Blanche Wolf Knopf
by Seymour "Sy" Brody
Blanche Wolf Knopf was the president of Alfred A. Knopf Inc., one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the country. Her publishing business acumen established her as one of the leaders in the industry.
She was born on July 30, 1894, in New York City, and she was the youngest of two children of Bertha and Julius W. Wolf. Her father was a wealthy jeweler, who was born in Vienna.
Her family spent the summers at Lawrence, Long Island, and in 1911, she met Alfred Knopf, Jr., whose family were neighbors. They were married on April 14, 1916.
She encouraged Alfred to follow through with his ambitions to be a publisher. In 1915, he launched his publishing company with Blanche as his all-around assistant. Knopf started to gain stature when they published Gogol's Taras Bulba, Kropotkin's Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature, and a book of short stories by Guy de Maupassant. They were also financially successful when they published W.M. Hudson's Green Mansions.
Blanche Knopf acquired the technical knowledge of the mechanics of printing. By hiring a nurse to care for her son, she was able to work full-time. She was responsible for the famous Borsoi imprint on Knopf books. By 1921, she became vice president.
She made many trips to Europe to look for good authors. Her knowledge of French and German helped her meet and talk to many authors and European publishers. She arranged to publish in the United States the works of Andre Gide, Ilva Ehrenberg, Mikhail Sholokhov and Thomas Mann. She persuaded Sigmund Freud to have Knopf publish his latest book, Moses and Monotheism.
In 1936, she visited Germany and was appalled at what she had seen. In an interview with the New York Times (July 14, 1936) she said "There is not a German writer left in Germany who is worth thinking about. The gifted writers and enterprising publishers who had any independence had left Germany. Only the Nazi writers and publishers remain so as to please the Nazi government."
She made several trips to Latin America during World War II looking for authors. She signed Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre and other writers. After WW II, she returned to Europe to look for authors.
She became president of the publishing house when her husband became the chairman. They had a home in Purchase, New York, but she had an apartment on fifty-fifth street in New York City for her social life. Most of her friends were from the publishing world.
She was responsible for shaping and advancing the careers of many authors. She was their mentor and advisor in their time of crisis. She helped many of them financially.
Blanche Knopf was an enthusiastic concert-goer whose friends in the music world were Mr. and Mrs. Artur Rubinstein and Mr. and Mrs. Jascha Heifetz. Her clothing was high fashioned and one of her favorite designers was Christian Dior.
In her later years, she was plagued by illness. She died in her sleep on June 4, 1966. Blanche Wolf Knopf was one of the few women to reach her position in publishing. Her achievements in the industry paved the way for other women to follow her to help dismantle an exclusive male world in publishing.
This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
Source: Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America.