Natasha Notkin

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Natasha Notkin (1870-???) was an Anarchist activist who was active in Philadelphia in the late 19th and early 20th century. She was born in Russia to a Jewish family, and immigrated to the United States in 1885, where she worked as a pharmacist and soon became absorbed in the Philadelphia movement.

Notkin joined the Knights of Liberty, became friends with movement figures such as Voltairine de Cleyre, Hyman Weinberg, and Emma Goldman, and took a leading role in organizing Philadelphia anarchist forums such as the Ladies' Liberal League and the first incarnation of the Radical Library. She was also a primary distributor for anarchist literature in Philadelphia, including Free Society, Freiheit, and Mother Earth. She frequently served as the contact or coordinator for fundraising efforts for everything from efforts to issue print runs for Anarchist literature, to mutual aid to help cover Voltairine de Cleyre's medical expenses.


From Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, Vol. 2: Making Speech Free, p. 537:

Notkin, Natasha (b. 1870) Russian-born anarchist and pharmacist. EG met her on her first trip to Philadelphia in 1893. Notkin's activism in Philadelphia included distributing Free Society, Freedom, and Mother Earth, and other anarchist literature, raising money for the Berkman Defense Association, and participating in the Ladies' Liberal League as well as the Social Science Club, an anarchist reading group formed in 1900 by Voltairine de Cleyre.

From notes to Emma Goldman, Vol. 2: A Documentary History of the American Years, p. 144:

2 Natasha Notkin and others in Philadelphia organized the "Friends of Voltairine de Cleyre" to help pay for her medical expenses.

From notes to Candace Falk (2008), Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, Volume 2: Making Speech Free: 1902-1909, University of Illinois Press. 459n3.

3 The Radical Library was initially affiliated with the Ladies' Liberal League of Philadelphia, when the League joined the Radical Library around 1895. Guided by Voltairine de Cleyre and her friends, the Radical Library worked to "repair a deficit in the public libraries by furnishing radical works upon all subjects at convenient hours for working men and accessible to all at only a slight expense." In 1905, after the Ladies' Liberal League disbanded, Philadelphia anarchist Natasha Notkin, who had been the caretaker of the library, passed the books on to Joseph Cohen, a former student of de Cleyre's. Cohen started a new group, which settled at 424 Pine Street. The newly reconfigured Radical Library, led by Cohen, became an established center of Philadelphia anarchism. In 1906 the Radical Library and the Social Science Club sponsored a Paris Commune commemoration, at which Voltairine de Claire, George Brown, Frank Stephens, Chaim Weinberg as well as French and Italian anarchists spoke.

From Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the American Years, Volume 2, p. 561:

Liberal clubs often provided EG [Emma Goldman] a sheltered venue for her lectures. In Philadelphia, the membership of the Ladies' Liberal League and the Friendship Liberal League included anarchists. The Friendship Liberal League, a freethought organization that sponsored lectures primarily on secularism, had among its members Voltairine de Cleyre, James B. Elliot, and others who successfully lobbied the group for discussion of a broad range of topics, including anarchism. The Ladies' Liberal League was an 1892 offshoot of the Friendship Liberal League of Philadelphia. Under the guidance of Voltairine de Cleyre and Natasha Notkin, it quickly outgrew its origins as a women's auxiliary and sponsored lectures on a wide variety of subjects, becoming an important forum for radical and feminist activity in Philadelphia. Anarchists, including Charles Mowbray, John Turner, Harry Kelly, and EG, spoke before the two groups during the late 1890s, and EG spoke before the groups again in 1901.

From Emma Goldman, Living My Life, Vol. 1, p. 123:

The following morning I went to Philadelphia to secure relief and help organize the unemployed there. The afternoon papers carried a garbled account of my speech. I had urged the crowd to revolution, they claimed. Red Emma has great swaying power; her vitriolic tongue was just what the ignorant mob needed to tear down New York. They also stated that I had been spirited away by some husky friends, but that the police were on my track.
In the evening I attended a group meeting, where I met a number of anarchists I had not known before. Natasha Notkin was the active spirit among them. She was the true type of Russian woman revolutionist, with no other interests in life but the movement. A mass meeting was decided upon for Monday, August 21.

From Emma Goldman, Living My Life, Vol. 1, p. 196, describing a speaking tour in 1897:

My first stop was Philadelphia. I had visited the city many times since my arrest in 1893, always addressing Jewish audiences. On this occasion I was invited to lecture in English before several American organizations. While in the City of Brotherly Love I stayed at the house of Miss Perle McLeod, the president of the Ladies' Liberal League. I should have preferred the warmer hospitality of my old friend Natasha Notkin, with whom I felt at home, in the congenial atmosphere of my Russian comrades, but it had been suggested that the apartment of Miss McLeod was more accessible to the Americans who would want to meet me.

From Emma Goldman, Living My Life, Vol. 1, p. 157:

Ever since I had come into the anarchist movement I had longed for a friend of my own sex, a kindred spirit with whom I could share the inmost thoughts and feelings I could not express to men, not even to Ed. Instead of friendship from women I had met with much antagonism, petty envy and jealousy because men liked me. Of course, there were exceptions: Annie Netter, always big and generous; Natasha Notkin, Maria Louise, and one or two others. But my bond with these was the movement; there was no close personal, intimate point of contact. The coming into my life of Voltairine de Cleyre held out the hope of a fine friendship.

From Paul Avrich, interview with Harry Melman (November 28, 1971), in Anarchist Voices: An Oral History of Anarchism in America (AK Press, 1995/2005). 224.

I [Harry Melman] emigrated to Philadelphia in 1910, before Voltairine de Cleyre left for Chicago, but I knew no English then and have no recollection of her talks. I don't remember Samuel Gordon, Nathan Navro, or Joseph Kucera. I do recall Natasha Notkin, who was friendly with Chaim Weinberg, but that's all I remember.

From Chris Crass, "Organizing for Radical Social Change: Voltairine de Cleyre and anarcha-feminism":

In Philadelphia Voltairine spent much of her time teaching and she continued to write and lecture frequently. In Philadelphia she helped organize the lecture series of the Ladies' Liberal League, which was a free thought organization that she helped found in 1892. The League featured lectures on sex, prohibition, crime, socialism and anarchism. She also helped form the Social Science Club, an anarchist reading and discussion group. She wrote frequently for the most prominent anarchist and free thought newspapers and magazines, and organized open-air meetings that attracted hundreds to hear speeches by anarchists and radical unionists from around the country. She arranged meetings, collected funds for propaganda, distributed literature, and dozens of other tasks necessary to maintain and build a movement. In 1905 Voltairine and several friends started the Radical Library, which, as she explained, was to provide radical literature to workers for little pay and maintain hours that allowed working people access. Much of this work was done alongside other women active in the Philadelphia anarchist movement - most notably, Natasha Notkin, Perle McLeod and her close friend Mary Hansen.

From Robert Helms (2006), "Doctors and Druggists Among the Early Philadelphia Anarchists,"

Another local physician, also an anarchist, evaluated Herman and seconded his family's recommendations. It was Dr. Simon M. Dubin (1867-1919) who owned a house at 327 Pine Street, where he lived with his family, a servant, and a few tenants. Dubin had taken his medical degree in Berne, Switzerland in 1896, and specialized in psychiatry. One of Dubin’s earlier tenants had been Herman Helcher for some years, and Natasha Notkin, a prominent nihilist/anarchist and close friend of Voltairine's, lived there in 1900. This may have been where Emma Goldman stayed during some of her speaking visits as well, since she was accustomed to overnight with Notkin.
Aside from the doctors, there were several pharmacists on the anarchist scene in Philadelphia who had an impact on the movement that derived, in large part, from their profession. Jacob L. Joffe was involved in the anarchist movement at least as early as 1901, when Voltairine de Cleyre mentions in a letter to her mother that her friend, Esther Berman, was learning the pharmacy craft in the shop owned by another friend. Berman seems to be the same person as Esther Wolfe, who in 1905 became a partner in the Joffe & Wolfe drug store at 701 South 3rd Street. Another young woman to learn the profession through an apprenticeship with Joffe was the aforementioned Natasha Notkin, a Russian-Jewish nihilist who came to the US in 1885, at age fifteen.
Although only one small newspaper sketch of Notkin’s face survives, there are many reports of her, all through the years from around 1890 until 1917. As a member of the Knights of Liberty, she took part in organizing the Yom Kippur Balls, a short-lived effort to draw working-class Jews away from religion by arranging social events during the high holidays. When two of her comrades stood trial for incitement to riot in 1891 after a meeting was raided on the night before one of the balls, Natasha was called as a witness for the defense. Some four decades later, her court appearance was recalled by a comrade. She was wearing her hair bobbed, then the habit of dissident Russian women, and she treated the prosecutor with contempt.
"Are you a nihilist?" He asked.
"I don’t know what that means," she replied.
Both before and after opening a drug store with Joffe in 1907, Notkin was the Philadelphia distributor of the anarchist papers Free Society and Mother Earth. In 1892, Natasha had co-founded the Ladies' Liberal League (LLL) along with Perle McLeod, a Scottish-born anarchist who may have received training as a nurse in later years, Mary Hansen, who originally came from Denmark, and Voltairine de Cleyre.

Passing Mentions

From "The Situation in America" (Continuation), in Mother Earth, Vol. II., No. 9 (November, 1907), pp. 386-387:

The propaganda in the English language, as we have stated before, is of a rather spasmodic character. True, we have some very able workers in various parts of the country, as comrades Harry M. Kelly, John R. Coryell, and Tom Bell, in New York; Voltairine de Cleyre, George Brown, and Natasha Notkin in Philadelphia; Jay Fox, Mrs. Parsons, Frances Barnard, "Jack" and Annie Livshis, in Chicago; and William and Lizzie Holmes in Denver; but the activity on the whole has been rather local in scope.

From a letter from Emma Goldman to Alexander Berkman, Detroit, Mich., 17 March 1907, reprinted in Emma Goldman, Vol. 2: A Documentary History of the American Years, p. 220:

The inclosed clipping will show you, that you are with me, I wish it were true. I mean, I wish you were here sweetheart. The pamphlate is very neat thank you darling. Dearest, how big is "our Capital? If only the damned police would leave my meeting alone, I could raise a considerable amount of money, tho I hardly think, I will make many subscribers, but the meetings are well attended and a great many copies sol.d The Oct numbers, goes like hotcakes. Please see, how many Octs we still have and let me know. I am sending the Feb number I have left over to the house, we will need them, we have very few at home.
Please send Natasha 100 tickets, they the Russian Tea Party takes place March 22nd, she will have an excellent chance to sell the tickets. Write her a letter with it please.

From "Voltairine de Cleyre," in Lucifer, The Lightbearer (December 8, 1904), reprinted in Emma Goldman, Vol. 2: A Documentary History of the American Years, p. 144:

Voltairine de Cleyre, the well-known radical poet, free thought and anarchist lecturer, is lying dangerously ill in Philadelphia, and in very straitened circumstances. Her life and works are known to a great many readers of the Lucifer and to them we believe it unnecessary to do more than to mention this fact. To those to whom they are not, however, we would say that she has given seventeen years of her life with pen, voice and whatever way she could, to the cause of freedom and human progress. Possessed of ability, honesty and high moral courage, she never swerved from the hard and stony path which all idealists are compelled to travel. Devoting herself unceasingly to the uplifting and enlightening of the human family without hope or thought of reward, except that feeling of exhilaration that comes to the soldier of progress, it was inevitable that now in the hour of physical disability, she should find herself penniless and helpless. Her friends in Philadelphia have rallied to her assistance to the best of their ability and have placed her in a hospital where she is receiving medical attendance and the best of care. The expenses are considerable and as their means are limited, this appeal is issued in the hope that many friends till now not aware of her condition, may know it and render that assistance which is necessary and which we believe they will gladly give. Miss de Cleyre is too ill to be consulted in the matter, so the appeal is issued without her knowledge. The situation is so critical, however, that we have no alternative. She would be the last to say or imply that any obligation, moral or otherwise, rests upon anyone to assist her because of her devotion to the cause of freedom. We feel, however, that most of us have done far less than she and we must rally in the hour of need round a fighter who has fought so strenuously in that cause. Contributions can be sent to either E. G. Smith, 210 E. 13th St., New York City, or to N. Notkin,2, 1332 S. 6th St., Philadelphia, Pa.
Friends of Voltairine de Cleyre