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Mary Antin Correspondence to Alfred Seelye Roe

 Collection
Identifier: JHCP-012

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains 19 letters written from 1898-1900 and 1912-1913 by author and immigration rights activist Mary Antin to educator and politician Alfred Seelye Roe. The letters begin soon after their meeting at a lecture Roe gave at the Park Street Church in 1898, and continued until 1900, after which their correspondence resumed after a 12-year hiatus. In the early letters, Antin writes about her immigration experience, the treatment her and her family received in her hometown of Polotsk, and her love of and opportunities in America. She also compliments Roe's talk at the church, and invites him to her grammar school graduation. In following letters, Antin recounts her summer vacation in Rhode Island and asks for advice on what high school to attend, writes about her excitement at the birth of her nephew, and discusses her relationship with Boston philanthropists Lina and Jacob Hecht and her meeting and later friendship with writer Israel Zangwill, all of whom aided Antin in publishing From Plotzk to Boston. After its publication, she writes about the sales of the book and asks for his criticisms and opinions on it. In later letters, Antin writes about the birth of her younger sister and her summer spent in Bayville, Maine at a summer school sponsored by the Boston Society of Natural History.

The letters resume in 1912, after Roe writes to Antin congratulating her on the publication of her series in The Atlanic Monthly, which would later become The Promised Land. Antin updated him on her life, including her marriage and the birth of a daughter. In October 1913, Antin writes again to Roe, hoping to set up a meeting with him and his family in Worcester while she is on a lecture tour in the area.

Dates

  • 1898-1900, 1912-1913

Creator

Language of Materials

This collection is in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Conditions Governing Use

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Biographical Note

Mary Antin

Mary Antin (born as Maryashe Antin) was born on June 13, 1881, the second of six children to Israel and Esther Weltman Antin in Polotsk, Russia (present-day Belarus). Her father immigrated to Boston in 1891, and in 1894, the rest of the family joined him. Entering grammar school at the age of 13 due to her lack of English skills, she graduated in 1898 after just four years. That same year, Antin’s memoir, From Plotzk to Boston, which chronicled her and her family’s voyage to the United States, was published to wide acclaim. Due to errors when translating the text from its original Yiddish to English, the memoir was published with the incorrectly named town of Plotzk (or Płock, located in present-day Poland), rather than Antin’s actual hometown of Polotsk. With the help of Boston philanthropists and Jewish leaders Linda and Jacob Hecht and writer Israel Zangwill, the memoir was also published in serial form in the weekly journal The American Hebrew.

After her graduation from grammar school, Antin attended Girls’ Latin School (later renamed Boston Latin Academy). While attending school, Antin met Amadeus William Grabau, a geologist and son of a German Lutheran minister. The pair married in 1901 and relocated to New York City when William was hired as a professor at Columbia University. Antin then attended Columbia’s Teacher College from 1901-1902, and later Barnard College from 1902-1904, but did not graduate. Antin and Grabau had one child, Josephine Ester, born on November 21, 1907.

In 1911, The Atlantic Monthly began publishing Antin’s writings documenting her life in Polotsk, her voyage to the United States, and her experiences as an immigrant in America; it was later published as a book under the name The Promised Land in 1912. The Promised Land became a bestseller, selling almost 85,000 copies during her lifetime. For the next few years after the memoir’s publication, Antin traveled throughout the country on a lecture tour speaking on the book, but also on topics like Zionism, open and unrestricted immigration, and her support of Theodore Roosevelt and his Progressive Party. In 1914, Antin published another book, They Who Knock at Our Gates.

During World War I, Antin, who supported the Allied cause, and her husband, who had pro-German sympathies, became estranged. As a result, in 1918, Antin developed neurasthenia (sometimes referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome), an illness from which she never fully recovered. The following year, Grabau left to work in China, where he worked as a professor of geology at Peking National University and became known as “the father of Chinese Geology.” He remained in China for the remainder of his life, and during World War II, was interned by the Japanese Imperial Army. He died soon after his release in 1946.

After the separation from her husband, Antin returned to Massachusetts and spent time in Great Barrington, Winchester, and Boston. Antin died of cancer on May 15, 1949 at the age of 67.

Alfred Seelye Roe

Alfred Seelye Roe was born on June 8, 1844 in Rose, New York to Methodist minister Reverend Austin M. Roe and Polly Catharine Seelye. From January 1864 to June 1865 he served with Company A, Ninth New York Heavy Artillery of the Union Army. In July of 1864, he was captured by Confederate troops during the Battle of Monocacy in Maryland and was held prisoner for nearly eight months. After his military service, he attended Wesleyan University, graduating in 1870. He then moved to Ashland, Massachusetts, where he served as principal at the local high school until 1875, and later to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he worked as a teacher at Worcester High School until 1880, and then as principal until 1890. From 1892 until his death, he worked as Supervisor of Worcester evening schools. Additionally, he served as literary editor of the Worcester Evening Gazette and was an avid writer, authoring Rose Neighborhood Sketches about his hometown, as well as histories of Company A, Ninth New York Heavy Artillery and various Massachusetts companies. To see a list of Roe's writings held at NEHGS, click here. Roe also was involved in politics, serving in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1892-1895 and in the Massachusetts Senate from 1896-1898. He died on January 16, 1917.

References

  1. Nadell, Pamela S.. "Mary Antin." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Jewish Women's Archive. https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/antin-mary
  2. "Mary Antin." Boston Women’s Heritage Trail. https://bwht.org/mary-antin/
  3. Frank Dennis. "ALFRED SEELYE ROE." http://wayne.nygenweb.net/rose/asroebio.html

Chronology

June 13, 1881
Antin is born.
1891
Israel Antin immigrates to the United States.
1894
Antin, her mother, and her siblings immigrate to the United States.
1898
Antin graduates from grammar school.
From Plotzk to Boston is published.
Antin begins at Girls' Latin School.
1901
Antin marries Amadeus William Grabau.
The couple move to New York City.
1911
The Atlantic Monthly begins publishing in serial form what would later become The Promised Land.
1912
The Promised Land is published.
circa 1913-1918
Antin travels throughout the country on a lecture circuit.
1914
They Who Knock at Our Gates is published.
1919
Grabau relocates to China.
1946
Grabau dies.
May 15, 1949
Antin dies.

Extent

0.25 linear feet (1 half-manuscript box)

Abstract

This collection contains 19 letters written from 1898-1900 and 1912-1913 by author and immigration rights activist Mary Antin to educator and politician Alfred Seelye Roe. The letters begin soon after their meeting at a lecture Roe gave at the Park Street Church in 1898, and continued until 1900, after which their correspondence resumed after a 12-year hiatus. In the early letters, Antin writes about her life as a student and writer, her experiences as an immigrant to America, and the publication of her first book From Plotzk to Boston—about which she asks Roe for criticism and help publicizing it. In the later letters, Antin writes about the appearance of her writings (which would eventually become the bestselling book The Promised Land) in The Atlantic Monthly, and later, while she is on her lecture tour in the Boston area, she attempts to make plans to visit Roe and his family in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Nancy Edwards, 2020.

Processing Information

Processed by Lindsay Murphy, 2020.
Title
Mary Antin Correspondence to Alfred Seelye Roe
Author
Lindsay Murphy
Date
2020
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

Contact:
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Boston MA 02116 United States
617-226-1245