The Margaret Sanger Papers


Reitman, Ben (1879-1942)

Anarchist physician. Married May Schwartz (1901) divorced, one daughter; Anna Martindale, (common-law marriage 1917), widowed (1930), one son; Rose Siegel (1931) separated (1932); Medina Oliver (common-law marriage, ca. 1933), five children. Born in Minnesota to Jewish immigrants, Reitman grew up in Chicago's South Side. Drawn to the underworld of thieves, prostitutes and wanderers, Reitman ran away and became a hobo. Returning to Chicago in 1897, he entered the Chicago College of Medicine and after graduating in 1904 became practicing physician and instructor of medicine. But he also continued to live the life of an itinerant hobo. In St. Louis, Reitman discovered the Brotherhood Welfare Association, or Hobo College, which helped the poor with food, housing and medical treatment, and he set up a branch in Chicago. Through his work with Chicago's underclass, he became a champion of efforts to prevent venereal disease and founded Chicago's first clinic. In 1908 Reitman met anarchist Emma Goldman when he offered her the use of a hall for a public lecture at which both were arrested. The two became lovers and Reitman became her manager. He also aided Goldman with the publication of Mother Earth. A birth control advocate, Reitman was arrested several times for lecturing on birth control and disseminating contraceptive literature. In April 1916, following Goldman's February arrest in New York City for distributing birth control pamphlets, Reitman was arrested on the same charge and sentenced to sixty days in the workhouse. He was arrested on a similar charge in Cleveland in 1916 and was jailed for another six months. Though initially supportive of Margaret Sanger's work, Reitman-who referred to her as "Our Lady of Sorrows"- became critical of Sanger for wanting full control of and credit for launching the birth control movement. Reitman's relationship with Goldman, strained by jealousy, separations and his desire to settle down in Chicago began to deteriorate and finally ended in 1916. Reitman published two books: The Second Oldest Profession (1931) and Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of Box-Car Bertha (1937).
References: Roger A. Bruns, The Damndest Radical: The Life and World of Ben Reitman, Chicago's Celebrated Social Reformer, Hobo King, and Whorehouse Physician (1987); Alice Wexler, Emma Goldman: An Intimate Life (1984); Candace Falk, Love, Anarchy and Emma Goldman (1984).