Rooted in the old soil
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Historians have treated the modernist cultural revolution of the 1910s as a sharp break from the “Victorian” past. This study argues that Emma Goldman, one of the major arbiters of sexual modernism, bridged nineteenth-century arguments about marriage and free love with modernist forms of the early twentieth century by examining the development of her ideals, the origins of her public image, and her memories of her sexual history. It shows that Goldman’s mature sexuality developed out of a formative period in the 1890s which was heavily influenced by a half-century history of American sex radicalism. This study examines lectures and essays from the turn-of-the-century to the 1910s, press coverage from New York City in the early 1890s, and Goldman’s memoirs and letters from the late 1920s. All three sets of documents show that Emma Goldman’s ideas, acts, and attitude in the 1910s, which her contemporaries understood as alien and revolutionary, expressed strong traces of native-born ideals and experiences from the American past.