Max Eastman Biography

Max Forrester Eastman (January 4, 1883 – March 25, 1969) was an American writer on literature, philosophy and society, a poet, and a prominent political activist. For many years, Eastman was a supporter of socialism, a leading patron of the Harlem Renaissance and an activist for a number of liberal and radical causes. In later life, however, his views turned sharply, and he became an advocate of free market economics and an anti-Communist.

Eastman was born in Canandaigua, Ontario County, New York. Both his parents, Samuel Elijah Eastman and Annis Bertha Ford, were Congregational Church clergy and together served as pastors at the church of Thomas K. Beecher near Elmira, New York. (In 1889, his mother had become one of the first women ordained as an American minister.) This area was part of the "Burned-over district," which earlier in the 19th century had generated much religious excitement, including the formation of the Mormon movement, and social causes, such as abolitionism and support for the Underground Railroad. Through his parents, he became acquainted with the famous author Samuel Clemens, better known as "Mark Twain," in his youth.

Eastman graduated with a bachelor's degree from Williams College in 1905. His good friend and roommate while at Williams was Charles Whittlesey, later known as the Lost Battalion commanding officer and a World War I hero. From 1907 to 1911, Eastman completed the work toward a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in philosophy at Columbia University under the noted philosopher John Dewey, and was a member of both the Delta Psi and Phi Beta Kappa societies. Settling in Greenwich Village with his sister Crystal Eastman, he became involved in a number of political causes, including helping to found the Men's League for Women's Suffrage in 1910. While at Columbia, he was an assistant in the philosophy department, as well as a lecturer with the psychology department. After completing the requirements for his doctoral degree, he refused to accept it and simply withdrew in 1911.