Emma Goldman

Identification: Lithuanian-born American anarchist and feminist

Born: June 27, 1869; Kovno, Lithuania, Russian Empire (now Kaunas, Lithuania)

Died: May 14, 1940; Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Significance: A forceful voice for the nascent anarchist movement in the United States, Goldman founded the magazine Mother Earth and crisscrossed the United States lecturing about anarchy and supporting anarchists, immigrant and labor groups, women, and others oppressed by the government and institutionalized capitalism.

In 1885, Emma Goldman, having rejected her brutal father, the prospect of domestic life, and statesanctioned oppression of radicals and Jews, emigrated from Russia to the United States. In the immigrant communities of New York, she experienced sweatshop life, worker oppression, and an unhappy marriage. Inspired by the persecution of eight anarchists involved in the Haymarket riot of 1886, Goldman joined the American anarchist movement that in its early stages attracted European, Russian, and Jewish immigrants.

Notoriety attended Goldman’s advocacy of birth control, the poor, and antimilitarism. She engaged in public demonstrations and hunger strikes. Jailed on several occasions, she worked tirelessly for others accused of challenging the government, the law, and social norms. With Alexander Berkman, she conspired to murder company manager Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead, Pennsylvania, standoff between Carnegie Steel and the Amalgamated Association of Iron and SteelWorkers in 1892. In 1901, she was blamed—but not convicted—for inciting Leon Czolgosz to assassinate PresidentWilliam McKinley. In 1906, she began publishing Mother Earth, a magazine promoting anarchy.

Emma Goldman riding a public streetcar in 1917
Emma Goldman riding a public streetcar in 1917. (Library of Congress)

Although Goldman’s own philosophy of anarchy shifted over time, her enduring tenet was individual freedom of expression. Despite numerous struggles in America, Goldman embraced the country’s essential belief in the individual. She was deported in 1919 for her antiwar efforts, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt allowed her return in 1934. She died in 1940 and was buried in Chicago.

Jennie MacDonald Lewis

Further Reading

  • Chalberg, John C. Emma Goldman: American Individualist. Edited by Mark C. Carnes. 2d ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. 
  • Goldman, Emma. Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader. Edited by Alix Kates Shulman. 3d ed. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus-Humanity Books, 1996. 

See also: Birth control movement; Deportation; Former Soviet Union immigrants; Immigration Act of 1903; Jewish immigrants; Labor unions; Red Scare; Sacco and Vanzetti trial; “Undesirable aliens”; Women’s movements.

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