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June 13: Mary Antin and Immigrant Rights

June 13, 2014
220px-Mary_Antin_1915Mary Antin, author of The Promised Land, a chronicle of immigration that was published in 1912 and became a standard college text for several decades, was born in Belarus on this date in 1881. Her autobiographical book, first excerpted in The Atlantic, was a celebration of the American Dream and an argument for open immigration policies, and made Antin into a lecturer with a national reputation and a beloved status within the Jewish community. Among her friends was former President Theodore Roosevelt, who later wrote that his acquaintance with her shaped his support for women’s suffrage. In 1914, Antin published They Who Knock at Our Gates: A Complete Gospel of Immigration. “The first meal was an object lesson of much variety. My father produced several kinds of food, ready to eat, without any cooking, from little tin cans that had printing all over them. He attempted to introduce us to a queer, slippery kind of fruit, which he called ‘banana,’ but had to give it up for the time being. After the meal, he had better luck with a curious piece of furniture on runners, which he called ‘rocking-chair.’ There were five of us newcomers, and we found five different ways of getting into the American machine of perpetual motion, and as many ways of getting out of it.” —Mary Antin