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“The Prince of Greenwich Village,” Max Eastman

Around 1907, after recovering from a chronic backache, a 24 year old Max Eastman moved to New York City to be closer to his sister, Crystal Eastman. The siblings were very close, and when Crystal found out, she wrote back: “Your news came like a sudden great light into my life. My head is whirling with it now, and yet I am so peacefully glad.” By the following year, according to Max’s biographer Christoph Irmscher, the two had moved into a fourth-floor apartment somewhere on 11th Street, for which they paid $33 a month. Max would go on to become a founder of the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage and editor of the radical magazines The Masses and The Liberator. Known as “the Prince of Greenwich Village,” Max lived in at least eleven buildings throughout our neighborhood, where he stayed for most of his life.

Max Eastman. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Max Eastman was born on January 4th, 1883 to parents who were progressive ministers at the Park Church in Elmira, New York. The church was founded by Thomas K. Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Max’s mother, Annis Ford Eastman, and sister, Crystal Eastman (who would become a central figure in many of the key social movements of the twentieth century) were profoundly influential in the development of Max’s politic outlook throughout his life. Once in New York City, Max began pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at Columbia and, inspired by Crystal, became involved in the suffrage movement. At this time, he joined journalist and civil rights advocate Oswald Villard in founding the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, for which Max served as treasurer and secretary. With the help of his mother, who participated in the upstate suffrage movement, Max built up the organization by mailing thousands of men across the state. By the end of the year, the organization, based in its early years at Max’s apartment at 118 Waverly Place, had over 100 members.

“Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage: Constitution and Charter Members,” 1910. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Eastman is further renowned for his work as an editor of The Masses, which was founded in 1911 by Piet Vlag, a socialist and immigrant from the Netherlands. The magazine was based at 91 Greenwich Avenue from 1913 to 1917 (in a building that has since been demolished). In August 1917, the government identified “treasonable material” in that month’s issue and brought charges against Max and several of his colleagues. Although they went to trial twice, the jurors were unable to reach a verdict, and both trials ended in a mistrial. Still, The Masses concluded its publication by the end of the year. Max and Crystal then founded and began editing The Liberator, another radical journal of politics, art, and literature, which was based at 138 West 13th Street.

The Masses, 1911. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Max is today remembered as a productive, prolific, and extraordinarily well-connected political writer of his time. He published over a dozen books on politics and culture, two autobiography volumes, five collections of poetry, a novel, and countless essays. He also coproduced the first talking documentary, Tsar to Lenin in 1937, served as the radio host of the show World Game in 1938, and gave lectures throughout the country. It is no surprise that such an influential thinker and speaker maintained a home in Greenwich Village for most of his life, keeping his final apartment at 8 West 13th street until he died on March 25th, 1969.

Thanks to the documentation held in Max Eastman: A Life by Christoph Irmscher, along with city directories, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, and other sources, we are able to catalogue eleven of the sites where Max Eastman lived in Greenwich Village.

Greenwich House

In his biography Max Eastman: A Life, Christoph Irmscher writes that when Max arrived in New York City around 1907, Crystal found him a room at “Greenwich House.” Greenwich House, founded by social reformer Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, opened at 26 Jones Street in 1902. Over the next quarter century, it had expanded to a number of buildings in the Greenwich Village area, making it unclear where exactly Max lived in 1907. Greenwich House relocated to the newly constructed 27 Barrow Street in 1917.

Eleventh Street

Soon after Max moved to the neighborhood, he and Crystal found an apartment in an unspecified building on Eleventh Street around 1908. Irmscher writes:

Max and Crystal moved into a fourth-floor apartment on Eleventh Street, with two bedrooms, two living rooms, and a kitchen, for $33 a month. “No elevator, but good legs on the both of us,” Max reassured his mother. They liked the neighborhood, a “respectable quiet peaceable homegoing house-cleaning neighborhood of general Americans.” And they acquired new furniture, including, for Max, a worm-eaten desk for $2.50 and a couch-bed with a hair mattress for $15.

118 Waverly Place

108-122 Waverly Place (L-R; 118 Waverly Place is the seventh building from the left)

In October 1909, the siblings moved to 118 Waverly Place, where the Men’s League for Woman Suffrage was based in its early years. Irmscher writes:

They went about the move, including the selection and placement of the furniture, like any married couple would. The place was expensive: $20 for each of them, not counting the $15 they hoped to receive from a yet-to-be-found boarder. But the rooms were so fine that Max and Crystal couldn’t resist.

According to the LPC’s map NYC Landmarks and the Vote at 100, Max lived at 118 Waverly Place c. 1909-1910, and again “from 1916,” though this is not reflected in the city directories.

237 West 11th Street

237-253 West 11th Street (R-L). 237 West 11th Street is the six-story building six buildngs from the left.

According to the 1909-1910 Trow’s General Directory, Max and Crystal Eastman lived at 237 West 11th Street.

27 West 11th Street

27 West 11th Street

According to Imscher, Max married Ida Rauh on May 4, 1911 and Crystal married Wallace Benedict the day after, on May 5, 1911. Ida and Max got their first joint New York apartment, though the couple had a second home in Glenora, New York. Max also rented a small farmhouse in Waterford, Connecticut as a summer retreat.

The Encyclopedia of New York City states that Max lived at 27 West 11th Street “from 1912,” and 1912-1913 and 1913-1914 city directories list him at this address as well.

206 1/2 West 13th Street (demolished)

The 1915 Trow’s General Directory lists Max at 206 ½ West 13th Street (now demolished).

68 Washington Square South (demolished)

In the 1916 Trow’s General Directory, Max Eastman is listed at 68 Washington Square South (now demolished).

6 East 8th Street

4-26 East 8th Street (6 East 8th Street is the second building to the left of the 27-story building at 1 Fifth Avenue)

According to the LPC’s map NYC Landmarks and the Vote at 100, Max Eastman lived at 6 East 8th Street by 1917.

11 St. Luke’s Place

11 St. Luke’s Place

According to the LPC’s map NYC Landmarks and the Vote at 100, Max Eastman lived at 11 St. Luke’s Place by 1920.

39 Grove Street

33-47 Grove Street. 39 Grove Street is the fourth building from the right.

According to Irmscher, Eastman lived at 39 Grove Street around 1931.

8 West 13th Street

8-10 West 13th Street, c. 1940 tax photo. Photo courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives.
8-10 West 13th Street, 2019. Photo courtesy of Google Streetview.

According to Irmscher and New York Literary Lights by William Corbett, Max Eastman lived at 8 West 13th Street from about 1944 to 1969, the last twenty-five years of his life.

To learn more about the great number of Social Change Champions who lived throughout Greenwich Village, visit the tour in our interactive map: Greenwich Village Historic District: Then & Now Photos and Tours. Please also check out our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map, and our 19th Amendment Centennial StoryMap to find out more on the Eastmans and the movements with which they were involved. 

Sources

The Encyclopedia of New York City, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson, Lisa Keller, and Nancy Flood

Max Eastman: A Life by Christoph Irmscher

New York City Directories, NYPL

New York Literary Lights by William Corbett

NYC Landmarks and the Vote at 100 by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

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