This Week in History


Deportation of Emma Goldman as a radical "alien"

December 21, 1919
Goldman, Emma 2 - still image [media]
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Emma Goldman's controversial views led to numerous arrests. This mugshot was taken when she was wrongly implicated in the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.

Institution: The Emma Goldman Papers, University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. Library of Congress

On December 21, 1919, Emma Goldman, along with 248 other radical "aliens," was deported to the Soviet Union on the S.S. Buford under the 1918 Alien Act, which allowed for the expulsion of any alien found to be an anarchist.

Emma Goldman, born in Kovno, Lithuania (then Russia) in 1869, came to the United States in 1885 at age 16. By the time of her deportation, she had made a name for herself as a leading anarchist, public speaker, and crusader for free speech, birth control, and workers' rights.

Goldman first became interested in radical politics in Russia, where she came into contact with populists and political organizers. In the U.S., she was disappointed to learn that instead of streets paved in gold, workers were subject to gross economic inequality and inhumane working conditions. A defining moment for Goldman came in 1886, when eight anarchist radicals were convicted and condemned to death, on flimsy evidence, for setting off a bomb at Chicago's Haymarket rally that caused a riot in which several police officers were killed. Convinced of the defendants' innocence, Goldman resolved to learn all she could about anarchism, and soon became active in the anarchist movement.

Unfortunately for Goldman, the decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were difficult ones in which to be an anarchist in America. Federal anti-anarchist laws restricted Goldman's ability to give public speeches and subjected her to frequent harassment and arrests. Still, she had a profound influence on American political activism. Giving hundreds of talks across the country, she became renowned as an inspiring and controversial orator. Mother Earth, the journal she founded in 1906 and ran until 1917, provided an outlet for the writings of radical thinkers. Roger Baldwin, who heard Goldman speak on free speech in 1908, went on to found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Margaret Sanger, a prominent birth control activist, looked on Goldman as her mentor.

Although Goldman was not a pacifist, she believed that governments had no right to wage war, and actively opposed U.S. involvement in World War I. She argued that the war was an imperialist venture that aided capitalists at the expense of workers. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, her anti-draft activism was considered a threat to national security, and she spent 18 months in federal prison. On her release, Goldman was immediately re-arrested on the order of the young J. Edgar Hoover, then director of the Justice Department's General Intelligence Division. Hoover persuaded the courts to deny Goldman's citizenship claims, thus making her eligible for deportation under the 1918 Alien Act, which allowed for the expulsion of any alien found to be an anarchist.

At first excited by the chance to see the workers' republic of Soviet Russia, Goldman was soon disillusioned by the Bolshevik regime. Barred from returning to the U.S., she spent the last two decades of her life wandering through Europe and Canada, giving speeches on radical politics. When she died in Toronto in May 1940, her body was returned to Chicago, where Goldman was buried near the Haymarket anarchists who had first inspired her.

To learn more about Emma Goldman, visit Women of Valor and Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: This Week in History for September 27, 1919, "Emma Goldman released from jail and then reimprisoned" and July 19, 1908, "Emma Goldman's "What I Believe'"; Go & Learn: Primary Sources & Lesson Plans; Jewesses with Attitude "If Emma Goldman used Google"; Patriotism and Dissent; Birth Control Movement in the United States; Emma Goldman in the Virtual Archive; Emma Goldman poster; Video: If Emma Goldman used Google...

Sources:Jewish Women's Archive,; Emma Goldman Papers,;Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 526-530;.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Deportation of Emma Goldman as a radical "alien"." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <>.