Mary Antin

Courtesy of American Jewish Archives


“My friendships, my advantages and disadvantages, my gifts, my habits, my ambitions–these were the materials out of which I built my after life, in the open workshop of America. My days in the slums were pregnant with possibilities; it only needed the ripeness of events to make them fruit forth in realities. Steadily as I worked to win America, America advanced to lie at my feet. I was an heir, on Dover Street, awaiting maturity. I was a princess waiting to be led to the throne.” (Antin 148-149)

Mary Antin was an immigrant who became well-known for being both an author and an advocate for immigrant rights during her lifetime. She was born in 1881 in a Jewish shtetl named Polotsk in the Russian Pale of Settlement.  She lived there until she was 13 with her parents and five siblings. Due to the difficult economic conditions that prevented her family from earning a comfortable living, her father immigrated to Boston in 1891 and the rest of the family followed in 1894. At the age of 13, Antin begun attending American kindergarten in order to learn English. She pulled her way through four years of grammar school (while also publishing poems in Boston newspapers) and eventually both attended Columbia’s Teachers College and Barnard College. Her first book, From Plotzk to Boston, was published when she was nineteen. After America’s entry into World War I, Antin stopped writing and began working as a social worker. In 1918, she was diagnosed with neurasthenia and ceased appearing in public frequently. She died of cancer in 1949, having spent the last five years of her life being unable to move physically.

Antin is best known for writing her autobiographical work, The Promised Land, in 1912. In this book, Antin described both her childhood in the shtetl and her adolescent experiences as an immigrant in the United States. She takes care to contrast her early literary successes with the political, economic, and cultural discrimination that oppressed Jews in Europe. The book sold over 85000 copies during Antin’s lifetime.

A link to The Promised Land can be found here.

Leave a Reply

Your name:   Required
Email address:   Required
Site URL:
Your comment: