Bradley, Ernestine 1935–

views updated

Bradley, Ernestine 1935–

PERSONAL: Born 1935, in Passau, Germany; daughter of Sepp Misslbeck; immigrated to United States, 1957; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1963; married Robert Schlant (a physician; divorced); married Bill Bradley (a politician), 1974; children: (first marriage) Stephanie; (second marriage) Theresa Anne. Education: Emory University, B.A., Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: Home—NJ. Office—New School University, 66 W. 12th St., New York, NY 10011.

CAREER: Pan American Airlines, flight attendant, beginning 1957; Montclair State College, Montclair, NJ, former professor of German and comparative literature; New School University, New York, NY, part-time faculty member; has also worked for a film production company.



Hermann Broch, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1978, published with a foreword by Michael P. Steinberg, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1986.

(Editor with J. Thomas Rimer) Legacies and Ambiguities: Postwar Fiction and Culture in West Germany and Japan, Woodrow Wilson Center Press (Washington, DC), 1991.

The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust, Routledge (New York, NY) 1999.

The Way Home: A German Childhood, an American Life, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: Ernestine Bradley chronicles her remarkable life in her memoir The Way Home: A German Childhood, an American Life. The book's first half recounts the author's youth in Germany, including the years of Nazi rule, while the second relates her move to the United States and her ascent to the public stage as the wife of Bill Bradley, a former basketball star and Democratic hopeful in the presidential election of 2000.

Bradley grew up in the towns of Passau and Ingolstadt. Her descriptions of these places are "vivid and often warm," according to Edward Morris, who interviewed Bradley for That warmth is expressed even though Bradley suffered considerably as a child. Morris noted that Bradley's mother dominates these memories, even as she dominated her daughter's life. Her mother became pregnant out of wedlock, but did not tell the child's father, who left to join the German military. She then married a local man, and Ernestine grew up believing that he was her real father. When she was eight years old, her biological father returned, and her mother's marriage ended.

The period following the end of World War II was a very difficult one for that Germany's citizens, economically as well as emotionally and intellectually. There was a "stifling atmosphere of denial" about the Nazi regime and its atrocities, according to Helen Thorpe, a writer for New York. Troubled by her home life as by well as her country's heritage, Bradley left as soon as she could, her means of escape a job as a flight attendant for Pan American Airlines. In 1958, she came to the United States, and soon after that she left her job to marry an American doctor. She continued to travel and study, eventually earning multiple degrees, and had a daughter before her marriage ended. Bradley became a respected professor of comparative literature, authoring two books about Hermann Broch, an Austrian philosopher, and one book on German novelists and their treatment of the Jewish Holocaust. The last-named book, The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust, is "elegantly written and devoid of the sort of jargon that mars many academic works," according to Sara Mosle in Harper's Bazaar.

In 1970 she met Bill Bradley, who at the time was a professional basketball player with the New York Knicks. They met at a game only to discover that they lived in the same apartment building. In 1974 they were married. Four years later Bradley ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate and won. In 2000 he mounted a campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ernestine Bradley's position as a potential first lady stirred up considerable interest; if her husband had been elected, she would have been only the second foreign-born First Lady. Bradley campaigned energetically for her husband when he sought the Democratic nomination, just as she had during his Senate campaign.

Reviewing Ernestine Bradley's autobiography, a Publishers Weekly writer said that The Way Home stands as a "fine portrait of a childhood spent in wartime and an adult's search for true identity." Carol Haggas, a Booklist reviewer, especially liked the way Bradley analyzes her difficult and ambiguous relationship with her mother, showing how those sorts of tension can carry on far into a person's adult life. "Unflinchingly honest, Bradley mines the most sensitive and complex parts of her life with brutal candor," Haggas added. In addition to detailing her childhood, her coming of age in postwar Germany, and her adult careers and marriages, Bradley also includes an open and honest recounting of her diagnosis with breast cancer and her subsequent treatment. Haggis concluded that this book is a "stirring tale" of courage, sacrifice, and triumph.



Bradley, Ernestine, The Way Home: A German Childhood, an American Life, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 2005.


Booklist, February 1, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of The Way Home: A German Childhood, an American Life, p. 921.

Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), August 5, 1999, Steve Gravelle, "Ernestine Bradley Points to Polls."

Harper's Bazaar, March, 2000, Sara Mosle, interview with Ernestine Bradley, p. 400.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of The Way Home, p. 95.

Library Journal, Jill Ortner, March 15, 2005, review of The Way Home, p. 92.

Newsweek, September 13, 1999, Lynette Clemetson, "The Importance of Ernestine," p. 28; January 24, 2000, Matt Bai, "A Daughter's Hard Questions," p. 50.

New York, January 10, 2000, Helen Thorpe, "Bill Bradley's Secret Weapon."

People, February 21, 2000, "One Shall Be First," p. 50.

Publishers Weekly, February 7, 2005, review of The Way Home, p. 56.


Bookpage, (July 7, 2005), Edward Morris, interview with Ernestine Bradley.

Hill News Online (Washington, DC), (April 5, 2005), Betsy Rothstein, "Ernestine Bradley Finds 'Home,' amid Husband's Career."

About this article

Bradley, Ernestine 1935–

Updated About content Print Article


Bradley, Ernestine 1935–