Martha Wolfenstein

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Martha Wolfenstein
Martha Wolfenstein.png
Born(1869-08-05)August 5, 1869
Insterburg, Gumbinnen, Kingdom of Prussia
DiedMarch 17, 1906(1906-03-17) (aged 36)
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Resting placeWillet Street Cemetery [Wikidata], Cleveland[1]

Martha Wolfenstein (August 5, 1869 – March 17, 1906)[2] was a Prussian-born American author. She was once described as "the best Jewish sketch writer in America."[3]

Early life

Martha Wolfenstein was born in 1869 in Insterburg, East Prussia, the eldest daughter of Dr. Samuel Wolfenstein (1841–1921) and Bertha Brieger (c. 1844–1885).[4] Her father, who served as rabbi in that city from 1865 to 1870, had received rabbinic ordination under Zvi Mecklenburg.[5] During her infancy the family emigrated to the United States, after her father's election as director of the local Höhere Töchterschule was overturned by the Prussian government.[5] They eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he served as superintendent of the Jewish Orphan Asylum.[4] She resided at the orphanage and received a public school education.[6][7]


Wolfenstein's first publications were translations from German of short fiction by Leopold Kompert.[6] She went on to write short stories based on her father's experiences in a Moravian Judengasse, which she contributed to many of the leading American Jewish journals, and to other magazines like McClure's and Lippincott's.[8][9] Among her writings were A Priest from the Ghetto and A Sinner in Israel (in Lippincott's) and The Renegade (in the Outlook).

In 1901 the Jewish Publication Society of America released her first novel, Idyls of the Gass. A German translation was later published in Die Zeit of Vienna. It is noted for its strong female characters,[6] and sympathetic depiction of ghetto Jews.[9] The work received praise from Henrietta Szold, Israel Zangwill, Simon Wolf, Kaufmann Kohler, and other Jewish public intellectuals.[6][9][10]

At the time of her death, she was working on a play.[11]

Death and legacy

Wolfenstein died from tuberculosis on March 17, 1906, after a prolonged illness.[12] The Central Conference of American Rabbis extended official condolences to her family in recognition of her literary talents.[13] Martha House, a residence for poor women and girls, was established in her memory the following year by the Cleveland Council of Jewish Women.[14]


  • Idyls of the Gass. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America. 1901.
  • A Renegade and Other Tales. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America. 1905.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainAdler, Cyrus; Haneman, Frederick T. (1906). "Wolfenstein, Martha". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 550.

  1. ^ "Talented Writer Dead". The Jewish Outlook. Vol. 3, no. 22. Denver, Colorado. March 30, 1906. p. 1.
  2. ^ Board of County Commissioners (1906–1907). Death Records from Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Cleveland, Ohio – via
  3. ^ "Martha Wolfenstein, Sketch Writer". The Maccabæan. New York. 10 (1): 16. January 1906.
  4. ^ a b Gartner, Lloyd P. (1978). History of the Jews of Cleveland. Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society. pp. 80–81, 205, 233. ISBN 9780911704389.
  5. ^ a b Adler, Cyrus; Szold, Henrietta, eds. (1905–1906). "Biographical Sketches of Jewish Communal Workers in the United States". The American Jewish Year Book. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America. p. 117.
  6. ^ a b c d Sarna, Jonathan D. (1999). "Martha Wolfenstein". Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved June 30, 2022.
  7. ^  Adler, Cyrus; Haneman, Frederick T. (1906). "Wolfenstein, Martha". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 550.
  8. ^ "Wolfenstein, Martha". Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Case Western University. June 25, 2020. Retrieved June 30, 2022.
  9. ^ a b c "Martha Wolfenstein". Past Masters Project. Cleveland Arts Prize. 2021. Retrieved June 30, 2022.
  10. ^ Koppelman, Susan (2005) [1995]. "Martha Wolfenstein (1869–1905)". The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-989105-4.
  11. ^ Polster, Gary Edward (1990). Inside Looking Out: The Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum, 1868–1924. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. pp. 27–28, 45, 126, 208. ISBN 978-0-87338-406-3.
  12. ^ "Martha Wolfenstein". The Menorah: A Monthly Magazine for the Jewish Home. New York: P. Cowen. 40 (5): 299–300. May 1906.
  13. ^ Schanfarber, Tobias; Hirshberg, Samuel, eds. (1906). Year Book of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Vol. 16. Central Conference of American Rabbis.
  14. ^ Greenberg, Gail. "Martha House – The Home for Jewish Girls". Cleveland Historical. Retrieved June 30, 2022.

External links

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