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WOLFENSTEIN, MARTHA

WOLFENSTEIN, MARTHA (1869-16 Mar. 1906) was, perhaps, the first Jewish woman author to write Jewish stories for the secular press. She was born in Insterburg, Prussia, to Samuel and Bertha (Briger) Wolfenstein and brought to the U.S. as an infant when her father became rabbi of Congregation B'nai El in St. Louis. The family moved to Cleveland in 1878 when Samuel became superintendent of the JEWISH ORPHAN HOME, living at the home. Following her mother's death from tuberculosis in 1885, Martha became her father's housekeeper and child-rearer, and also served as matron of the orphan home for a some time. Martha's earliest literary endeavor was as a translator of German poetry and stories. She soon began writing short fiction based on her father's reminiscences about his childhood in a Central European ghetto. She published widely in the secular literary press and also in the local Anglo-Jewish press and Jewish Orphan Asylum Magazine. In 1901, the Jewish Publication Society of America published a collection of short fiction that had appeared in Lippincott's and Outlook under the title Idylls of the Gass. Four years later, they published a collection of stories, The Renegade and Other Stories, all of which had appeared in the Jewish Review & Observer. Martha was working on a play, which was never published or performed, when she died from tuberculosis. A year later, the Council of Jewish Women established a residence for homeless girls, naming it Martha House, after Martha Wolfenstein. She was unmarried and buried in the WILLETT STREET CEMETERY.