Emma Goldman (1869–1940) was a fiery activist, writer, and speaker whose major causes included anarchy, free speech, sex reform, and woman’s rights (nineteenth-century practice was to use the singular, woman's, when referring to women as a class; later practice was to use the plural, women's). Goldman was often persecuted or jailed for her speeches and writings, making her a heroine to defenders of free speech and freethought.
Truth be told, authorities could not be blamed for thinking Goldman dangerous; one of her lovers, the anarchist Alexander Berkman, seriously wounded industrialist Henry Clay Frick in an 1892 assassination attempt rooted in labor grievances. Eventually (and owing in part to her opposition to American involvement in World War I), Goldman was deported to her native Russia after the Bolshevik/Communist Revolution of 1917. Disillusioned, she left Russia in December 1921. She lived in various locations across Europe, twice visiting Spain's short-lived anarchist communities during the Spanish Civil War, then emigrating to Canada in 1939. There she suffered two debilitating strokes. She died in Toronto, Ontario, on May 14, 1940.
Goldman in Rochester. Goldman’s ties to west-central New York State are ironic; leaving the area was the first necessary step toward her tempestuous career. A young Russian immigrant, she had come to Rochester in 1886 at age seventeen to live with her sister Lena. She worked in two successive garment factories that she viewed as sweatshops. Her parents moved to Rochester, and she moved in with them. Then she entered what turned out to be a loveless marriage. She experienced her political awakening when she heard about Chicago’s May 4, 1886, Haymarket tragedy. Attending lectures at two Rochester workers' halls and reading as widely as she could, she formed her anarchist ideals. In 1889, she left her husband—and Rochester—to move to New York City and embark on her career as a radical.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Emma Goldman was a prominent and controversial radical. She often returned to Rochester, speaking before its largely German-speaking radical community and visiting with family members.
March 1906: National lecture tour with speaking engagements scheduled in Cleveland, Toronto, Rochester (venue unknown), Syracuse, and Utica. (An engagement in Buffalo was disrupted by local authorities.)
March 1909: Returned to Rochester in connection with a court action in Buffalo that would invalidate the citizenship of her ex-husband, her claim to U.S. citizenship.
January 6, 1911: Began a six-month lecture tour in Rochester with an address on Tolstoy at Germania Hall. She would travel to fifty cities in eighteen states, taking part in over 150 lectures and debates.
November-December 1916: Lectured in Chicago, Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Cleveland, and Rochester. Subjects included Russian literature, education, birth control, and anarchism. At her Rochester lecture on December 15 (at the Fine Arts Building's Recital Hall), an associate was arrested for distributing birth-control literature. Two days earlier, at the posh Century Club, she gave a more restrained lecture on the writings of Tolstoy. On three successive evenings she lectured on anarchism and sex radicalism at the Labor Lyceum.
January 1918: Prior to being imprisoned, Goldman delivered her final lectures in Chicago, Detroit, and Rochester.
September 27, 1919: Out on bail and facing deportation, Goldman visited family in Rochester.