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Emma Goldman - Radical Activities

anarchist bly york city

In 1886, Goldman closely followed the news of the Haymarket trials in Chicago, Illinois. Violence had erupted at an anarchist rally in Haymarket Square, resulting in the bombing deaths of seven policemen. Four anarchist labor leaders were convicted of conspiracy and executed, even though the actual bomber was never identified.

Goldman was deeply moved by the trial results. She joined the anarchist movement before moving to New York City in 1889 to participate in radical activities. She met her lifelong friend, Alexander Berkman (1870–1936), and helped him plot the assassination of industrialist Henry Clay Frick of the Carnegie Steel Company. It was a misguided effort to end the Homestead Steel strike. Frick was merely wounded and, in 1892, Berkman was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. The event made Goldman infamous when the New York World newspaper portrayed her as the mastermind of the plot.

A national economic crisis set off by the failure of four major railroad companies hit America in "The Panic of 1893." The stock market crashed and hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs. New York City streets filled with the hungry and unemployed. The city's police, anxious to control the rising unrest, turned their attention to anarchists whose inflammatory speeches were aggravating an already tense situation.

By this time, Goldman was a well-known anarchist and lecturer who advocated for the poor. She addressed a public rally of some three thousand people at Union Square in August 1893 and was arrested for inciting a riot. While awaiting release on bail, Goldman was interviewed by the World's famous female reporter, Nellie Bly (c. 1867–1922).

As relayed in Brooke Kroeger's 1994 book Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist Bly wrote, "Do you need an introduction to Emma Goldman? . . . You have seen supposed pictures of her. You have read of her as a property-destroying, capitalist-killing, riot-promoting agitator." Bly then described the real Goldman as a "little bit of a girl, just five feet high, . . . not showing her one hundred twenty pounds; with a saucy, turned up nose and very expressive blue-gray eyes that gazed inquiringly at me through shell-rimmed glasses."

While most reporters of the day were unsympathetic, Bly described Goldman as neat, immaculate, and well-dressed. Where the New York Times referred to Goldman as a fire-eating anarchist, Bly dubbed her "the little anarchist, the modern Joan of Arc," in a highly sympathetic report to her newspaper.


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