The Ellen Kennan Papers: photocopied correspondence from Emma Goldman and other American anarchist sympathisers to Ellen Kennan (b 1871) of Denver and New York; 1910-1950

Scope and Content

The Ellen Kennan archive comprises photocopies of letters and associated papers written for the most part to Miss Kennan while she was a schoolteacher in Denver, Colorado. The bulk of the collection concerns Ellen Kennan's friendship with Emma Goldman, the anarchist, and with her associates Alexander Berkman and Ben Reitman, and concentrates upon the 1912-20 period. There is also a significant series of letters from Agnes Smedley, the journalist and author, and a small quantity of items from Mother Jones, the labour leader.

The archive comprises the following series:

Letters from Alexander Berkman to Ellen Kennan, with related papers including two letters from Berkman and 'Fitzie' [Eleanor Fitzgerald] and notes from E. Fitzgerald to E. Kennan. 1913-1927 and n.d. (Kn 1/1-29)

Letters from Emma Goldman to Ellen Kennan, with related papers and obituary notices. 1912-1940 and n.d. (Kn 2/1-148)

Letters from Mother Jones to Ellen Kennan. 1916-1918 (Kn 3/1-6)

Letters from Judge Ben Lindsey of Denver to Ellen Kennan. 1916-1930 (Kn 4/1-6)

Letters from Ben Reitman to Ellen Kennan. 1916-1917 (Kn 5/1-5)

Letters from Agnes Smedley to Ellen Kennan, with related papers and obituary notices. 1923-1950 and n.d. (Kn 6/1-40)

Miscellaneous letters and personal papers of Ellen Kennan. 1910-1949 and n.d. (Kn 7/1-16)

Administrative / Biographical History

Ellen Kennan was a teacher at the East Denver High School in Denver, Colorado, when she met Emma Goldman in April 1912. According to Goldman's autobiography 'Living My Life' (1931), Goldman, who was in Denver on a lecture tour, was urged to set up a drama course there, which Kennan offered to maintain. Their friendship endured until Goldman's death. Kennan was apparently discharged by the Denver School Board, who disagreed with her views, in 1918. She moved to New York. Kennan taught at the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers from 1925-1938. She seems to have remained in New York until her death in or around 1950.

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) was one of the leaders of the Anarchist movement in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She wrote and lectured widely, and founded the journal 'Mother Earth: anarchist memoir'. She argued in favour of free speech, birth control, women's rights and unionization. Goldman was imprisoned in 1917 for her opposition to conscription, and was deported to Russia in 1919, having been born in Lithuania. Disillusioned by Soviet communism, she travelled around Europe and took a particular interest in the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. Goldman married a Welshman named James Colton, and died in Toronto, Canada.

Goldman was especially associated with the anarchist Alexander Berkman (1870-1936), whom she met in the 1890s in New York. Berkman served 14 years in jail for the attempted murder of a steel plant owner. His time in prison was the subject of his 'Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist' (1912). After his release, they jointly set up 'Mother Earth', which Berkman edited. In January 1916 Berkman moved to San Francisco and founded 'The Blast: revolutionary labor weekly'. He was also imprisoned in 1917 for campaigning against conscription, and like Goldman was deported to Russia in 1919. Berkman spent his latter years in Europe publishing works criticising Soviet communism.

Another close associate of Goldman and Berkman was the anarchist and abortionist Ben Reitman (1879-1942). Other people represented in this collection are Agnes Smedley (1895-1950), American writer and revolutionary sympathiser, who took a particular interest in China; Mary Harris Jones (1837-1930), known as 'Mother Jones', union organizer and representative of the United Mine Workers of America; and Benjamin Barr Lindsey (1869-1943), Judge of the Juvenile Court in Denver, Colorado, and social reformer.


The collection has been divided into 7 series based on correspondent. Within these series, items have been arranged chronologically where possible. The papers have then been photocopied, and the photocopies bound into 7 volumes.

Access Information

Accessible to all registered readers.

Other Finding Aids

Copyright in all finding aids belongs to The University of Nottingham.

Online: Available on the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, accessible from the website of Manuscripts and Special Collections.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements


Conditions Governing Use

Reprographic copies can be supplied for educational and private study purposes only, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.

Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult.

Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in writing from the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections

Custodial History

The papers passed to a cousin of Miss Kennan, and thence to a friend. The original papers were lent to the Department of Manuscripts at the University of Nottingham in January 1987, in order to enable photocopies to be made for teaching and research purposes.

Related Material

Over sixteen thousand letters written to and by Emma Goldman have been collated in 'The Emma Goldman Papers: A Microfilm Edition', 69 reels (Chadwyck-Healey Inc., 1991) [not apparently available in the UK]

International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam: Emma Goldman papers relating to the Spanish Civil War, Soviet Union etc., 1922-39

University of Wales Swansea, Archives, Library and Information Services: letters from Emma Goldman to her husband James Colton


Geographical Names