Tobenkin, Elias, 1882-1963

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Russian-born American journalist and novelist.

From the description of Papers of Elias Tobenkin, 1899-1963 (bulk, 1917-1962). (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 122492302

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.

From the guide to the Elias Tobenkin Papers TXRC99-A4., 1899-1963, (bulk 1917-1962), (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Tobenkin, Elias, 1882-1963. Correspondence with Theodore Dreiser, 1915-1916. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Tobenkin, Elias, 1882-1963. Papers of Elias Tobenkin, 1899-1963 (bulk, 1917-1962). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Elias Tobenkin Papers TXRC99-A4., 1899-1963, (bulk 1917-1962) Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Role Title Holding Repository
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Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Foreign correspondents--Biography
Foreign correspondents--United States--Biography
Journalists--United States--Biography


Birth 1882

Death 1963







Ark ID: w6259g62

SNAC ID: 7443839