Audrey Goodfriend


Audrey Goodfriend was born in New York City in 1920. Her father, a bookbinder, and mother, a dressmaker, had migrated from Poland six and eleven years earlier. They were both anarchists. She grew up speaking Yiddish as a first language, and when she started school, could not yet speak a word of English. When she was six, audrey's family moved to a cooperative housing project in the Bronx, called Sholem Aleichem House. This project was composed of the whole left -- radicals, social democrats, left Zionists, Trotskyists, Communists and anarchists. Audrey continued learning Yiddish language and culture daily after public school at a Yiddish cultural center where, along with Yiddish, were taught dance, music, drama, art, printing and carpentry -- all using Yiddish as the language of instruction. Most of the people in her neighborhood were immigrants, and, although poor, were highly cultural. Their political radicalism was put into practice directly in their neighborhood. One time, a traffic light was needed in the neighborhood, and the parents protested by standing in the street until one was provided, Also, in the mid-Depression, after the co-op had gone bankrupt and the buildings had been taken over by a private concern, over 200 families went on a rent strike to protest their high rents, and were successful in having their rent reduced. Audrey was in junior high school at the time that there was a big school strike in the 1930s, because all the children were being bused to school. The parents refused to send their children to school because the neighborhood didn't have a school of its own.

Audrey, herself, was bused to school through the sixth grade, to an old school building which didn't even have indoor toilets. The kids couldn't stand the ambience of the outhouse, so she'd come home from school everyday, dash through the courtyard and lead for the bathroom, after holding it in all day at school!

Even there was no school in her neighborhood, Audrey remembers her neighborhood, Audrey remembers her neighborhood as being a children's community, with lots of children, a playground, open spaces, and courtyards where they skated and played games such as boxball and checkers.

Audrey went to a girls' high school, and then to a girl's college (Hunter), from 1937 to 1941, where she was a math major and minored in statistics. She reports she did badly, as she was so involved in political activities. She was active in the peace movement (this was during the Spanish Civil War) and was a member of the Young Anarchists at Hunter.

After college, Audrey couldn't find a job in statistics (as a Jewish woman), so she took a job as a bookkeeper, about which she says she knew nothing. However, she learned quickly, but since she found the work boring, would go from one job to another, from 1941 to 1950.

Audrey met David Koven, her future companion, in anarchist circles, and in 1946 they decided to explore San Francisco, where they had been corresponding with other anarchists. They had heard San Francisco was rich with anarchist ideas. On the way across the country, they tried to organize an anti-draft movement (the first permanent draft started right after World War II) and used up all their money, so they had to work for a year to get the money together to return to New York! However, while out here, they became involved with people \, and decided to move out permanently -- they went back to New York to try to convince some of their friends back there to move out with them.

They hoped to start a cooperative that would eventually move to the country (this is 20 years before the 60s). they and another couple pooled their money, bought a truck, and moved thier belongings out to San Francisco, where they rented a big house. They had just read Wilhelm Reich and were going to "uncouple," but they couldn't deal with the jealousy that arosem so they abandoned that idea. Each person in the cooperative had an allowance from the community pot, from the money earned. (At first, it was the women who had the jobs). The cooperative broke up two years later when the first family was about to have a child -- the non-parents thought they would raise the child, but the prospective parents wanted to do it by themselves.

The anarchist group held weekly discussions at Workmen's Circle Center in San Francisco. All kinds of ideas were discussed on topics from politics to literature to psychology.

In 1951, Audrey and David had their first child, Diva, and two years later had Nora. Audrey stayed home to be with the children. In those days, Audrey had a sense of equality but not of feminism. They had read Emma Goldman, but were also influenced by Helen Deutsch, who thought that women were not fulfilled unless they had children and raised them. (Before reading Deutsch, Audrey hadn't wanted to have children, as she didn't want to bring them into the troubled world).

Audrey stayed home five years until Nora was three. Being pregnant, and having children led Audrey to think a great deal about raising children and to re-evaluate many of her former ideas. Whereas before she had thought sociological change would take place through revolution, she now realized she had to rethink this position. She began to see that things don't change with violence; changes take place because of the kind of people we start out as when we are children. This is what determines the kind of adult we are. Therefore, to a great extent -- but not wholly -- the kinds of influences which are in children's lives are extremely important. But Audrey never believed in indoctrination or proselytizing. IN her thinking about the developmental process, of how children think and learn, she was influenced by A.S. Niell, and the attitudes that were part of the liberation philosophy. There is respect for the child as a person; each person counts, and is important.

In San Francisco, Audrey was a cooperating parent at a nursery school which had started during the war years. Because of the new line of thinking and her nursery school experience, she decided to go back to school and get a teaching credential at San Francisco State University.

It was after Audrey finished school that she and David met the Wilchers, the Goulds and the McRaes, through KPFA. Denny was public affairs moderator there. She already knew Barbara Moskowitz from Presidio Hill Nursery School. From their talks, they realized they all had a lot in common. Part of the original KPFA articles had to do with education and this group started thinking about the possibility of starting a school. Lee McRae was a musician, Ida Wilcher was a dancer, and Denny Wilcher was taking education courses. Audrey knew she didn't want to teach in San Francisco -- she couldn't stand the kind of institutionalization she saw there. (When she took Diva to a public school, it was so bad that she and David sold their house so they could afford to send her to private school -- Presidio hill School, which still operates in San Francisco.)

Eventually, the group decided to start their own school. They made successive draft of the principles of the school. something they could all agree to as values in education. The school was thought of not just as a community for children, but for adults as well. Their vision was of a school that would teach children how to think independently, would give them all the tools for creative existence (all the arts), would help produce heroes (everyone is a hero), no presidents, no icons.

A few sources of influences in Audrey's thinking of education did come from her early years. A man who was a teacher at Sholem Aleichem Yiddish School had come from the Modern School in Stelton, New Jersey. The school had been started in New York City in 1912 by Emma Goldman and had since moved to New Jersey. Audrey had gone to visit Stelton in her late teens. The Modern School's own origins came from Spain, from the Escuela Moderna, started by Francisco Ferrer (who was killed in 1909 because he opposed the religious education of the Catholic Church). Another influence was the Little Red School House in New York. also she had read several books dealing with non-traditional education, where the needs of children rather than the needs of the state were the driving motives, including those by Randolph Bourne, an educator and literary figure around the time of the first World War.

The group of parents who would start Walden felt they didn't want a cooperative school. They felt education really was the concern of teachers and children, and while listening to the voices of the parents, the teachers needed to be in charge. Audrey's Presidio Hill experience (a cooperative) showed her that every time the parents changed, the school changed. Ongoing continuity of education, she felt, couldn't happen if teachers were hired at the whim of the parents. The group felt strongly that Walden had a definite philosophy, and if people who visited didn't like that philosophy, they should find another school or begin one themselves.

In the beginning, teaching wasn't easy. They tried to meet the needs of all the children. The first year, they took the children to bookstores to choose the books they wanted to read. they didn't believe in textbooks, as they weren't felt to have meaning for the kids. In the early years, there was a great dedication to musical and dramatic performances. Ida and Lee, in producing material that could be shown to the public. Some parents and teachers thought that perhaps the process was more important than the final production, but the children loved the productions, and so Ida and Lee prevailed. The trips started right away. That summer, they planned trips not only for children but for families as well.

Audrey taught at Walden for thirteen years from 1958 to 1971. She taught first grade through the Upper Group, in various combinations. The last year she taught, she taught first grade. During that last period, the kids chose whatever they wanted to do -- and all they wanted to do was play. By this time, Audrey was feeling she had outlived her usefulness as a teacher, and so she stopped teaching.

Looking back, Audrey thinks that the founding group had the right ideas about education, and the world vision that they had for the children and principles that put forth holds as true today as they did then.

although Audrey isn't directly involved in the school today, her sense is that the nature of the parent body has changed from the early years. Today, parents are more interested in success -- whatever that means -- than in the developmental aspects of childhood. She senses there is not enough recognition for "way out ideas" -- different political views, or an openness to a variety of political views. There seems to be more concern be both parents and teachers for legality; there doesn't seem to be an outlook where people are willing to take risks with the body politic. She senses that teaching has become more a job than a vocation; there was a real dedication in those early years. It seems that the school is more teacher-run than Foundation-run, but Audrey feels this has happened more by default, since Foundation members aren't putting in time necessary to have it otherwise. Also, Audrey senses that it is almost impossible for a poor family to have a child in Walden even though their family values may be the same as Walden's.

The years since Walden have not been uneventful. After ending her teaching, Audrey and David traveled in Europe for six months, camping. She then started doing part-time bookkeeping at Moe's Books, which she has been doing ever since. In 1975, she had hip surgery. In 1978, she separated from David, and since 1980, has been taking drama classes and acting with various groups. (She's now with the College Avenue Players in a new play where she plays Marietta Stow, a feminist who ran for Vice President with Belva Lockwood in the 1890s.) She hopes to continue with her acting. She also has interests in gardening, writing, music, art, eating (not cooking), traveling, children and grandchildren.

Audrey feels her ideas about education and childrearing have produced two wonderful people, Diva nad Nora. She says it wasn't always easy for them to have their mom as a teacher. Audrey's utopia would be a moneyless society, where people might exchange labor certificates (but not like Walden II). She still has lots of passions -- she hopes that people -- all of us -- will someday see a world that is more utopian. She feels that now we are caught in ambivalence. It's a time of great hope, yet there are so many reasons to feel hopeless -- Star Wars, the dwindling rain forests, people's behavior to people, drugs, international affairs. Sometimes she thinks we may have gone past the time where things can be salvaged.

One of Audrey's plans for the future is to learn Russian, as well as other languages. She wants to be a student in Italy and hopes to be able to write down some of the ideas she has. Audrey's one regret is that she didn't go to a school like Walden.

This originally was printed in Currents, the collected writings about Walden School, in Berkeley CA. The interviews were conducted by Pam Blair in 1987-88.

By Linda Spector

I've always been interested in doing theater. It probably started when I was a little kid going to Yiddish school, and they were doing a Hanukah play and I was really rambunctious. They threw me out. So there was always a repressed desire to be on the stage again.

Audrey Goodfriend was born in New York City in 1920, the daughter of Jewish anarchists. She grew up speaking Yiddish. When she started school, she couldn't speak a word of English. When she was six, her family moved to a cooperative housing project in the Bronx called Shalom Aleichem House, started by American leftists to perpetuate Yiddish culture. She learned to argue politics at the age of 11, and later at Hunter College, became a pacifist, taking the Oxford Pledge not to support the United States in a war of any kind.

When Audrey left home at 18 in the summer of 1939, she and a friend traveled to Canada to visit Emma Goldman, the famous anarchist.

When she first walked down the stairs, she seemed a very frail old woman, but when she began expressing herself, I realized she was a very vital, vibrant person. That was quite a lesson.

Audrey continued her anarchist activities when she moved to the Bay Area in 1946. Twelve years later she became one of the founders of the alternative Walden School in Berkeley, teaching various age groups for 13 years.


In 1980, Audrey joined Stagebridge and has been taking classes and working in productions ever since. What a variety of roles she has played -- a depressed woman in Health: Lost and Found; the "How Lady" in the Enchanted Why; Marietta Stowe, a feisty women's rights activist in Sinners and Suffragists; and Mary Austin, a fascination 19th century nature writer in Jack London and Friends. She's also been in five Grandparent Tales, playing Strega Nona (the good witch) twice. She's played a wicked queen, a mother a few times, and the "old woman in the shoe." She certainly satisfied her repressed desire to do some acting.

It's kept my mind active. I've had to work at memorizing lines, even when I felt I would never learn them. It's also taught me to work with people whose energies and concerns are different from mine. I also love watching the development of the play from the beginning script to production; it's a very exciting process. Learning to adapt is good for older people. We do a lot of that when we're performing, especially when we travel to different schools.

It would be an understatement to say that at 78, Audrey keeps busy. She has been the bookkeeper at Moe's Books in Berkeley for more than 25 years; she swims every morning at the YWCA; still serves on the board of Walden School; and last but indeed not least, has two children, four grandchildren and on great grandchild.

If you're older, your children are older. Then you can have grandchildren and great grandchildren, and that's very nice.

What a role model -- thanks for all the years, Audrey.