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Sylvia Plath



Sylvia Plath Remembered [Article]


By Max Gaebler


Sylvia's father, Otto Emil Plath, grew up in the small town of Grabow in that part of East Prussia known in my youth as the Polish Corridor.  His grandparents had earlier emigrated to America and settled on a farm near Watertown, Wisconsin.  Learning that their grandson was a bright and promising student, they invited him to come to America and offered to send him to school at Northwestern College in Watertown, provided he would promise to prepare himself for the Lutheran ministry.  As Sylvia's mother, Aurelia, told the story, Otto arrived in New York at the age of sixteen, lived there with an uncle for a year, then went on to his grandparents' home in Watertown and entered Northwestern College, where he and my father met.


The college was really a classic German Gymnasium.  It was called a preparatory school and college, but the eight classes went by the old Latin names: sexta, quinta, quarta, tertia, unter und ober secunda, unter und ober prima.  All instruction was in the German language; indeed, I still have some of my father's textbooks from which he learned Latin and Greek auf Deutsch.  The expectation that Otto would go on to enter the Lutheran ministry was not unusual; my father was one of only two students in his Northwestern College class of 1907 who did not go on to the Wisconsin Synod seminary in Thiensville.  As a matter of fact, my father wasn't even a Lutheran!


At any rate, the hopes of Otto Plath's grandparents were doomed to be shattered.  While still a boy he had already formed the scientific interests which were to shape his career, and after reading Darwin his mind was made up.  He felt if he were to become a teacher rather than a minister, it would be acceptable to his grandparents.  But they did not share his enthusiasm and felt betrayed by his change of course.  They decided that "he would no longer be a part of the family; his name would be stricken from the family Bible.  And so it was done.  He was on his own for the rest of his life."


It was there at Northwestern College that Otto Plath and my father met . . . Wisconsin Academy Review: volume 46, issue 2 (Spring 2000)


Cross reference:

03 23 2009, Son of Sylvia Plath commits suicide, nearly a half-century after his mother and stepmother took their own lives.

03 28 2009, Watertown Daily Times article on the same