An American in the Making, the Life Story of an Immigrant

Marcus Eli Ravage (1884–1965)

Above: Ellis Island in 1913

“The sweat-shop was for me the cradle of liberty. . . It was my first university.” Attending lectures and the New York theatre at night; by day sewing sleeves into shirts in a ghetto shop, Marcus Eli Ravage (1884-1965) began his transformation from “alien” to American. His 1917 autobiography is a paean to the transformative power of education.

Ravage emigrated from Rumania in 1900, at the age of 16. After working for several years as a “sleever” to save money, he enrolls in the University of Missouri (the least expensive school he can find), where culture shock overwhelms him at first. “I was not sure whether it was a pig or a sheep that bleated, whether clover was a plant and plover a bird, or the other way around.” But he adapts, and eventually embraces “the bigger and freer world” outside the immigrant ghetto. He writes that, because of his university experience, he was no longer “a man without a country.” He had become an American.

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