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Early Life

A Lithuanian by birth, Emma Goldman was born in Kovno on June 27, 1869. At age twelve, her family moved to St. Petersburg, and four years later, in 1881, they arrived in the U.S. They settled in Rochester, New York. Emma became a factory worker and earned $2.50 a week for sewing ulsters ten and half hours a day.


As she passed into her twenties, Goldman began rebelling against the "system." She became an advocate of free love. This brought her into conflict with a mainly repressive, puritanical society. Added to this, she supported the rioters in Chicago’s Haymarket Square in 1886 and through this she met Alexander Berkman, with whom she fell in love. In 1889, she went to New York City where she came under the influence of Johann Most, a radical editor. Thus, the direction of her life was firmly established as one of radicalism. This was shown in the Homestead Steel Plant Strike of 1892.

On July 6, a battle broke out at the steel plant in Pittsburgh between the strikers and the strikebreaker Pinkerton organization. Three detectives and ten workers were killed. Berkman decided to assassinate the plant owner, Frick. He did not want Emma to join him on his mission. However, she decided to earn money to buy a gun to aid her lover. She chose to get the money as a streetwalker. Fortunately for her, one of the potential clients took pity on her, gave her enough money, and sent her home untouched. For his part, Berkman did shoot Frick but failed to kill him. He was sentenced to twenty two years in prison. Goldman’s part in the attempt could not be proven; however, she wrote many articles in praise of Berkman as the avenger of the workers killed at the Homestead Plant. This brought her to the attention of the police. So much so that when she addressed a rally in Union Square in August of 1893, she was arrested and sentenced to one year on Blackwell’s Island.


After her release, Goldman travelled to Vienna to study midwifery and nursing. Due to the generosity of Herman Miller and Carl Stone, Goldman was able to study medicine. While there, she became involved with rallies against the Boer War and fell in love with a Czech student, Hippolyte Havel. Miller and Stone were taken aback by these activities and informed her that they were unacceptable. She responded by writing, "E.G. the woman and her ideas are inseparable. She does not exist for the amusement of upstarts, nor will she permit anybody to dictate to her. Keep your money."

Return to the U.S.

Goldman was not a person to be told how to behave. She returned to the U.S. and conducted a lecture tour. One of these lectures, in Chicago, was attended by Leon Czolgosz. On September 6, 1901, Leon shot President McKinley, and he died eight years later. The police attempted to concoct a conspiracy that involved Goldman in the assassination. Prosecutors even doctored testimony but still failed to make the charge stick. However, Goldman did not help her case by publicly defending Czolgosz as a demented, unfortunate person who deserved, at the very least, a fair trial. The media had a field day and if the courts could not prosecute, the press made sure that her guilt was publicly assumed.

Red Scare

The 1903 law concerning the deportation of alien anarchists would eventually lead to Goldman leaving the States for good. Goldman organized the Free Speech League to fight legislation she saw as repressive. This enhanced her notoriety so much that many liberals would not associate with her unless she referred to herself as E.G. Smith. However, Goldman went on to champion causes such as birth control and also modern drama. However, because of her fight against the draft in 1917, Goldman was jailed for two years and deported to Russia.

Goldman in Russia

While in Russia, Goldman was very critical of Lenin’s Bolsheviks and their authoritarian Worker’s Paradise. She wrote a damning critique of Lenin’s Russia called "My Disillusionment in Russia." This book brought her enemies on both sides. U.S. customs saw it as subversive, and it was seized and burnt. Leftists threatened to silence her by force. Despite this criticism, Goldman promoted the Catolonian anarchists’ cause during the Spanish Civil War by establishing, along with others, the Anti-Fascist Solidarity Group.


After a stroke in Toronto on May 14, 1940, Emma Goldman died. Her grave is in Chicago’s Forest Home Cemetery. She is buried along side her Haymarket comrades.