Radical Routes: Emma Goldman’s Rochester

Most local history buffs know that the Flower City was the erstwhile home of noted anarchist, Emma Goldman, but what is perhaps less known are the spaces and places that informed her Rochester existence.

Many of the streets and sites that Goldman once frequented in Rochester have since been radically transformed. The near northeast neighbourhoods that she and other recent Jewish immigrants called home in the late 1800s and early 1900s became prime candidates for urban renewal initiatives during the last third of the twentieth century. But some traces of Goldman’s Rochester roots remain.

Born in 1869, in what is now Lithuania to an Orthodox Jewish family, Emma Goldman relocated to Rochester with her sister Helena in the winter of 1886. As Goldman later recalled in her autobiography, Living My Life:

“We had heard that Rochester was the “Flower City” of New York, but we arrived there on a bleak and cold January morning.”

The pair joined their sister Lena, who had already settled on Rochester’s northeast side and for a time boarded at 120 Kelly Street, near Hudson Avenue. Their parents, Abraham and Taube, arrived to town at the end of 1886, and made a home on St Joseph Street (now Joseph Avenue).

EG-120 Kelly

120 Kelly Street, just west of Hudson Ave, City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

120 Kelly-now

The row of homes including 120 Kelly Street was later torn down and replaced with the Holland Townhouses in the late 1960s.

The Kelly Street residence was a ways away from Emma’s first place of employment, Garson, Meyer & Co., on North Saint Paul Street. The clothing company, like others in the local garment industry, employed countless Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

EG-Nash Building

Garson, Meyer & Co was located in the Nash Building at 39 North Saint Paul Street, seen here in this circa 1965 photo.

EG-Nash now

The site today.

Emma instinctively drew comparisons between the Garson & Meyer factory and her cousin’s glove-making operation in Russia:

“The rooms were large, bright and airy. One had elbow space. There were none of those ill-smelling odours that used to nauseate me in our cousin’s shop,” she noted in her autobiography, “Yet the work here was harder, and the day, with only half an hour for lunch, seemed endless. The iron discipline forbade free movement…and the constant surveillance of the foreman weighed like a stone on my heart.”

The stifling environment and inequitable wages made an indelible mark on Emma’s conscience. When not toiling at the Garson & Meyer’s (and later Rubinstein’s) Factory, Goldman further fueled her political leanings by attending the weekly Sunday meetings of a German socialist group at Germania Hall at 424 North Clinton Avenue.


EG-Germania Hall

Germania Hall, City of Rochester Plat Map, 1888.

EG-Germania now

The site today: Alvin Wesley Child Development Center of the Baden Street Settlement

Per Goldman, “the gatherings were generally uninteresting, but they offered an escape from the grey dullness of my Rochester existence. There one heard, at least, something different from the everlasting talk about money and business, and one met people of spirit and ideas.”

As the recollections from her autobiography make clear, Goldman’s impressions of Rochester were less than stellar, and she left her family’s adopted hometown for New York City in 1889, just ten months after marrying a man who had also left much to be desired.

Goldman returned to Rochester on numerous occasions in the ensuing years after attaining both fame and infamy as an anarchist activist and writer.

Her skills as an orator drew packed audiences at Germania Hall as well as the Labor Lyceum on North St Paul Street.

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The Labor Lyceum as it appeared in the early twentieth century.

EG-Lyceum New

580 St Paul Street today is now home to the Pentecostal Miracle Deliverance Church.

These speaking engagements had the added bonus of permitting Emma to make semi-regular visits to her parents, siblings and beloved nieces and nephews (among them sister Helena’s son, violin virtuoso, David Hochstein).

Goldman’s parents, Abraham and Taube, and the Hochsteins remained in the Joseph Avenue neighborhood for many years. Her father operated a furniture store on Joseph Ave (175 Joseph and later, 255 Joseph) in the years before his death in 1909.


Abraham Goldman’s furniture store at the corner of Joseph Avenue and Stepheny’s Place (a now defunct street in between Kelly and Baden streets).

EG- 175 joe now

Approximate site of the store is now home to Wilson Commencement Park.

Emma’s other siblings, like many former Jewish inhabitants of the 7th Ward, eventually left the area for Rochester’s southeast quadrant. Brother Herman lived on both Laburnum Crescent and Field Street in the Upper Monroe neighborhood and sister Lena found a home on Caroline Street in the Southwedge.

Goldman’s regular sojourns to Rochester came to a halt after she was deported in 1919 for obstructing the WWI draft.  She made two trips to the Flower City fifteen years later, during which she gave two lectures and stayed with Lena’s family on Caroline Street.

The first speech was presented to the Rochester City Club at the Powers Hotel on March 17, 1934.

EG-Powers Hotel

The Powers Hotel at the Northeast corner of W. Main Street and Fitzhugh Street.

EG-Power now

The Executive Building today.

She gave her final talk in Rochester at Convention Hall on April 15th, 1934.

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Convention Hall as it appeared in 1914.


The building is now home to Geva Theatre.

At her penultimate Rochester lecture, Goldman attempted to clarify her oft misconstrued mission, stating that above all she desired, “To make people thinkers. Ninety-nine percent of people don’t think. I don’t want converts to my credo—I want thinkers. I’m not an agitator—just an educator.”


-Emily Morry

Published in: on May 31, 2017 at 2:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

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