Women of Valor: Emma Goldman, 1869-1940


Reviewed: November, 2003
Mounted: January 5, 2004
By Lauren Kata


Women of Valor: Emma Goldman is one of several sites produced as part of the Jewish Women’s Archive “Women of Valor” program, “an educational outreach program that celebrates the lives and accomplishments of Jewish women.” According to the JWA’s online media kit, Women of Valor is designed “to bring the lives and accomplishments of Jewish women into the mainstream of Jewish and American life and education” through posters, online exhibits and educational events. Launched in 1997, the program creates and disseminates multimedia profiles of a series of notable historical American Jewish women, allowing audiences to “delve into primary sources” documenting each woman’s life. These profiles share several commonalities that lend themselves very well to the web environment: similar template design and format; cross referencing links to the JWA’s “Virtual Archive” of information on sources documenting Jewish women in North America; useful instructions on how to cite each page; and a carefully thought-out mechanism for presenting images and image captions. This approach reinforces the JWA’s assertion that its programs are useful to popular as well as academic audiences, and rigorous academic standards are applied to all its work.

Artifact List for Emma Goldman Exhibit This site includes thirteen interactive “text panels” or short essays, a variety of digitized artifacts gleaned from multiple repositories, a hyperlinked timeline, a selective bibliography, and a useful artifacts list. These resources have been arranged together into a visually appealing and easy-to-follow historical overview of Emma Goldman and why she was a notable Jewish woman in American history. Produced in collaboration with the Emma Goldman Papers , Women of Valor utilizes and presents information on Goldman that is available elsewhere—so well, in fact, that I am inclined to say that researchers should review this site first before attempting to delve into other online presentations on Emma Goldman.


Each one of the thirteen interactive text panels represents a significant aspect of Emma Goldman’s life, and more or less presented chronologically (that is, if the user so chooses to review the site “in order”). Following an overview that immediately acknowledges the Emma Goldman Papers, the site begins by presenting Goldman’s “Early Years” and “Political Awakening,” then highlights several of her controversial causes in sections titled “Dedicated Anarchist,” “Speaking & Writing,” “Women’s Rights,” “Love & Sexuality,” “Free Speech,” and “No-Conscription League,” ending with sections on Goldman’s “Deportation,” “Exile” and an interpretation of her “Legacy.” Each section averages about three to four paragraphs, presented with thumbnails of artifacts. The text is in narrative form, combining the authors’ narrative and interpretation with excerpts from Goldman’s own writings, and each section includes a “notes” link following the last paragraph. It is clear after reviewing the Emma Goldman Papers site that Women of Valor: Emma Goldman was informed by that particular site’s breakdown of themes.

Free Speech As a multimedia profile of a notable Jewish woman, the site has been written in a traditional biographical format, with certain statements or topics linked out for more information. The content of each text panel stays true to the biographical purpose: each section focuses on Goldman’s accomplishments and/or contributions. Less detail is given to the history or background of particular political or social movements such as women’s rights, the push for birth control, and anarchism. Rather, these ideologies are selectively interpreted through hyperlinks that open into new windows, with further explanations that expand on the movement’s significance. For example, in the section titled “Free Speech,” the final paragraph highlights the phrase “right to express herself” as well as “anti-anarchist laws” in order to provide more information on those ideas. More of this technique throughout the text would have strengthened a few general statements. For example, in the “Women’s Rights” section, the authors suggest that “Unlike many turn-of-the-century anarchists…Goldman worked from the conviction that women labored under distinct disabilities, which had distinct causes.” Which turn-of-the-century anarchists are the authors referring to? Site users might benefit from having these types of general statements hyperlinked in the way that other selected ideas are highlighted throughout the text.


Women of Valor: Emma Goldman shares its authority with the Emma Goldman Papers and that fact is clear throughout the exhibit—the Goldman Papers project is credited as a production collaborator in the site’s overview and also appears in the Bibliography, several notes, several times as an image source, and in the “Artifacts Sorted by Source” link that takes the user to the JWA’s “Virtual Archive” of primary source information. It is unclear how the JWA specifically collaborated with the Emma Goldman Papers project as far as authorship and writing are concerned, even though many of the artifacts are credited to that particular collection. The fact that several repositories other than the Goldman Papers were also sources for artifacts suggests that the site's creators surveyed a range of available material. Thus, Women of Valor: Emma Goldman reflects a multiple partnership initiative on the part of the JWA.

All content on the exhibit was created by the Jewish Women’s Archive. Although individual authors or designers are not included on the exhibit site itself, head writers are credited on the “About JWA—Site Credits” portion of jwa.org.. Jennifer Sartori, Director of Education, is listed as the head writer for the Goldman exhibit, in addition to several other “Women of Valor” exhibits such as Beatrice Alexander, Gertrude Elion, Ray Frank, and Gertrude Weil.


Emma Goldman’s life and career are not only important to those studying Jewish female activism but also to those studying the history of anarchism, activism, feminism, radical politics, and the labor movement, just to name a few subject specialties. I would also suspect that with the recent passage of the Patriot Act, Goldman is a figure who may become more and more interesting to students of free speech and the history of political demonstrations in America.

The Emma Goldman profile site does not list its original launch date. The copyright of the JWA website reads 2003, and date fields in the citation listings at the bottom of each page are automatically programmed to post today’s date. Profile sites of historical figures such as this site, especially when produced as part of a larger organizational program, seem to have a high degree of permanence. This site’s permanence potential is also supported by the fact that JWA has linked it to many of its other digital collections, for example, the “Virtual Archive” already mentioned.

Value Added Features

This online exhibit includes several features that both enhance the traditional biographical exhibit format and take advantage of the web environment. As mentioned above, hyperlinks within the narrative allow for the presentation of more detailed information without bombarding the reader with too much text on one page. Most online exhibits include bibliographies and timelines, as does this site, but the added feature of including an artifacts list that links back to corresponding sections was interesting and was a nice, manageable, alternate way to present the actual digitized primary sources used in the exhibit. Artifacts are listed in two different formats: alphabetically by format, where the links take the user back to the corresponding section of the exhibit, and alphabetically by source, a list which takes the user out of the Women of Valor: Emma Goldman site and to the JWA’s “Virtual Archive.” Unfortunately, there is no way to keyword search the artifacts through a search engine or database—one must scroll down through the each hyperlinked list.

Citation Page For me, the most interesting and notable value added feature is the citation tool listed at the bottom of each page. At the end of each section, a reference appears on “How to Cite This Page,” and instructions are given for both bibliography citations and footnote citations. This feature adds to the authority of the site, while at the same time reminds users that information—even and especially taken from the World Wide Web—must be properly credited, and hey, here is the correct way to do it.

Technical Aspects

The main-page contents of each section are framed by a menu to the left, and the JWA “Women of Valor” title page on top. This site is easy to navigate, both in Internet Explorer 5.0 and Netscape 7.1. The layout looks pretty much the same in both browsers—no problems switching from one to the other.

One of the most intriguing technical aspects or initiatives of this site—which visitors may not be used to at first—is the way in which the designers chose to present captions for the artifacts: by creating a separate “Artifacts Window.” Many online exhibits, for example the online exhibit hosted on the Emma Goldman Papers site, mount digital artifacts the way that one would mount and view them in a physical exhibit or article: with a short caption presented below the image and the source listed in italics or parenthesis. (For example, see the Goldman Papers exhibit). In this case thumbnail images are inserted between or to the side of the narrative text, without headings or captions. Instead, users may choose to click on either “source” or “full image”—links which appear below the image. Clicking on the link opens a new “Artifacts Window” in the browser, in which a larger image appears with a proper caption, photographer credit, and institutional source. There is also a programmed print button in the upper left corner of this window. As an aside, I tried opening a few of the windows while my current “pop-up stopper” was activated, and the windows did open up (I have had problems with that in the past).

As an archivist and curator, I have mixed feelings about this feature. On the one hand, metadata is standardized, and a clear effort to secure permission and proper citation is evident—it is obvious that this technique was carefully thought-out. On the other hand, the only way a user would know where the artifact came from would be if s/he chose to open the Artifacts Window—or, found it listed in the “Artifacts by Source” link on the left menu. I did eventually adjust to this way of presenting artifacts, and the unfamiliar process of stopping my reading of the text to open new windows for each illustration. As a site user, I wondered whether or not this technique would be distracting to other users, and/or if most users are more familiar with online exhibits that list captions directly underneath digital artifacts themselves. The Artifacts Window feature was a bit difficult for me to get used to at first, but admittedly after a few attempts I was fine.

Aesthetics/Visual Clarity and Appeal

I have read some reviews of websites in which reviewers complained about the framing and branding of title pages at the top, but this site is not distracting at all. There is just enough, but not too much, color added to enhance appearance. Overall it is quite pleasing to the eye. It has the professional look of a style sheet or template. I had no trouble browsing through the entire site; it was much easier to navigate than some of the other Goldman sites I reviewed.

Overall Impression of the Site

Women of Valor: Emma Goldman is a first-rate online exhibit website. Well-thought out and designed, it provides information not only on its subject—Emma Goldman—but also on how to use a public history website for research. Because it is part of a larger online research network as part of the JWA, it has the potential to be considered a one-stop resource on the life and legacy of Emma Goldman. On its own, it can definitely be recommended as a must-see site for Goldman research. I would not necessarily recommend this site as an introduction to Progressive Era history—but the site touches upon the causes and issues that Goldman championed and provides a “tip of the iceberg” introduction to that period in history.


Interpretation of Materials

The text of each section provides a narrative based upon Emma Goldman’s role specifically in contributing to a tradition of Jewish women’s activism. Artifacts and images are included throughout, but not necessarily interpreted. Based on a brief review of some other sites devoted to Emma Goldman, the main idea seems to “fit” with general interpretations of the life of Emma Goldman. This site may be of peripheral interest to those studying the history of the causes featured on the Goldman site, for example, free speech, birth control, love and sexuality, the labor movement and the left—and, Progressive Era activism.

Primary Source Documents

Archival Collections A variety of primary source formats—documents, photos, cartoons, letters, newspaper clippings, and more—were selected and integrated into this exhibit, gleaned primarily from the Emma Goldman Papers. The original documents reside in a variety of institutions including the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; International Institute of Social History; Kate Sharpley Library; National Archives; New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division; The Emma Goldman Papers; Library of Congress; Russian State Archive of Social-Political History; University of California, Santa Barbara; University of Illinois at Chicago; University of Michigan - Special Collections Library. Both the technique for citing artifacts and the artifact list on this site manage the primary source documents very well. As I have already said, a search engine or searchable function would make the system even better.

Although the primary sources are cited very well, information on the digitization process is lacking. In addition, many of the artifacts are difficult to read, even when viewed in the Artifacts Window. For example, those that accompany the section on Goldman’s view of birth control were difficult to read. A large, detail option would be nice in conjunction with a text-only transcription. A transcript is provided for one artifact—the Los Angeles Record article titled “Emma Goldman Enthusiastic Agitator for Birth Control—but transcripts or text-only OCR’d versions are not available for all newspaper clippings are letters with fine print.


This site clearly has the potential to appeal to educators and students: as the site exists right now, especially with the timeline and bibliography, it is an excellent resource that teachers and students may find extremely useful.

Teaching Resources As far as teaching resources are concerned, the only indication from the site itself on how teachers might use this exhibit in lesson plans or any other type of educational project is a link from the “Artifacts Sorted by Source” page. This section includes discussion questions, historical overviews on women’s activism, printable worksheets, and examples of artifacts and how to interpret them in the classroom. Although they all may not be about Emma Goldman, educators should find this portion of jwa.org useful and interesting.

A major educational strength of Women of Valor: Emma Goldman, while it is a small detail, is the “How to Cite This Page” reference featured at the bottom of each page. In my experience with reference and instruction, how to cite sources—especially websites—is a very common question among researchers and also an issue about which researchers and writers may not always think. I think this feature is an excellent tool, and I plan to suggest that my institution implements it into our current web projects.

Promotion of a Community of Interest

The Jewish Women’s Archive, using jwa.org and other programs, seeks to reach a variety of user and community groups including synagogues, adult education, community organizations, college campuses, schools, and specifically, girls’ and women’s groups. This is clear from the jwa.org’s “Ideas from the Field” page. Evaluations from groups representing the categories above offer ideas for how “Women of Valor” exhibits and programs can be used based on how they were used in specific programs. For example, one community group wrote in about how “WOV” helped “Create Curiosity with Public Art” in Manchester, New Hampshire. Three of the Women of Valor posters were projected through three large windows of the Federation/JCC building, which stands on a major boulevard. According to the notes from the field page, “the images created intense curiosity and the Federation phones rang off the hook with people asking for more information on these women.” Another example from the field is a note about how the website was integrated into a local school’s history curriculum. The Solomon Schechter Day School in Skokie, IL incorporated the “Women of Valor” materials into their study of the American immigration period, during which fifth graders had the opportunity to examine JWA's online exhibits and the extensive collection of photos and artifacts of Jewish women.

Point Assessment for Women of Valor: Emma Goldman, 1869-1940
(more information on PHRC's rating system is available)

Basic Criteria
Permanence and Timeliness13/15
Value Added Features13/15
Technical Aspects10/15
Overall Impression9/10

Public History Specific Criteria
Interpretation of Materials30/40
Primary Source Documents10/20
Promotion of a Community of Interest19/20

Total: 158 points -- 4 Earths

Lauren Kata (lkata@gsu.edu) is the Labor Archivist for Georgia State University’s Southern Labor Archives, of the University Library’s Special Collections Department in Atlanta, Georgia.

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Last updated on  January 5, 2004