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East Village Tenement Housed “the Most Dangerous Woman in America”

The tenement that housed Emma Goldman from 1903-1913

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.

Emma Goldman

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.

Plaque commemorating Emma Goldman at 208 East 13th Street

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

Note the address listed on the contents page of Goldman's journal Mother Earth

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.

16 responses to “East Village Tenement Housed “the Most Dangerous Woman in America”

  1. I walk by this building every day and had no idea about Emma! Thanks for unlocking a little bit of history on my block.

    1. Contact me for a little bit more history on the building. I’ve been involved with the running of the building for 30 years and I now live here for the last 10 years.
      The plaque was a collaboration between the East Village radical tour and the owner of this building. The owner installed the plaque.

      There is a little issue about the article. There were two buildings comprising this present lot prior to 1900 ….there was a house at 208 and another one at 210. If you look on the east side of the building there is a plaque that tells a story that the house at 210 for a short time houseed the wife of the man who led the Mexican Revolution.

      The building that Emma lived in comprised the Lots 208 and 210…. which is the current building. At that time there was no elevator and it was a six-story walk-up tenement. In her memoirs she talks about living on the 6th floor in the rear now Apartment 6R… She talks about looking across the alley way to the back end of the sweatshops of 12th Street.
      It was never proven where her presses were for Mother Earth. I heard the story that was in the basement across the street underneath Kiehl’s.

      1. Oh my goodness – it’s you, John! You’re still there!!! This is Dawn T. I moved into 1E, as a college sophomore, in fall of 1991 along with two roommates; then up to 6N to meet new roommates in summer of 1992. We were there until summer of 1995. 208 was the best place ever and 6N brought together strangers who became life-long friends. Each of us shared some of our happiest years there – and you and Larry were the absolute top-notch, positively unheard-of-ly wonderful pair who both made it possible and kept us safe and warm. Those were some seriously formative years – in a very different time and on a very different block than I last visited in Sept. 2019! And I wouldn’t want to have spent them anywhere else. I can’t tell you how happy I am to see your name – and Larry’s – still going strong where my heart still lives. You are very much a part of my wonderful East Village memories and I just wanted you to know how much I still appreciate you. What a joy to see your name! I hope this finds you well, healthy and happy. I am back in Maine, working as a special collections librarian, and regularly helping people uncover the history of their buildings and homes. Emma might have been a positive inspiration, after all!
        Wishing you ALL the best….

        1. Hello,
          I lived at 6N from fall 1988 to January 1991. I was studying theatre at the neighborhood playhouse at the time. I know a few more actors moved in after me. Anne-Elizabeth from Mtl as was I. The brick wall at 6N had soot on it and my then-roomate Ludmilla had said something about a fire of an illegal newspaper or magazine. I also had an amazing time living there. It was to this day the most beautiful appartement I’ve ever lived in. We were illegally subletting from Walter Gurbo at the time. Eventually the owner found out and jacked up our rent by 600$ or something. Such amazing memories.

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  3. I lived in this apartment. There were burn marks on the floor from fires the anarchist had built to keep warm. Occasionally a piece of mail would arrive intended for the a anarchist headquarters.

  4. I lived in this building when I was a child til a teenager ! I went to catholic school on 14thstreet it was called Immaculate Conception I had many friends from Stuyvesant town and grew up there and never realized the history although they said the Astor’s owned the building then ? We lived in the top floor it was considered if you wanted to get some sun it was called tar Beach ! Lol Awhh. Memories !♥️

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