Emma Goldman and Upstate, New York

Xerox building in downtown Rochester, NY

[Xerox building in Rochester, New York at sunrise]

Emma Goldman was born in 1869 in Kaunas, Lithuania and later died in 1940 in Toronto, Canada. During her life, Emma was a constant target of state repression and was notorious as “a sponsor of anarchy, of violence, free love, and revolution, she was vilified in the press as “Red Emma”, “Queen of the Anarchists”, “The most dangerous women in America,” yet her name would also appear on the list of the some of the world’s most influential women like Jane Adams, Annie Besant, Hellen Keller, Harriet Tubman, and Madame Curie to name only a few. In Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America by Paul Avrich, (p. 45) Emma Goldman is described as a propagandist and organizer for:

“women’s equality, sexual liberation, and birth control to labor activism, liberation education, and artists freedom. Strong in her opinions, not in her sympathies, she was a powerful orator who toured the country restlessly, incessantly, selling vast quantities of radical literature and raising funds for the anarchist movement, of which she was a leading representative.”

This is the story of Emma Goldman and the events that surrounded her while in Upstate, New York. In 1885 at the young age of 17, Emma Goldman emigrated from Lithuania to the United States of America eventually settling into Rochester, NY. In Rochester, NY Emma worked at the Garson Co. textile factory and soon married a fellow worker by the name of Jacob Kersner. In 1886, Emma credits the Haymarket Riot as a life changing event of vision and inspiration, of which she first heard of from the German socialist Johanna Greie at meetings organized in Rochester. Emma later wrote that “the decisive influence in my life” was the Haymarket Riot and death of the Chicago anarchists “which brought me to life and helped to make me what I am.”[1]

In 1889 Emma found herself unhappy with her marriage and moved to New York City(NYC) where she was introduced to more radical activities. As we shall see a little further on, it is important to note that Emma never legally divorced Jacob Kersner. One such influence, was that of Alexander Berkman also-known-as Sasha, of whom Emma first met in NYC. According to my research (largely taken from The Emma Goldman Papers); Emma didn’t return to Rochester until August of 1901 when she spent a month visiting her sister Helena. After her visit in Rochester, she traveled on to Buffalo where the Pan-American Exposition was taking place.

On September 6th, 1901 President of the United States of America William Mckinley was shot and killed by self-proclaimed anarchist Leon Czolgosz. The government would soon charge Emma Goldman with responsibility for this assassination for supposedly influencing Czolgosz, but the charges were soon dropped and Emma got some of her first on hand experience and taste of state repression. Recently, I stumbled across some old family records from 1901 - a scrapbook of their journey from Albany to Buffalo to see the Pan American Exposition. Part of the entry on September 6th reads, “On the way we heard that our good President McKinley had been assassinated at Buffalo.” The scrapbook includes an old President McKinley pin and various Pan American Exposition articles, stamps, admission ticket, and some discourse about everyday life. In reference to the anarchists, Uncle Hank’s, quote from Around the “Pan” with Uncle Hank also published in 1901 seems to sum up the general sentiment towards them:

“Them Anarchists is like rattlesnakes; fust they rattle dangerous warnin’s and then they strike a deadly blow. No civilized community ez safe while they’re about. It’s high time they waz exterminated; jes’ make it high treason when they rattle on’ about removin’ rulers; an’ let ther strong arm of ther law grasp ’em around th’ neck an’ strangle ’em tew death before they hev time tew coil an’ strike. Naow ye see th’ danger ov ’lowin’ ther scum of Europe tew cum inter th’ country. Yer quarantine yaller fever, but ye never think ov quarantinin red anarchy, which is a sight more dangerous diseese. . . .”

For Emma’s perspective of the situation take a look at the article she wrote: Tragedy at Buffalo. You can also check out Emma Goldman’s book written in exile Living My Life (whereas Chapter 24 is about Buffalo, NY). After the assassination, the State of New York passed on April 3rd of 1902 the Criminal Anarchy Act, Chap 371. Part of the document reads, that any person who advocates for criminal anarchy is one who:

2. Prints, publishes, edits, issues or knowingly circulates, sells, distributes or publicly displays any book, paper, document, or written or printed matter in any form, containing or advocating, advising or teaching the doctrine that organized government should be overthrown by force, violence or any unlawful means; or,
In 1903 the United States Congress went on to pass an anti-anarchist immigration act, thinking that all the anarchists were coming from across the Pond.

Later on, in 1904 Emma spoke in Rochester before fellow garment workers on behalf of the Free Speech League in solidarity with John Turner against the anti-anarchist immigration law. Later on, Congress rules against John Turner that it has “unlimited power to exclude aliens and deport those who have entered in violation of the law, including philosophical anarchists.”

In the March of 1906 the first issue of Mother Earth was published. Soon afterwards, Emma began her national lecture tour, which included among the stops Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Buffalo where the police tried to disrupt the event.

In the March of 1909, Emma found herself back in Rochester. On April 8th, the US Court in Buffalo invalidated the citizenship of Jacob A Kersner, who was Emma’s claim to US citizenship through marriage.

In the January of 1910 a free speech battle erupts in Buffalo with Emma in the middle. A large amount of discontent with anarchy seemed to be prevailing through Buffalo after the assassination. Back in Rochester, Emma holds three different discussions. In March, an amendment is made to the Immigration Act of 1907 which forbids the entrance to the United States for criminals, paupers, anarchists, and persons carrying diseases.

In 1911 Emma spoke at the inauguration of the new Ferrer School in New York City also-known-as the Modern School, of which she was instrumental in its foundation along with many other notable anarchists.

The Modern Schools, also called Ferrer Schools, were American schools formed in the early 20th century around the ideas of educator and anarchist Francesc Ferrer I Guàrdia and modeled after his Escuela Moderna. They were an important part of the anarchist, free education, socialist, and labor movements in the U.S., intended to provide education to the working-classes from a liberating, class-conscious perspective. The Modern Schools had classes for children during the day, and lectures were given to adults at night. [wikipedia]

On January 6th Emma began her lecture tour in Rochester. Over the next six months she would travel to 50 different cities in 18 different states, delivering over 150 lectures and debates. On January 8-14, she spoke in Buffalo with poor attendance. On April 7th the Free Speech League was incorporated in Albany.

In August of 1914, World War I officially begins and on December 20th Emma delivers a speech on war to over 1,800 in Rochester that was organized by her niece Miriam Cominsky. Two years later, in 1916 Emma lectures again in Rochester on the subjects of education, Russian literature, birth control, sexuality, and anarchism.

In the February of 1917 the Alien Immigration Act is passed by the US government allowing the deportation of undesirable aliens “anytime after their entry.” In 1918, Emma lectures again before her imprisonment for US military draft refusal. The US intelligence agencies soon begin collecting the names and addresses of over 8,000 Mother Earth subscribers. On September 27th, 1919 Emma is released from imprisonment to mobs of reporters, friends, and niece Stella Ballantine, who accompanies Emma back to Rochester.

On November 25th, 1919 the Department of Labor ordered the deportation of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. At dawn on December 21st Berkman and Goldman set sail on the SS Buford, bond for Russia. Later on in 1920, US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, working with Justice Department agent J. Edgar Hoover and immigration commissioner Anthony Caminetti ordered the arrest of approximately 10,000 radical aliens. In 1923, Emma Goldman’s mother, Taube died in Rochester.

Upon her arrival in Russia, Emma was at first enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution of 1917, but soon became a critic. She was stunned by “the wholesale arrests of Russian anarchists, the dispersal of Makhno’s guerrilla army in the Ukraine, and the conversion of the local soviets into instruments of party dictatorship, rubber stamps for a new bureaucracy.”

In 1939, Emma Goldman passed away in Toronto, Canada and her grave soon afterwards was set to rest in Chicago. Emma Goldman from what is known as Upstate, New York: one of America’s most celebrated radicals and an anarchist at that!

Upstate, New York Emma Goldman Links:
Emma Goldman on Rochester Wiki
Emma Goldman texts on The Anarchist Library



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