Documentary Editing, Association for


Date of this Version

Spring 2005

Document Type



Documentary Editing, Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 2005. ISSN 0196-7134


2005 © the Association for Documentary Editing. Used by permission.


I became the editor of the Emma Goldman Papers while I was writing Love, Anarchy, and Emma Goldman-a biography in which the first codes broken were those of decorum. There was a kind of steamy delight on that day when I realized that the secret language in her love letters-the "m's", the "tb", and the "w" -were not the Yiddish words I imagined them to be, nor the clandestine political messages, but a playful way to dodge the Comstock law against sending obscenity through the mail. Sizzling epistles went back and forth between Emma Goldman and Ben Reitman, a man who was not only her lover and road manager, but also a red light district gynecologist!

When the late Sara Jackson-who many of you remember as NHPRC's longtime archivist of government records-began to declassify Goldman's surveillance materials, I entered a very different realm of secret codes. The opportunity to be the conduit for offering a fuller view of Goldman, as she was perceived by those who feared her, felt like a rendezvous with the destiny of history-with a capital "H." Boxes of photocopied government reports arrived daily from Washington, D.C., to my Berkeley, California office. These documents confirmed my worst fears about the ineptness of the intelligence gatherers, their widespread presence all throughout the anarchist movement, the ways in which careers were made (like J. Edgar Hoover's rise from the Justice Department to his orchestration of Goldman's deportation, and assumption of the role of first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) and broken (like the liberal Assistant Secretary of Labor Louis F. Post's heart-rendering dilemma upon casting Goldman out of America). I was appalled to see the documentary evidence that her constitutional rights were infringed when private communications with her lawyer while she was in jail were intercepted and transcribed by government agents. As I read reports by the woman who had infiltrated Goldman's office, her racial slurs about these anarchist "kikes," it made me positively paranoid.