Friday, June 26, 2015

Otto Emil Plath (April 13, 1885 â€" November 5, 1940) was a German American author, a professor of biology and German at Boston University, and an entomologist, with a specific expertise on bees. He was the father of American poet Sylvia Plath, Warren Plath, and the husband of Aurelia Plath. He wrote the 1934 book, Bumblebees and Their Ways. He is notable for being the probable subject of one of his daughter's most well-known poems, Daddy.

Early life

Otto Emil Plath was born with on April 13, 1885 in Grabow, Germany. He was the oldest of 6 children, with his parents being Theodore Plath, a blacksmith, and Ernestine Plath (née Kottke). Recognizing that the demand for blacksmiths in Germany was decreasing due to increased industrialization, he sailed to the United States in September 1900, when he was 15 years old, aboard the Auguste Victoria. When he arrived in New York Harbor, Plath became infatuated with the city. He decided to stay in New York for a while instead of following his original plan to go immediately to his grandparents' house in Fall Creek, Wisconsin. While Plath was living with his uncle, he clerked at his uncle's store and attended English classes.

Adult life

Plath's grandfather in Wisconsin, John, agreed to finance Plath's pursuit of higher education on the condition that he became a Lutheran minister. Plath agreed to this condition, and moved in with his grandparents. In the fall of 1906, Plath enrolled in Northwestern College, majoring in classical languages. After graduating in 1910, Plath began to attend the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Wauwatosa. Within weeks, Plath became disillusioned with the church, and quit, despite threats from his grandfather warning him of serious consequences if he did so. His grandfather then ceremoniously crossed out Plath's name from the family Bible with a pencil, symbolizing the disowning of Plath from the family. Plath moved to Seattle, Washington where he taught German at the University Heights School, while also taking advanced studies in German at the University of Washington. After reading the writings of Charles Darwin, Plath also developed an interest in biology. In the following years, Plath taught and studied in both German and biology. In 1912, he earned an M.A. from the University of Washington. Beginning in 1922, Plath taught at Boston University. In 1925, Plath earned an M.S. from Harvard University, and in 1928, he earned a Ph.D in science, also from Harvard. Via a friend, Rupert Bartz, Plath met and later married Lydia Clara Bartz, Rupert's sister, although the couple was only together for a few months before the two drifted apart without legally ending the marriage.

Throughout his years of both education and teaching, Plath published his research on a range of biological subjects. The most notable examples of Plath's publishers include The American Naturalist and The Biological Bulletin. Plath's doctoral dissertation was titled Bumblebees: Their Life History, Habits, and Economic Importance, with a Detailed Account of the New England Species. In 1929 he met Aurelia Schober while she was working on her master's degree in English and German, and in 1931, he asked her to go with him to an end-of-year party at his colleague's country home. She accepted his invitation, and, at the party, Plath expressed his feelings of infatuation toward her. During their holiday break from teaching in 1931, Plath and Schober traveled to Reno, Nevada. Once there, Plath legally divorced Lindia Bartz without her participation or agreement. The two had not seen each other in more than 10 years. On January 4, 1932, Plath married Schober in Carson City, Nevada. She moved in with him upon the couple's return to the east, and on October 27, 1932, they had their first child, who was named Sylvia Plath. In 1934, Otto Plath published his book, Bumblebees and Their Ways.

Death and influence on daughter

In 1935, shortly after the birth of his son Warren, Plath began to become ill. After inaccurately self-diagnosing his illness as lung cancer, he refused to seek medical care. In 1940, Plath saw a doctor due to an infection on his foot. It was then that the doctor diagnosed him as having an advanced case of diabetes. His leg had to be amputated in October after his foot infection was identified as gangrene. He died soon after on November 5, 1940, in Winthrop, Massachusetts. Plath’s daughter, Sylvia, was eight years old at the time of his death. The death of her father is thought to have been an emotionally traumatic event for Sylvia, leading to at least some of her later emotional problems, which would affect her for the rest of her life. Plath is thought to be the subject of his daughter’s highly emotional confessional poem, Daddy.




  • Kirk, Connie Ann (2004). Sylvia Plath: A Biography. Westport, CT: Greenwood. ISBN 0-313-33214-2. 

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