Emma Goldman championed women’s equality, free love, workers’ rights, free universal education regardless of race or gender, and anarchism. Yes, Emma Goldman was an anarchist, and in today’s political climate, anarchy has come to be associated with violence and chaos. And, yes, violence—principled violence was part of Emma Goldman’s arsenal of revolutionary actions. But, it was not her first or second choice. She believed in education and political action rather than violence. Emma Goldman was a woman of principles. For her, anarchy was a vehicle to liberty, harmony and social justice. It was her pathway to overcome inequality, repression and exploitation. Goldman defined anarchism as “the philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary.” believed free people would naturally form the most productive and just systems, entering into organizations strictly on their own accord. Goldman wrote “Anarchists do not only not oppose, but believe in organization as the result of a natural blending of common interests, brought about through voluntary adhesion, as the only possible basis of social life.”
One of the more iconic stories about Emma Goldman involves a party where she was dancing her heart out, enjoying herself, when a man chastised her, saying, “No agitator should dance, certainly not with such reckless abandon. Such undignified frivolity damages the dignity of our cause.” His impertinence infuriated Emma. She said, “Any cause that stands for beautiful ideals, for anarchism, for freedom from convention will not demand the denial of life and joy.. If I can’t dance, I won’t be part of your revolution.” That quote has always delighted me. In my heart, I picture Emma Goldman as a bright-eyed, enthusiastic young woman that she was when she came to the United States. And I choose to believe that she remained that woman in her heart. But have a look at this timeline of events in her life that I discovered in the Jewish Women’s Archive. Emma Goldman was a feisty, fearless fighter. She did not always win. But she was principled, and she kept up the fight, with principles and integrity, no matter the cost.
Under surveillance for much of her adult career, Goldman was arrested so often that she began to carry a book wherever she went, for fear of sitting in jail with nothing to read. According to her autobiography, when she asked once why she had been arrested, the police officer replied simply, “Because you’re Emma Goldman. Anarchists have no rights in this community, see?”
Combined timeline and rap sheet, compiled by the Jewish Women’s Archive and the Emma Goldman Papers Project
1869, June 27 Emma Goldman was born in Kovno, Lithuania, to Taube (Bienowitch) and Abraham Goldman.
1885: She immigrated to the United States with sister Helena. They settled in Rochester, New York.
1887: The execution of four anarchists unjustly convicted of bombing a labor rally in 1886 sparks Goldman’s political awakening
1889: Emma moved to New York City’s Lower East Side, where she met many prominent anarchists, including Alexander Berkman and Johann Most; the next year, she delivered the first of countless public lectures.
1893: August 30: Cause of Arrest: Incitement to Riot. With the nation in a deep economic depression, Emma Goldman is arrested and charged with inciting a riot during a New York City speech to unemployed workers on August 21. Goldman is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to one year in the Blackwell’s Island penitentiary — on the island today known as Roosevelt Island, in New York’s East River.
1895: Emma trained as a nurse in Vienna.
1897: September 7: Cause of Arrest: Open-Air Speaking. Goldman is arrested in Providence, Rhode Island, when she attempts to speak in public, after the mayor has warned her not to deliver any more open-air speeches. After keeping Goldman in jail overnight, the Providence authorities order her to leave town or face a three-month prison term.
1901: September 10: Cause of Arrest: Inciting the Assassination of President McKinley. Goldman is arrested in Chicago under suspicion of having something to do with President William McKinley’s assassination in Buffalo, New York, four days earlier. She had met assassin Leon Czolgosz at one of her lectures. The Chicago police interrogate Goldman and her bail is set at $20,000 (over $400,000 in today’s dollars). She will be released two weeks later, and the case will be dropped for lack of evidence.
1903: January 27: Cause of Arrest: Being a Suspicious Person. The year after New York passes an anti-anarchism law, Goldman and Max Baginski are arrested in New York City for being “suspicious persons.” They are questioned and released.
1903: Emma becomes involved in the Free Speech League in New York City in response to the passage of anti-anarchist laws.
1906: Emma founds Mother Earth magazine; later publishes numerous articles and lectures, including Anarchism and Other Essays (1910) and The Social Significance of the Modern Drama (1914).
1906: October 30: Cause of Arrest: Incendiary Articles and Incitement to Riot. Along with nine other people, Emma Goldman is arrested in New York City for articles published in her Mother Earth magazine, and for inciting to riot. She pays the $1,000 bail for her release and pleads not guilty to charges of criminal anarchy. On January 9, 1907, a grand jury dismisses the case.
1907: January 6: Cause of Arrest: Public Expression of “Incendiary Sentiments”. New York City’s Anarchist Police Squad arrests Goldman during a public lecture on “False and True Conceptions of Anarchism.” The case will later be dismissed.
1908: December 13: Cause of Arrest: Attempting to Speak. Seattle authorities arrest Goldman after someone breaks in to a locked lecture hall to allow the room to be used for a meeting with Goldman. The police release her on the condition that she leave town.
1908: December 14: Cause of Arrest: Planning to Speak. With her reputation preceding her, Goldman is arrested in Bellingham, Washington, before she can deliver a planned lecture. The next day, authorities send her away on a Canada-bound train.
1909: January 14: Cause of Arrest: Conspiracy Against the Government. After two weeks of uneventful Goldman lectures in California, San Francisco police arrest Goldman with Ben Reitman and charge them with conspiring against the government. Supporters who protest the arrest are disbanded by police the next day, but Goldman remains locked up until January 18. On the 28th, authorities drop the charges against her.
1910: early April: Cause of Arrest: Speaking. In the midst of a large, successful national lecture tour, Goldman and Reitman arrested by police in Cheyenne, Wyoming during an open-air meeting.
19193: May 20: Cause of Arrest: Arrival in San Diego. A year after being attacked by vigilantes when they arrived at the San Diego train station during a battle over free speech there, Goldman and Reitman return to the city — only to be arrested as soon as they arrive. Police send them on the afternoon train to Los Angeles.
1915: August 6: Cause of Arrest: Distributing Birth Control Information. In Portland, Oregon on her annual lecture tour, Goldman is arrested with Ben Reitman for distributing information on birth control in defiance of the Comstock “Chastity” Laws. A friend posts the $500 bail; the next day, Goldman and Reitman pay a $100 fine and resume lectures in that city.
1916: February 11: Cause of Arrest: Lecturing on Birth Control. Goldman is arrested in New York City for delivering a January lecture on birth control. She is tried in April; after being convicted, she opts to spend fifteen days in the Queens County Penitentiary instead of paying a $100 fine.
1916: October 20: Cause of Arrest: Distributing Birth Control Information. Emma Goldman goes to court in New York City to testify on behalf of a fellow birth-control advocate, and is arrested herself. She is released on a $500 bond and will be acquitted of the charge on January 8, 1917.
1917: Co-founds No-Conscription League.
1917: June 15: Cause of Arrest: Conspiracy to Violate the Draft Act. The U.S. entered World War I in April 1917; since then, Goldman has been lecturing against military conscription and the war. The same day that President Woodrow Wilson signs the Espionage Act, which in part prohibits interfering with the draft, federal agents arrest Goldman and Alexander Berkman in New York City. They are later indicted for conspiring to violate the Draft Act. Goldman pleads not guilty and is freed on $25,000 bail; rumors spread that her bail has been paid by the German enemy. In early July, she and Berkman are both found guilty and sentenced to serve two years in jail and pay a $10,000 fine. Goldman is incarcerated in a federal penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri. When her case is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Goldman is returned to New York City and again released on bail. After losing her appeal in January 1918, Goldman is returned to Missouri to serve her two-year sentence.
1919: September 12: Cause of Arrest: Questionable Immigration Status. Federal officials review Goldman’s immigration status and decide she can be deported legally. They serve Goldman with a warrant for her arrest and deportation while she is serving the final few weeks of her prison sentence in Missouri. After a bond of $15,000 is posted, Goldman returns to New York to organize her appeal. In October, Goldman claims U.S. citizenship from her brief marriage to Jacob A. Kersner in 1887. But Labor Department officials order Goldman’s deportation in late November, and in early December she and Berkman are held at Ellis Island in New York harbor, and on the 21st of that month they board a Russia-bound ship.
1919: Deported to Soviet Russia with 248 other alien radicals.
1928: After intermittent visits across Europe and Canada, settles in Saint-Tropez, France.
1931: Publishes autobiography, Living My Life.
1932: Lectures on the imminent dangers of fascism and the rise of Nazism, first in England and later in the United States and Canada.
1934: After many efforts, secures visa and returns to the United States for a 90-day lecture tour.
1936—1938: Works with the anarchist trade union (CNT-FAI) to fight fascism and build new society during the Spanish Civil War.
1940: February, Goldman suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak. She died on May 14, 1940, at age 70, in Toronto, Canada. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service allowed her body to be re-admitted to the United States, where she was buried in Chicago near the Haymarket anarchists who had so inspired her. Thousands of mourners flocked to see her casket, and tributes poured in from every corner of the world.
Oh, Emma. We miss you. We need someone to teach us how to dance again.