Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Most Dangerous Woman

On December 16 and 17, 1908, Vancouver hosted the 'most dangerous woman in the world' and her manager/lover. This woman's name is Emma Goldman and she was a fiery speaker who lectured on such things as anarchism, atheism, birth control, free love and woman's rights. Goldman was also responsible for publishing the anarchist journal Mother Earth, which inspired the man who assassinated President McKinley in 1901.

Her manager/lover was also notorious. Dr. Ben Reitman was known by many names: the clap doctor; the most vulgar man in America; the king of the hoboes. These nicknames were earned by Reitman's work with the downtrodden in Chicago. He supplied medical services to the prostitutes and even started a hobo college. (A hobo college is a college where 'men of the road' gathered to swap stories and listen to lectures on matters of personal hygiene, philosophy, politics and vagrancy laws. The college ran for almost thirty years.) Reitman is known to have inspired our local depression-era hobo expert, Rev. Andrew Roddan.

I got this photo from Wikipedia. It list s it as Emma Goldman and her decades long lover, Alexander Berkman.
Emma Goldman, 1911. compliments of Wikipedia.

The Goldman family in Russia, circa 1882.Wikipedia.
Emma 1886. Wikipedia.

Emma Goldman and Ben Reitman went on a west coast tour in 1908. On December 13, the duo were arrested in Seattle. They were released after promising to leave town. But, in Bellingham, the pair were arrested again.This time for "threatening to hold an unlawful assemblage". The police chief informed them that if that charge didn't hold up in court then Goldman would be charged with insanity. Unless they left the country. Goldman felt it was wise to leave the United States so she and Reitman headed for Vancouver on the one o'clock train.

They made it as far as the Blaine border crossing where they were detained by what  Reitman called “the arrogance and stupidity of an official who wanted to show his authority … the man evidently thought he would get some cheap notoriety by putting himself in the same class as the local authorities” in Washington State.

The Calgary Herald heard of the plight of the two anarchists and published an editorial praising the decision. Especially since Vancouver had an uppity Asian population. Here's what they said:

If this firebrand had been allowed to spread her red flag doctrine in Vancouver it is hard to tell what the result might have been. The Oriental immigrants who are now making their home in Vancouver are not in a peaceable mood. According to the doctrine preached by the anarchist, if she found it possible to stir up trouble, it was her duty to the cause to do so … She should be kept off British soil. Freespeech is a fine thing, but agitators like Emma Goldman, whose only mission is to stir up trouble, perhaps ending in bloodshed, are not wanted at any place.

However, as we know, the newspaper's editorial was premature and the anarchists were allowed into Vancouver. The border guard received instructions from Ottawa to let the pair into the country and he did so, apologizing for the inconvenience.

Reitman was the moderator of Goldman's talk and promised to include the guard in a comedy sketch “on the way the boasted liberty of the States strikes me after the experiences we have just passed through.” Reitman compared the "British Fair Play" with which the couple were treated in Canada to the American concept of a "square deal" that resulted in the two's constant harassment.

“Although I am an American,” he said, “I must say that liberty does not exist in the States.”

The information for this blog entry is from the Past Tense Vancouver Histories blog. I will continue this story on Friday.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. Cool story of a rebel rouser. She was a bit to early for her time.

    1. She does sound interesting, doesn't she?