February 11th 1916: Emma Goldman arrested


Emma Goldman (1869 – 1940)

On this day in 1916 the anarchist Emma Goldman was arrested for lecturing about birth control. Goldman, originally from Russia, moved to America in 1885. There, she was very involved with the growing anarchist movement and became well known for her powerful speeches on anarchism and women’s rights. She and her peers also engaged in militant anarchism. Goldman and her husband plotted to assassinate industrialist Henry Clay Frick, and President William McKinley’s assassin Leon Czolgosz claimed to have been inspired by her. In 1906 Goldman began the anarchist publication ‘Mother Earth’ in which activists wrote about philosophy, labour relations, religion and feminism.



Goldman’s grave in Illinois

Goldman was an early advocate of free love and supporter of homosexual rights. She was arrested in 1916 for her lectures on birth control, under the pretense that she had been disseminating lewd and obscene literature. Emma Goldman spent her life in and out of prison, including some time for lecturing on birth control and opposing conscription during World War One. J. Edgar Hoover considered her and her husband the nation’s most dangerous anarchists and had her deported in 1919. During her time in her native Russia, by now under a communist government, she was appalled by the lack of free speech and repressiveness of the Bolshevik state. She traveled around Europe, becoming involved in the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s. In 1940, Goldman died in Canada aged 70. One need not agree with her views to respect Emma Goldman. In many ways she was ahead of her time, especially in her advocacy of feminism, birth control and homosexual rights. Her drastic methods may have been questionable, but her oratory was always her most powerful weapon. For this alone she is a remarkable figure.

“I could never in my life work within the confines of the State”


3 responses to “February 11th 1916: Emma Goldman arrested

  1. She was most certainly an advocate for “free love,” long before the Berkeley protest movements. Its questionable if she actually had anything to do with her husbands attempted assassination of Henry Clay Frick. She was of course a young woman at the time and very idealistic. I love bringing her up in conversations about early reform and social movements, not, just as you mentioned, because we have to agree with everything she said, but of the way she went about, fearless and desiring change.

    She was among a handful of others who were deported for opposing conscription during WWI, under the Espionage Act 1917.

    • Yes I didn’t manage to fully get across the fact that she was never fully implicated in the plot against Frick; it was her husband they jailed and not her. I agree about bringing her up, she’s a very impressive figure regardless of one’s political views.

  2. Pingback: May 2nd 1972: J. Edgar Hoover dies | todayinhistoryblog

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