It’s the birthday of first-generation American author and immigration rights activist Mary Antin (books by this author), born in Russia (1881). She is best known for her autobiography The Promised Land (1912), which detailed her new life in Boston after leaving czarist Russia with her family.
In Russia, opportunities for Antin and her family had been few. They were Jewish, and like many European countries at the time, the larger Russian culture was anti-Semitic. Mary was forbidden from attending school in Russia because of her heritage.
In Boston, Antin’s family still lived with other poor, Jewish immigrants in a slum neighborhood. But she was able to attend grammar school in America, and there she stood out. She learned English phenomenally well, and through her success became a symbol of the ways that immigrants could benefit and assimilate into American society. “I thought it a miracle,” she wrote looking back later in life, “that I, Mashke, the granddaughter of Raphael the Russian, born to a humble destiny, should be at home in an American metropolis, be free to fashion my own life, and should dream my dreams in English phrases.”
As an adult, Antin became a major Progressive Party supporter. She campaigned for the Allies in World War I, and when her geologist husband came out in favor of the Germans, she separated from him and suffered a physical breakdown.
Mary died of cancer in 1949, at the age of 67. She is one of those commemorated on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.