Emma Goldman

Anarchist, Activist and Author

“The public and university libraries in Toronto were lacking in modern works on the social, education, and psychological problems occupying the best minds. ‘We do not buy books we consider immoral,’ a local librarian was reported as saying.”

Emma Goldman, Living My Life – Volume II, 1931.

(Library of Congress)

Emma Goldman was an anarchist, whose outspoken activism gained her distinction in the anarchist movement and enemy status with the United States Government. Known to many as ‘Red Emma’, J. Edgar Hoover described her as “the most dangerous woman in America.” (1)

Emma Goldman was born in Kovno, Russia in 1869. Like many living in Russia during this turbulent period of anti-Semitism, she fled Eastern Europe in 1885, at the age of sixteen.(3) Goldman moved to Rochester, New York with her sister Helena. Upon arriving in New York, Goldman became increasingly interested in the theories and works of the anarchist movement. In 1889, Goldman moved from Rochester to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, an anarchist and political hotspot during this time.(4) There Goldman started to develop her political voice, attending and participating in numerous lectures and meetings, and starting to give public speeches. In 1910, Emma Goldman published a selection of essays titled  Anarchism and Other Essays.

Throughout her activist career, Emma Goldman was associated with other radicals, such as Margaret Sanger. Goldman and Sanger both believed in the benefits of birth control and sexual freedom for women. Goldman, similar to Sanger, was jailed numerous times for her beliefs, outspoken nature and anarchist preaching. In 1901, Goldman was arrested on charges of conspiring to assassinate President William McKinley.(5) Her final straw with the US Government came in 1919. Emma Goldman was forthright about her opposition to the military draft in World War I. She advocated for young men to resist the draft. Her heightened political agenda and opposition to the draft led to her loss of American citizenship and deportation by the United States Federal Government in 1919.(6)

In January 1928, Goldman did a lecture series in Toronto. In her autobiography, she described Canada as ignorant to the growing anarchist movement and said she experienced few problems entering the country.(7) She ended up staying in Toronto for over a year, generating interest in her cause and visiting with friends who traveled from the United States to be with her.(8) She created weekly lectures in Toronto and worked with the growing anarchist movements in Toronto and Montreal. She was encouraged to make Toronto her home, but did not make it her permanent residence.

Emma Goldman lived the last years of her life in France. Emma Goldman published her autobiography titled Living My Life in 1931. She died in May 1940. Although she was exiled from the United States, her body was returned to US soil for burial. She was laid to rest in Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.

During the 1960s, a decade known for the women’s movement, free love and defiance of authority, Emma Goldman was rediscovered as an American icon. Today, numerous papers, articles, books, plays and monuments have been created in her memory. Her words and ideals are still used for political means, most recently by those opposed to the war in Iraq.


(1) Emma Goldman. Living My Life, Introduction by Miriam Brody. (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), viii.
(2) Goldman, xiii.
(3) Alice Ruth Wexler. “Goldman, Emma”, (4)http://www.anb.org.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca: 2048/articles/15/15-00276.html;
(5) American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000. [11 March 2009] (6) Goldman, Living My Life, xii.
(7) Goldman, 553.
(8) Goldman, 556.

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