EMMA GOLDMAN LECTURES ON BIRTH CONTROL IN PORTLAND
Escapes Arrest in 1914 Tour
Portlander Objects to Talk as Lewd and Immoral
Ben Reitman, Manager, Arrested Then Released
One hundred years ago Emma Goldman, the anarchist many Americans feared and loathed, stopped in Portland for her annual lecture tour. She had done so regularly since 1908, usually causing a stir in the Rose City if not an arrest. On this occasion Goldman avoided arrest, although she addressed one of the hot-button issues of the day, birth control.
During this summertime visit - from mid-July to mid-August – Goldman mostly spoke out against the European War. On August 6, she joined an anti-military mass meeting at Scandinavian Hall, at Fourth and Yamhill streets. The European War was underway, and Americans were divided about whether the U.S. should enter the conflict. Three days later she railed against the war as unjustified and unworthy of support in another mass meeting, this time held in the downtown Plaza block. Portland authorities allowed the anti-war demonstrations to proceed without any reported incident.
One incensed citizen, however, complained at length to Mayor H.R. Albee about Goldman’s advertised intention to discuss birth control at Scandinavian Hall on July 25.
James B. Dalrymple (spelling uncertain) wrote that Goldman had announced that she would speak about “the birth strike.” She would explain not only why the number of children should be limited but “how to do it.” As Dalrymple reminded the mayor “a federal statute makes it a penitentiary offense to transmit through the U.S. mails information regarding the prevention of contraception.” He was referring to the notorious Comstock Act.
“Now this anarchist woman comes to Portland and proposes to commit an outrage against public morals and decency, to corrupt and debauch our youth, by publicly stating the vile details before a mixed audience as to how an obscene crime may be committed against human and divine law.”
Dalrymple concluded, “In the name of all that is pure and decent and good, I ask: Are the authorities going to permit it?”
On this occasion, they did.
However, Ben Reitman, Goldman’s manager and lover, was earlier hauled before the Chief of Police for the grave offense of distributing handbills about Goldman’s talks. When informed by the Chief that passing out handbills was against the law, Reitman gave his word to not do so again. The Chief reportedly replied, “Very well then, if you won’t do it any more, you may go, and don’t cause any more trouble than you can help.” (Emphasis added)
The next year the anarchist pair did – and were indeed arrested.
(To Be Continued)
“Emma Goldman To Speak,” Oregonian, August 6, 1914, 9.
“Orators Scold Warriors,” Oregonian, August 10, 1914, 14.
James B. Dalrymple to Mayor H.R. Albee, July 22, 1914, 0201-01 (Albee) A 2000-03 Correspondence 1914 – D. Emma Goldman, Portland Archives & Records Center.
“Anarchist Is Arrested,” Oregonian, July 19, 1914, 5.