Emma Goldman

Lived:June 27, 1869—May 14, 1940 (aged 70)
Career:Anarchist, political activist, writer, speaker

Emma Goldman was a political anarchist, writer and speaker who advocated for causes such as free speech, birth control, women's equality and worker’s rights.

Goldman was born on June 27, 1869, in Kovno, Russia, to a poor Jewish family. Due to her family's poverty, Goldman had to leave school and work. As a teenager, she began studying the ideas of Russian populists and nihilists. In 1885, she emigrated to Rochester, New York, with an older sister to avoid being forced into marriage by her father. Working as a seamstress in a clothing factory and experiencing firsthand the inhuman working conditions, her political involvement grew. She was strongly affected by the 1887 execution of the labor activists who were falsely accused of a bombing in Chicago's Haymarket Square. She moved to New York City in 1889 after a brief marriage.

In New York City, Goldman joined the German anarchist movement after meeting anarchist Alexander Berkman and Johann Most, editor of the radical publication Freiheit who trained Goldman in public speaking. Goldman and Berkman edited and published the anarchist magazine Mother Earth from 1906-1917, and Goldman published five books between 1910 and 1931. She was arrested several times and served two years in prison for obstructing the draft during World War I.

In 1919, Goldman and Berkman were deported to Russia. They left Russia in 1921 and moved to Berlin and then London. In 1925, facing deportation from England, she married a Welsh anarchist named James Colton, which gave her British citizenship and allowed her more freedom to travel. From 1919-1940, Goldman lived in Russia, Sweden, Germany, France, England and Canada, participating in the social movements of the time. In 1934, she was briefly allowed back into the United States for a speaking tour.

Goldman died on May 14, 1940, in Toronto, Canada.


PBS. (n.d.). “Emma Goldman (1869-1940).” American Experience. July 7, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/goldman-1869-1940.

University of California Berkeley Library (n.d.). “Meet Emma: Online Exhibit.” The Emma Goldman Papers. July 7, 2022. https://www.lib.berkeley.edu/goldman/MeetEmmaGoldman/index.html.