Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


in her interview with Sol and Leah Sobel that took place in Miller Place, New York, on April 30, 1995 (which I suspect was Ann Eden Gibson’s town of residence while she was on the faculty of the State University of New York at Stony Brook), Professor Gibson wrongly claims that Janet Sobel’s birth name was Jennie Llyzhowosky, which changed to “Janet Wilson after she went through Ellis Is-land.”79 With no corroborating evidence, however, Gail Levin contends that Gibson wrote that “Llyzhowosky” was Janet Sobel’s birth name because “Llyzhowosky” is the Ukrainian spelling of Janet’s original family name.80 Sol Sobel, probably Professor Gibson’s name source, also told me that a name sounding like Llyzhowosky was his mother’s birth surname.

            Sol Sobel said that his mother and her family got the name Wilson from the name of the ship, by which I assume he meant the ship on which she and her family sailed to the United States. However, there was no ship by the name of Wilson at the time of her immigration, although there were the ships of the Wilson Line of British passenger ships. There was also a ship called the Kaiser Franz Josef I (maiden voyage in 1912) that in 1919 was renamed the Presidente Wilson, and starting in 1922, there was another ship called the President Wilson (origi-nally called the Empire State, built in 1921, and renamed the President Wilson the following year).81 Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States from 1913 to 1921,82 at least five years after Jennie Wilson and her family had passed through Ellis Island, and it was unlikely that the ship’s owner would have named his ship after the president of Princeton University.83 It is also clear that Jennie’s first
name did not become Janet when she arrived at Ellis Island. Her marriage certifi-cate shows that her name was still signed Jennie Wilson on June 9, 1910, and Max Sobel’s naturalization petition, dated May 19, 1922, says his wife’s name was still Jennie, as does the 1930 United States Federal Census Population Schedule. The first public instance that I could find of Jennie Sobel’s using the name Janet is the Brooklyn Museum’s Artist Index, which records that Janet Sobel, living at 3260 Coney Island Avenue, exhibited her work in four annual exhibitions—the twenty-seventh in 1943, the twenty-eighth in 1944, the



All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009

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