Mary Antin's Letter to her Uncle Moshe Hayyim Weltman, 1894 [Extract]

Source Description

In 1894 Mary Antin (born Maryasche Antin) from the Belarusian town of Polotzk, her mother and three siblings traveled via Hamburg to Boston, her father already having gone ahead. Immediately after her arrival in 1894, Mary Antin gave an account of her voyage in a letter to her maternal uncle, Moshe Hayyim Weltman in Polotzk. According to the history of this letter as told by Mary Antin herself, her lamp tipped over shortly before she had finished the letter. Since kerosene had been spilled all over it, she had to write a new copy. In 1899 she published an English version of the account originally written in Yiddish based on the kerosene-doused original titled From Plotzk to Boston. The English version written when she was 18 was intended for the American public and differed noticeably in style from the letter written in Yiddish to her uncle and relatives back home in Russia when she was thirteen, which is the document discussed here. Literarily gifted Mary Antin was considered a child prodigy, and the publication funded by Jewish patrons was supposed to enable her further education. Mary Antin was supported by her teacher, Mary Dillingham, Boston Jewish philanthropists Lina and Jacob Hecht, and their friend, the well-known Jewish writer Israel Zangwill. The latter established contact with the journal American Hebrew, which printed the English version in serial form in 1899 before it was published as a book. In light of increasing xenophobia and political campaigns against mass immigration to the U. S., Antin’s patrons sought to present an exemplar of integration benefitting the country. In 1910 Mary Antin got hold of the original letter while on a visit to Russia. In 1914 her brother-in-law, John F. Grabau, had the letter bound and donated it to the Boston Public Library, where it is still located today, along with an introduction to the history of the manuscript written in English by Mary Antin.

The original manuscript is 68 pages long; due to an error, its pagination jumps from page 55 to page 60. This source interpretation is based on a transcript and English translation of the letter published in 2013 by Sunny Yudkoff.

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Recommended Citation

Mary Antin's Letter to her Uncle Moshe Hayyim Weltman, 1894 [Extract], edited in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, <> [June 19, 2024].