Women of Valor


No-Conscription League

Emma Goldman, 1869 - 1940

As the United States drifted toward engagement in World War I in 1916, Goldman threw her energy into opposing the government's military preparations. Although she was not a pacifist, like most anarchists she believed that the state had no right to make war. World War I, moreover, seemed to her to embody the worst aspects of modern war: although ostensibly fought to make the world safe for democracy, it was in her eyes an imperialist venture fought on behalf of capitalists at the expense of the working class and all those who were oppressed. Goldman's antiwar efforts earned her the wrath of the federal government, which banned Mother Earth in 1917 along with many other antiwar periodicals.

Undaunted, Goldman helped launch the No-Conscription League in May 1917, soon after America's entry into the war. Goldman and the League argued that the draft contradicted fundamental American principles of liberty. "In these days when every principle and conception of democracy and individual liberty is being cast overboard under the pretext of democratizing Germany," she wrote, "it behooves every liberty loving man and woman to insist on his or her right of individual choice in the ordering of his life and action."

On June 15, 1917, Goldman and Alexander Berkman were arrested and charged with conspiring against the draft. In the ensuing trial, Goldman argued that her actions, far from being anti-American, were in fact the essence of patriotism, for they were intended to prompt her adopted country to live up to its own ideals. Rather than organizing a conspiracy to obstruct the draft, she claimed, she had been exercising her right to free speech and educating her audiences about conscientious objection. Ultimately, Goldman and Berkman were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, with the possibility of deportation upon their release. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court, Goldman entered the Missouri State Penitentiary on February 6, 1918.

  1. Quotation beginning "In these days" from pamphlet for the No Conscription League, published in Transcript of Record: Supreme Court of the United States, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, Plaintiffs-in-Error vs. The United States.
  2. Additional information from "War Resistance, Anti-Militarism, and Deportation, 1917-1919," on the website of the Emma Goldman Papers, accessed March 18, 2002, available at http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/goldman/Exhibition/deportation.html.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Emma Goldman - No-Conscription League." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/goldman/noconscription-league>.