Vista of Elmira, New York, 1874-1890. Credit: public domain.


Eastman’s father was the Reverend Samuel Elijah Eastman, a tall man of dusky complexion whose middle name remembers the prophet who was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Sam was in the prime of his young manhood when he met the woman who would become his wife, but he was fragile. He had lost a lung at nineteen, a sacrifice in service to the Union army in 1865.

Samuel Eastman.
Credit: Eastman, Mann, Wingard Genealogical Collection.

Years later, it was his steadfast support and local prestige that enabled his wife to supplant him at the pulpit, the first woman to become ordained in as a Congregationalist minister in all of New York State. Whatever his struggles with his health and his pride, he became the man his family needed him to be. He supported his daughter’s ambitions and opportunities just as he did his wife’s – “from the time I when wanted to cut my hair off and go barefoot to the time I began to study law,” Crystal recalled in her only autobiographical essay. 1

Crystal’s mother became one of the most renowned woman preachers of her day. She followed Thomas Beecher as pastor of the famed Park Church in Elmira, New York, and led a flock that included Mark Twain’s family. In fact, Annis Eastman wrote Twain’s eulogy. She was an inspirational personality – original, magnetic, thrilling – and also “a stormy troubled soul, capable of black cruelty and then again of the deepest generosities,” as Crystal revealed late in her own life. 2

Annis Eastman.
Credit: Courtesy of Ann and Cordelia Fuller and Rebecca and Charles Young.

Her elder brother, Anstice – brilliant, rash, muscular, masculine – was often an outcast from the heart of family life. But he hid a kind and sentimental heart beneath his shirtsleeves, and adored Crystal, calling her “an angel sister, almost.” 3

Her baby brother, Max, a self-described “mama’s boy,” at various times called both his mother and his sister his “hero.” Crystal and Max Eastman were unusually close all their lives. They worked and played and lived in the same place whenever they possibly could.

Whenever anyone in their circle mentioned “the Eastmans,” they meant Max and Crystal – not their parents. “Of all Freud’s plain and fancy inventions,” Max Eastman wrote toward the end of his life, “the concept of the ‘incest barrier’ is one of the most easily verifiable in my experience.” 4

Max Eastman.
Credit: Courtesy of Ann and Cordelia Fuller and Rebecca and Charles Young.


  1. Eastman, “Mother-Worship,” The Nation, March 16, 1927.
  2. Eastman, “Mother-Worship,” 284.
  3. Anstice Eastman to Annis Ford Eastman, July2, 1899, CEP, Box 4, folder 172.
  4. Max Eastman, Love and Revolution: My Journey Through an Epoch (New York: Random House, 1964), 504.
Crystal Eastman by Amy Aronson

The social justice issues to which Eastman dedicated her life – gender equality and human rights, nationalism and globalization, political censorship and media control, worker benefits and family balance, and the monumental questions of war, sovereignty, force, and freedom – remain some of the most consequential questions of our own time. Available from Oxford University Press.

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