Emma Goldman grew up in a petit-bourgeois Jewish family in the Baltic region of Russia. (Her birthplace is today part of Lithuania.) After emigrating to the United States at age 16, she worked in a Rochester garment factory before settling in New York City in 1889. Already influenced in her youth by the radical culture of St. Petersburg, she soon joined the anarchist movement and met lifelong comrade Alexander Berkman. In these early years, she advocated violence and helped Berkman plot to assassinate industrialist Henry Clay Frick. As her thinking evolved, she later rejected terrorism in favor of tireless political organizing. Over the next three decades, Goldman threw her energies into lecturing, editing and mobilizing protests. She fought countless battles for free speech and civil liberties. Though expressing little interest in the suffrage cause, she critiqued the social and economic subordination of women and was an early advocate of birth control.
The U.S. government targeted "Red Emma" for her radical activities, jailing her on several occasions and stripping her citizenship in 1908. In 1917, Goldman and Berkman were imprisoned again for protesting military conscription. During the post-WWI anti-Bolshevik fervor, the government deported both to Russia. After two years, however, Goldman fled the new Soviet Union, profoundly disillusioned with the authoritarian state and its disregard for civil liberties. She spent the last two decades of her life travelling between France, England and Canada, still actively promoting her humanist brand of anarchism. Summing up her lifelong struggle, one historian writes, "Offering an invaluable counterstatement to the pragmatic faith of progressives and socialists in the omnicompetent state, she fought for the spiritual freedom of the individual at a time when the organizational walls were closing in."