East Village Tenement Housed “the Most Dangerous Woman in America”
Anarchist and revolutionary thinker Emma Goldman, known for her political activism, writing, and speeches, can claim East 13th as her home in the early twentieth century. Goldman was known for supporting a wide-range of controversial causes, including free speech, birth control, women’s equality, union organization, and workers’ rights. She was considered, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one of the most dangerous women in the country.
Goldman was born in Kovno, Lithuania (then part of the Russian Empire), in 1869. She eventually emigrated with her sister to Rochester, New York, where she worked long days in a factory. In 1889, she left her work and husband and came to New York City. Here she met prominent anarchists Johann Most and Alexander Berkman. Goldman had a life-long relationship with Berkman, both as a friend and lover. A year later, Goldman began to lecture in New York City and throughout the country.
It is not until 1903 that she moves to a tenement at what is now 208 East 13th Street in the East Village, built in 1901 to house thirty-six families. There is a plaque dedicated to Goldman on the building, but it is unclear who erected this tribute to her. A New York Times article from May 20, 1906, reporting on Alexander Berkman’s release from prison, states that he sent letters to an E.G. Smith at 210 East 13th Street during his time in prison. This building also served as the office of Goldman’s publication Mother Earth, a monthly periodical that served as a forum for anarchist ideas and a venue for radical artists and writers to express themselves. The journal listed 210 East 13th Street as its mailing address.
Goldman’s residence was geographically well-placed considering some of the venues in which she spoke in the East Village. In 1906 Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth magazine hosted a Masquerade Ball at Webster Hall, only to be broken up by police. The raid forced the owner to close the hall for a short time. In 1903, Goldman spoke at the Great Hall at Cooper Union in protest against the deportation of John Turner, an
anarchist who had been sentenced to deportation that year.
Goldman lived at 208 East 13th Street until 1913. Not long after, in 1917, Goldman was sentenced to two years in prison after founding the No-Conscription League in protest against the draft. In 1919, she was deported to Russia with approximately 250 other alien radicals. There is much more to explore on Emma Goldman beyond her connection to the East Village. Some wonderful resources include the Emma Goldman Papers Project, The Jewish Women’s Archive History Makers Project, and the American Experience’s companion website to their Emma Goldman documentary.