The Importance of Ernestine: A German Immigrant, She's a Scholar, a Cancer Survivor and Now a Campaigner

By Clemetson, Lynette | Newsweek, September 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Importance of Ernestine: A German Immigrant, She's a Scholar, a Cancer Survivor and Now a Campaigner


Clemetson, Lynette, Newsweek


It was love at first sight. Almost. Ernestine Schlant, a professor on hiatus from teaching, was working as an assistant producer for a film company in New York. The studio was shooting a series of famous people interviewing other famous people. Schlant's assignment: line up basketball star Bill Bradley to chat with poet and sports fan Marianne Moore. She had never heard of the guy, even though they lived in the same building. She slipped a note under his door, and they set up a meeting. "He was pretty cute," Schlant gushes. "But I didn't think anything of it." Bradley did. The interview with Moore was canceled, but he kept calling. Four years later, in 1974, they got married during the NBA all-star break.

Ernestine Schlant Bradley is an unlikely political spouse. A German immigrant, she is an accomplished scholar. Her latest book, "The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust," is a critical analysis of postwar German writers and their failure to come to terms with Nazi genocide. In political circles, Schlant, 63 (eight years Bradley's senior), is virtually unknown. When Bradley moved to Washington as a senator in 1979, she stayed in New Jersey to maintain her career as a professor.

Now she is stepping into the fray. In May Schlant took a leave of absence from teaching German and comparative literature at Montclair State University to join her husband's campaign. (The couple's current home is an apartment in Montclair, near New York City.) So far she has made 25 campaign trips to eight states. Sharp, witty and down to earth, she's a big hit with voters, stressing her interest in education, immigration policy and women's health issues. But Schlant is quick to point out that she has no Hillaryesque platform of her own. "I'm here to thank you for showing an interest in Bill," she told a group of Iowa supporters. "If you have questions about literature, I can answer them. As for politics, well, I will try."

She was born Ernestine Misslbeck in Passau, Germany, in 1935. Her father served in the Luftwaffe during World War II, but she says he was never a member of the Nazi Party. …

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