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Elias Tobenkin:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator: Tobenkin, Elias, 1882-1963
Title: Elias Tobenkin Papers 1899-1963 (bulk 1917-1962)
Dates: 1899-1963
Extent: 28 boxes, 3 galley files, 3 oversize flat files, 5 sound recording discs (11.5 linear feet)
Abstract: Correspondence and newspaper clippings contained in this collection provide insight into Tobenkin's experiences as a reporter and editorial writer in New York and Chicago and as foreign correspondent during World War I, while manuscripts of all eight of Tobenkin's novels, including Witte Arrives, as well as manuscripts of his short fiction and non-fiction, represent his career as a novelist. The personal correspondence and unpublished short fiction of Tobenkin's son Paul are also included in the papers.
RLIN Record # TXRC99-A4
Access: Open for research

Acquisition: Purchase and gift, 1960-62
Processed by: Bob Taylor, 1998

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

Elias Tobenkin was born to Marcus A. (Mosheh Aharon) and Fanny Tobenkin in the village of Slutsk, Russia, on 10 February 1882. When Elias was 17 the Tobenkin family left the poverty, bigotry, and growing political instability of Romanov Russia behind and emigrated to Madison, Wisconsin.
Elias prospered academically in Madison, receiving BA (1905) and MA (1906) degrees from the University of Wisconsin. In 1906 Tobenkin began his career in journalism with the Milwaukee Free Press. After his 1907 marriage to Rae Schwid, Tobenkin worked on the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, and the New York Herald as a reporter and editorial writer.
Elias Tobenkin's long-standing interest in a literary career led to his first novel, Witte Arrives (1916), an early examination of the immigrant Jewish experience in America. Witte Arrives, along with God of Might (a 1925 novel depicting the problems of interfaith marriage), were to be the best-received of Tobenkin's six published novels.
After employment with the federal government's Creel Committee in the First World War Elias Tobenkin pursued a career as a foreign correspondent, travelling to Europe in 1919 and 1920, and to Soviet Russia in 1926 and 1931. During the decade he alternated between foreign affairs reporting (primarily for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times) and continuing his work as a novelist and writer for the periodical press.
Tobenkin's Russian birth and growing American interest in the Soviet Union led increasingly to his involvement in interpreting Russian trends and the world scene in the 1930s. His 1935-36 around-the-world tour was a factfinding mission which resulted in his last work, The Peoples Want Peace (1938).
The death of Rae Tobenkin in April 1938, together with the outbreak of world war in September 1939, seem to have had the effect of hampering Elias Tobenkin's career in journalism. The war brought to the fore a new generation of radio-based foreign correspondents; Tobenkin and others of his generation were effectively shunted aside.
As the career of Elias Tobenkin stagnated in the later 1930s, that of his only son, Paul, began to flourish. In his career with the New York Herald Tribune Paul Tobenkin made a name for himself as a reporter specializing in reporting labor and economic issues, as well as revealing to his readers the effects of racial and religious bigotry.
After the death of Rae Tobenkin, Elias and Paul lived together in New York or Washington, the elder man doing some syndicated journalism and working on his last unpublished novel, and Paul pursuing his career with the Herald Tribune.
After Paul Tobenkin's death in 1959 his father spent his final years trying--with eventual success--to place his library of Soviet materials and to create a memorial to his son. Elias Tobenkin's library came to the University of Texas at Austin in 1962; the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for "outstanding achievement in newspaper writing in the fight against racial and religious intolerance and discrimination" was established at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University not long before Elias Tobenkin's death in 1963.

Baldwin, Charles C. The Men Who Make Our Novels. Rev. Ed. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1924.
Biographical Encyclopedia of America, v. 1. New York: Biographical Encyclopedia of America, Inc., 1940.
The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, v. 10. New York: Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc., c1943.
Who Was Who in America, 1961-1968, v. 4. New York: Marquis Who's Who, c1994.

The Elias Tobenkin papers, 1899-1963, comprise correspondence, manuscripts, clippings, photographs, notes, documents, diaries and address books, and biographical and autobiographical materials. The collection is in part grouped as it was foldered by Tobenkin in the 1940s and '50s, but in the main the present arrangement is an imposed one.
Series I--the bulk of the collection--contains the papers of Elias Tobenkin subdivided into large correspondence and works subseries and a smaller personal subseries. The second series--that of son Paul Tobenkin--is altogether smaller and principally includes personal correspondence and some unpublished fiction. Series I represents the years 1899 to 1963, while that of Paul Tobenkin covers the period 1913 to 1963.
The materials in Series I relate to Elias Tobenkin's dual careers as journalist and novelist. Little of the material in the series apart from Tobenkin's early published journalism predates 1917, and apart from correspondence with his wife and son there is little reflection of his non-professional life. Series II includes, in addition to his family and professional correspondence, some of Paul Tobenkin's unpublished fiction and songs, along with manuscripts of some of his journalism.
Specific subjects significantly represented in the collection are Central and Eastern European affairs at the end of the First World War, Soviet Russia in the early Communist period, and the antiwar movement of the middle 1930s. These topics are in most cases seen and described from a Jewish perspective and often for a Jewish readership.
Elias Tobenkin's major correspondents were his employers, his agents and literary outlets, and his family. Specific correspondents include Ann Watkins, Inc.; Collier's; Doubleday, Doran & Co.; G. P. Putnam's Sons; Garet Garrett; Harcourt, Brace and Co.; Irma E. Hochstein; the Jewish Telegraphic Agency; Liberty; Minton, Balch & Co.; the New York Herald Tribune; the New York Times; and the North American Newspaper Alliance. A list of all correspondents in the Tobenkin papers is located at the end of this inventory.
Elsewhere in the Ransom Collection is found the Elias Tobenkin Collection of Soviet Propaganda and Literature, comprising about a thousand volumes published in or about Soviet Russia between 1918 and 1936. In the HRHRC Photography Collection the 180 images of the Elias Tobenkin Collection of Russian People Photographs (theater, architecture, peasant life, Soviet political figures) is maintained.
Material withdrawn from the Tobenkin papers and housed in the Ransom Center's Vertical File Collection includes pamphlets, periodical issues, and clippings on the peace movement of the 1930s, anti-Semitism, and political radicalism. Also present is Elias Tobenkin's card catalog of his library, together with clippings of Paul Tobenkin's journalism, reviews of Elias Tobenkin's books, together with a number of Yiddish-language Russian newspapers. This material represents about ten document boxes in volume. A number of issues of Pravda, Izvestia, and other Soviet Russian-language newspapers published between 1926 and 1962 were removed from the collection, and a small group of coins, stamps, and currency was withdrawn to the Personal Effects Collection.


Dreiser, Theodore, 1871-1945
Garrett, Garet, 1878-1954
Hard, William, 1878-1962
Hochstein, Irma E., 1887-1974
Hohlfeld, A. R. (Alexander Rudolph), 1865-1956
Landfield, Jerome Barker, 1871-1954
Lewis, Sinclair, 1885-1951
Rosenwald, Julius, 1862-1932
Schapiro, Israel, 1882-1957
Tobenkin, Paul, 1913-1959
Tobenkin, Rae, d.1938


Ann Watkins, Inc.
Doubleday, Doran & Company
Frederick A. Stokes Company
G. P. Putnam's Sons
George T. Bye and Company
Harcourt, Brace and Company
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Minton, Balch & Company
North American Newspaper Alliance
Simon and Schuster, Inc.
United States Committee on Public Information


Foreign correspondents--United States--Biography
Journalists--United States--Biography

Document Types

Christmas cards
Commonplace books
Galley proofs
Legal documents
Phonograph records
Sound recordings


Chicago Tribune
Current History
Everybody's Magazine
The New Republic
New York Herald Tribune
New York Post
New York Times
The New York Tribune