Mary Antin

Mary Antin

Bio

Mary Antin was born on June 13, 1881, in Polotzk, Russia, the daughter of Israel and Esther Weltman Antin. Her father emigrated to the United States in 1891, and three years later the mother followed with the four children, arriving in Boston on the Polynesia on May 8, 1894. The Antin family eventually settled on Arlington Street in Chelsea, where Mary and the younger siblings started to go to public school; her older sister had to work as a seamstress. Mary Antin’s teacher brought about her first published work, the composition “Snow,” in the journal Primary Education.

Shortly after the transatlantic voyage, Mary wrote a long and detailed account of it in Yiddish for her uncle. Later, the philanthropist Hattie Hecht introduced Antin to Philip Cowen and Israel Zangwill, and the result was the publication of an English adaptation of the letter in the American Hebrew. In 1899, it appeared as a book that misspelled the name of her hometown, From Plotzk to Boston, with a glowing introduction by Zangwill. The essayist Josephine Lazarus—Emma Lazarus’ sister—reviewed the volume for the Critic and became friends with Antin, who had been admitted to the prestigious Boston Latin School for girls. The family now lived in the Dover Street slum, and Mary associated with the South End Settlement House of Edward Everett Hale. She sat as a model for his daughter Ellen Day Hale, and became a member of the Natural History Club. There she met Amadeus William Grabau (1870-1946), who was finishing his doctoral work in geology and paleontology at Harvard. They were married in Boston on October 5, 1901, and soon took up residence in New York, where Grabau became a professor at Columbia University. Antin never finished Latin School, and therefore could only take a few college courses as a special student. Their dauther, Josephine Esther Grabau, Antin’s only child, was born on November 21, 1907. Antin publshed short stories essays, and her books The Promised Land (1912) and They Who Knock at Our Gates (1914), which together sold more than one hundred thousand copies. After some successful years as a writer and Progressive lecturer, Antin suffered a nervous breakdown, and she and Grabau separated. She lived in pooer circumstances in later years, publishing little, and died on May 15, 1949.

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