Mary Antin: The Wonders of America

Despite poverty, a Jewish immigrant to America finds promise and opportunity.

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Education was free. That subject my father had written about repeatedly, as comprising his chief hope  for us children, the essence of American opportunity, the treasure that no thief could touch, not even misfortune or poverty. It was the one thing he was able to promise us when he sent for us; surer, safer than bread or shelter.

On our second day I was thrilled with the realization of what this freedom of education meant. A little girl from across the alley came and offered to conduct us to school. My father was out, but we five between us had a few words of English by this time. We knew the word school. We understood. This child, who had never seen us till yesterday, who could not pronounce our names, who was not much better dressed than we, was able to offer us the freedom of the schools of Boston! No application made, no questions asked, no examinations, rulings, exclusions; no machinations, no fees. The doors stood open for every one of us. The smallest child could show us the way.

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Mary  Antin

Mary Antin (1881-1949) immigrated to the United States in 1894 from Polotzk, Russia. In 1912, she published her autobiography, The Promised Land--one of the first English-language American-Jewish autobiographies.