between the two women as tireless workers and champions of individualism. Both contributed substantially to the political empowerment of women in the United States. And both came from unlikely backgrounds to achieve that outcome.
But they differed dramatically in their methods, and indeed in the political and social principles they endorsed.
Goldman, from a background of grinding poverty, fought for acceptance as a political leader, writer and speaker in her own right, often struggling in the shadow of male figures who were her inferiors in ability; this is especially ironic in that those figures, and Goldman herself, were advocates of Socialism and Anarchism, which ostensibly sought universal equality.
Harriman grew up as a member of the British aristocracy, but quickly transcended its archaic chauvinistic traditions to become a power player in her own right among some of the world’s leading political figures; yet she did so through entirely conventional means, attracting or attaching herself to eminent men, stepping out on her own only after absorbing their prestige, influence and wealth.
They were thus perceived very differently: one as an arch-rebel, the other as the consummate insider; yet Goldman’s flouting ...

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... way they asserted those positions was very different, conditioned by their relative times, social statuses, and public reputations. Likewise, the reactions to Goldman and Harriman differed greatly. Over the course of their overlapping lifetimes women moved from political outsiders to insiders, from radicals to pillars of the mainstream; and some of that change is due to the examples they set, through overt contrast and underlying continuity.

Works Cited

Goldman, Emma. Living My Life. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1970. Print.

Ogden, Christopher. Life of the Party: The Biography of Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1994. Print.

Pearson, John. The Private Lives of Winston Churchill. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. Print.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States, 1492-Present. New York: Harper Perennial, 1995. Print.

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