Frances Goldin was born into a working-class, Russian-Ukrainian Jewish family in Springfield Gardens, Queens in the 1920s. As a child, her family not only faced intense anti-Semitism, but they were also ostracized by the neighborhood’s merchant-class Jews because, as Goldin recalls, “my father went to work in overalls”. Her exposure to bigotry at an early age sowed the seeds for what would become a lifetime commitment to social justice.
At twenty, Frances married Morris Goldin and moved to the Lower East Side, an ethnically diverse and politically radical neighborhood, where she immediately felt at home. Following her husband, Frances Goldin joined the Communist Party. In 1951, at age 27, she ran for New York State Senate on an American Labor Party (ALP) slate headed by W.E.B. Du Bois, the premier Black intellectual of the time. For these and other political activities, the Goldins came under surveillance by the FBI and Morris was blacklisted, forcing Frances to become the family’s sole breadwinner.
In the 1950s, Frances Goldin was part of two unsuccessful efforts to stop urban renewal plans designed by Robert Moses: Lincoln Center and Seward Park. Experience in these campaigns would prove invaluable when in 1959 such an urban renewal plan was announced for the Cooper Square area, just blocks from Goldin’s apartment. Thus began a 50-year struggle that would not only define Goldin but arguably community organizing and urban planning in general.
Frances Goldin activism expanded beyond affordable housing. She advocated for women’s rights, labor rights, prison reform, LGBTQ rights, and she fought the NYU’s expansion into the Lower East Side. Goldin was the founder of the Frances Goldin Literary Agency and has represented authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Adrienne Rich, Dorothy Allision and political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal.