Emma Goldman Is Arrested

Emma Goldman, American anarchist and compelling advocate of free speech, women's equality, the eight-hour day, and birth control, was arrested in New York City on February 11, 1916, while giving a public lecture on family planning.

She was charged with violating the Comstock Law, a 1873 statute banning transportation of "obscene" matter through the mails. At the time, federal courts interpreted the statute as prohibiting distribution of contraception information.

Goldman was born in Kaunas, a Russian city that is now part of Lithuania, on June 27, 1869. Like most poor Russian jews, Goldman's family suffered under the political oppression and antisemitism of Imperial Russia. Put to work in a corset factory and threatened with an arranged marriage, she fled Russia in 1885. Goldman settled in Rochester, New York, married, and worked in a factory. Disillusioned with working conditions there, she joined the labor movement. Her awareness of anarchism grew with the persecution of anarchist labor leaders after the 1886 Haymarket Strike. Shortly thereafter, Goldman embraced anarchism—the belief that any form of government inhibits a just society.

Emma Goldman (June 27, 1869 – May 14, 1940) was an anarchist known for her political activism, writing and speeches. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in Kovno in the Russian Empire (now Kaunas in Lithuania), Goldman emigrated to the US in 1885 and lived in New York City, where she joined the burgeoning anarchist movement. Attracted to anarchism after the Haymarket affair, Goldman became a writer and a renowned lecturer on anarchist philosophy, women's rights, and social issues, attracting crowds of thousands. She and anarchist writer Alexander Berkman, her lover and lifelong friend, planned to assassinate Henry Clay Frick as an act of propaganda of the deed. Though Frick survived the attempt on his life, Berkman was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison. Goldman was imprisoned several times in the years that followed, for "inciting to riot" and illegally distributing information about birth control. In 1906, Goldman founded the anarchist journal Mother Earth.

When a law has outgrown time and necessity, it must go and the only way to get rid of the law is to awaken the public to the fact that it has outlived its purpose and that is precisely what I have been doing and mean to do in the future.”

— Emma Goldman to the Press, a few days after her arrest in New York City