Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

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From the best-selling author of King Leopold's Ghost and Spain in Our Hearts comes the astonishing but forgotten story of an immigrant sweatshop worker who married an heir to a great American fortune and became one of the most charismatic radical leaders of her time.

Rose Pastor arrived in New York City in 1903, a Jewish refugee from Russia who had worked in cigar factories since the age of eleven. Two years later, she captured headlines across the globe when she married James Graham Phelps Stokes, scion of one of the legendary 400 families of New York high society. Together, this unusual couple joined the burgeoning Socialist Party and, over the next dozen years, moved among the liveliest group of activists and dreamers this country has ever seen. Their friends and houseguests included Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, Eugene V. Debs, John Reed, Margaret Sanger, Jack London, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Rose stirred audiences to tears and led strikes of restaurant waiters and garment workers. She campaigned alongside the country’s earliest feminists to publicly defy laws against distributing information about birth control, earning her notoriety as “one of the dangerous influences of the country” from President Woodrow Wilson. But in a way no one foresaw, her too-short life would end in the same abject poverty with which it began.

By a master of narrative nonfiction, Rebel Cinderella unearths the rich, overlooked life of a social justice campaigner who was truly ahead of her time.

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  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328866769

  • ISBN-10: 1328866769

  • Pages: 304

  • Price: $16.99

  • Publication Date: 03/03/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 1

Adam Hochschild
Author

Adam Hochschild

ADAM HOCHSCHILD is the author of ten books. King Leopold's Ghost was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, as was To End All Wars. His Bury the Chains was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN USA Literary Award. He lives in Berkeley, California.
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  • excerpts

     Tsar and Queen 

     

    Until the First World War redrew national borders in Europe, Augustów, a trading center for cattle and the region’s small, wiry horses, lay in imperial Russia. Today it is in the far northeast corner of Poland. Augustów was a garrison town when Rose—?Raisel in Yiddish—Wieslander was born there in 1879. “I slipped into the world,” she would later claim, “while my mother was on her knees, scrubbing the floor.” One of her earliest memories was of the clatter of iron horseshoes on cobblestones as the tsar’s cavalry swept across the town’s wide market square. “One voice, ringing steel, commands. Men and horses swing and whisk and turn and gallop, stop suddenly, race, and disappear with a cra-kerra! Kerreka-Kerreka! ” 

     

    Throughout the sprawling Russian Empire, there were often more troops in places with restive populations that were not ethnically Russian. In Augustów, that meant Poles and Jews. The latter had long been the officially sanctioned scapegoats for all the ills of the creaky realm of the Romanovs, with its corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy. Famine deaths? Jewish grain dealers hoarding all the wheat. Debt? Jewish moneylenders. Disease? Spread by the Jews, of course. Defeats on the battlefield? The Jews were spying for the enemy. 

     

    Though they often prospered in business, Russia’s Jews faced almost insuperable barriers to obtaining a university education or a government job. Only one of the empire’s five million Jewish citizens, for example, managed to become an army officer. With rare exceptions, Jews were restricted to the Pale of Settlement, a swath of territory spreading mostly across parts of what today is Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. And even there, they were banned from certain districts and cities without special permission. 

     

    Augustów lay in a region of lakes, rivers, and a long canal. On these waters Rose’s grandfather, known as Berl the Fisherman, plied his trade. She remembered his “thinly-bearded rugged face, with its high cheek-bones, generous mouth, and kindly grey eyes.” He lived near a public well in a hut with a thatched roof, which held the traditional large Russian tiled oven used for both cooking and heating. “Some of my earliest recollections,” Rose wrote, “are of a boat and oars and a wide expanse of shining water.” She recalled her grandfather fishing from the boat with nets, women dressed in soft white muslin laughing as they bathed and washed their sheets in a river, and more women chatting as they rolled loaves of dough at a bakery. In the town’s synagogue, there was “sunlight streaming in through a tall, high window, and a bird flying in the rafters.” When her grandmother died in a typhus epidemic, her body was laid out on the dirt floor of Berl’s hut, under a Persian shawl that had once been a wedding gift. 

     

    Despite those kindly grey eyes, Berl seems to have been a tyrant to his family of six children. He rudely broke up a romance between his daughter Hindl and a young Pole, forcing her instead to marry a Jewish bootmaker, a widower with a small child. The 17-year-old Hindl resisted ?— ?dirtying her face and dress when the bootmaker came courting, and fleeing to her father’s hut when it was time to stand under the huppah, the wedding canopy, already surrounded by waiting guests. Berl slapped her face and dragged her to the ceremony ?— ?or so Rose heard. It was this loveless union that produced Rose. Before long, the bootmaker departed for America, leaving behind his resentful wife, their new daughter, and the small son from his previous marriage. From New York, he finally agreed to a divorce. 

     

    Above the bed where Rose’s beloved grandmother died hung the only piece of artwork in the hut, a portrait of Tsar Alexander II. He was the reformer tsar, the emperor renowned for liberating Russia’s serfs, millions of peasants who had been living in a state akin to slavery. Making a few additional cautious moves to modernize his country, he had shown considerably more tolerance for Jews than his predecessors, ending some anti-Semitic measures including the harshest, a decree that sent tens of thousands of Jewish boys away for 25 years of military service. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli called him “the kindliest prince who has ever ruled Russia.” The Pale of Settlement and most other restrictions on Jews, however, remained in place. 

     

    In 1881, the year Rose turned two, on the very day he put his signature to a new set of reforms, Alexander was being driven along the embankment of a canal in St. Petersburg, the capital, when a revolutionary threw a bomb at him. The tsar was not harmed, but the bomb killed or wounded several Cossack guards and bystanders.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328866769

  • ISBN-10: 1328866769

  • Pages: 304

  • Price: $16.99

  • Publication Date: 03/03/2020

  • Carton Quantity: 1

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