Bessie Kimmelman: fragments of an anarchist life [updated]

In 1916 and 1917 Kimmelman contributed to the Defense Fund for San Francisco Labor Prisoners (Thomas and Rena Mooney, Warren K. Billings, Israel Weinberg and Edward Nolan, accused of the Preparedness Day bombing on 22 July 1916). Her contribution at a San Francisco lecture by Emma Goldman was reported in The Blast (September 15, 1916). Contributions via Alexander Berkman were reported in the issues of January 19, 1917 (a subscription list) and March 15 (from New York).[1]

In 1927 Kimmelman sent money to the Relief Fund for Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists Imprisoned or Exiled in Russia.[2] In 1927 she was also closely involved in the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee in Cleveland. Her letters and telegrams to the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Commitee in Boston can be seen online in their archive.[3] 

Emma Goldman’s reply to one of Kimmelman’s letters suggests that she was also involved in protests in Boston: ‘Your description of the confusion in Boston on the eve of the 10th of August is very vivid indeed, but it is no consolation to me that those who answered the call for pickets in behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti acted so helter-skelter, without any sense of the need of a preliminary organization.’[4]

Kimmelman continued her activity after the killing of Sacco and Vanzetti. ‘The Cleveland Sacco and Vanzetti Defense Commitee intends to dissolve as such. We shall again carry on our educational work in the anarchist spirit as we have done before our intensive campaign for the liberation of our two comrades; only with more zeal and energy. The public is more eager to study anarchism now than ever before.’[5]

In September 1927 as secretary of the International Committee for the Relief of Russian Political Prisoners she sent a letter about postcards the group had produced ‘demanding the liberation of all Russian political prisoners for the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution’. ‘We have conceived of this idea a long while ago, only we were too busy with the Sacco-Vanzetti case so we could do nothing in this direction until now.’ [6]

In 1931 Kimmelman was again in touch with Berkman (from Los Angeles, where she was heavily involved in the Libertarian Group), telling him of the forthcoming Arestanten Ball (prison-themed solidarity fundraising event) on April 11, 1931.[7]

In May 1934 Kimmelman wrote from New York to Berkman asking for ‘constructive valuable suggestions’ for a conference to be held at the Ferrer Colony in Stelton (August 11-12, 1934) as part of ‘a serious attempt to reorganize the anarchist movement on a workable basis’.[8]

In 1935 I.A. Herman from the Kropotkin Literary Society of the Workmen’ Circle, Los Angeles told Berkman that ‘Bessie Kimmelman is in New York for the past two years […] working in N.Y. taking care of poor children’.[9]

We know she asked Max Nettlau for a message to celebrate Tom Bell’s 50 years in the anarchist movement.[10]

No doubt more fragments of her life are waiting to be found!


1, See pages 161, 210 and 226 of the collection of The Blast published by AK Press For more on the Defense Fund see Emma Goldman : a documentary history of the American years. Volume three, Light and shadows, 1910-1916 (Stanford University Press) 

2, See the accounts of the Paris section in their bulletin (number 3, June 1927 and number 4, November 1927), reprinted in The Tragic Procession (pages 37 and 41)

3, Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee (Collection of Distinction) 

4, Goldman to Kimmelman, December 29th 1927. (image 66 of) 

5, Bessie Kimmelman (Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, Cleveland) autograph letter signed to Joseph Moro, Cleveland, Ohio, September 1, 1927 

6, See Bessie Kimmelman, 1927 Letter re postcards, calling for release of imprisoned revolutionaries in Russia 

7, See Kimmelman’s letter of February 22, 1931 (starting at image 60 of) (Alexander Berkman papers, IISG, folder 43). The flier advertising the event is image 6 of (Alexander Berkman papers, IISG, folder 47).

8, See letter of May 27, 1934 and following call for conference (image 64 of) 

9, see letter from I.A. Herman, October 15, 1935 (image 9 onwards of) (Alexander Berkman papers, IISG, folder 44).

10, See letter of January 12, 1932 (image 2 of) (Max Nettlau papers, IISG, folder 706)



Bessie Kimmelmann, Commonwealth student, writes that she is recovering from the operation she underwent in New York on February 19. Her plans for convalescence include several weeks in the country and mountains.

Bessie, a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, came to Commonwealth in 1924. She writes that her work at the College is only temporarily interrupted, for she “will return, a second Hercules, in September.” 

Commonwealth College Fortnightly, Vol. 2, No. 7, April 1, 1926 (bottom of front page)

From: Commonwealth College Fortnightly.  Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, November 2017.

Another update

The online archive of the Fraye Arbeter Shtime ( contains a report from Los Angeles: ‘The death of our neighbor Betty Kimmelman has halted the activities of [the Libertarian Refugee Fund] for a little while’ 1962/08/15