[ Adam Hochschild here produces a rich biography of the World War
One-era socialist insurgent, Russian Jewish immigrant Rose Pastor
Stokes, an impoverished cigar worker who counterintuitively married
well and never forsook her working class roots. ]
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 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 THE UNLIKELY LIFE OF A SOCIALIST ACTIVIST RESONATES A CENTURY LATER
 
[https://portside.org/2020-05-07/unlikely-life-socialist-activist-resonates-century-later]


 

 Jennifer Szalai 
 March 4, 2020
The New York Times
[https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/04/books/review-rebel-cinderella-rose-pastor-stokes-adam-hochschild.html]


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 _ Adam Hochschild here produces a rich biography of the World War
One-era socialist insurgent, Russian Jewish immigrant Rose Pastor
Stokes, an impoverished cigar worker who counterintuitively married
well and never forsook her working class roots. _ 

 This cover image released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt shows "Rebel
Cinderella: from Rags to Riches to Radical, The Epic Journey of Rose
Pastor Stokes" by Adam Hochschild. , Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via AP
// ABC News 

 

She was an impoverished Jewish immigrant from Russia who had started
working in a cigar factory at the age of 11; he was the scion of an
old-money Episcopalian family who enjoyed a mansion on Madison Avenue
and a weekend house with a bowling alley.

When Rose Pastor married James Graham Phelps Stokes on the shores of
Connecticut in 1905, the couple insisted on omitting the word
“obey” from the ceremony. They became active members in the
Socialist Party, lending their support to a labor movement under siege
during a time of widening inequality.

Rose’s socialist commitments were seamlessly aligned with her life
experience; Graham’s were more surprising, but he took to them with
the ardor of a convert. Writing to his “darling Mother,” who like
many women of her station put a lot of stock in her own charitable
deeds, he asked whether she “recognized the injustice of the system
which provides you with your great income at the expense of others;
and whether you recognized the relation between this system and the
terribly widespread suffering which you endeavor so earnestly to
relieve.”

 

Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of
Rose Pastor Stokes
[https://www.hmhbooks.com/shop/books/Rebel-Cinderella/9781328866745]
By Adam Hochschild
Houghton Miflin Harcourt; 320 pages
March 3, 2020
Hardback:  $30
ISBN: 9781328866745

 

Houghton Miflin Harcourt
 

  

In “Rebel Cinderella,” Adam Hochschild writes movingly about an
unlikely pair who also served as a potent symbol. The public was so
fascinated by the couple that some Americans kept scrapbooks
documenting Rose’s fairy-tale ascent. For several years, she was
mentioned in the press more than any other American woman. Hochschild
notes that as the Gilded Age yielded to the Progressive Era, Rose and
Graham seemed like the ideal embodiment of socialist ambitions:
“What could better symbolize the hope of human brotherhood than such
a marriage of rich and poor, native-born and immigrant, Gentile and
Jew?”

Hochschild is a superb writer who makes light work of heavy subjects,
having published books about the conflagration of World War I
[https://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/books/review/book-review-to-end-all-wars-by-adam-hochschild.html] and
the brutal colonialism of Belgium’s King Leopold II
[https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/08/30/daily/leopold-book-review.html].
In “Rebel Cinderella,” he brings his roving curiosity to bear on a
figure whose public life coincided with the roiling decades of the
early 20th century, with its grotesque economic disparity, vicious
anti-Semitism, seething white nationalism and swelling anti-immigrant
fervor. The time of upheaval that he writes about bears an unnerving
resemblance to our own.

The name Rose Pastor Stokes may no longer be familiar, but Hochschild
found plenty of newspaper clippings in his research, along with
thousands of letters, unpublished memoirs, Rose’s diary and even
reports detailing the surveillance of her by the predecessor of the
F.B.I. Unearthing some mournful poetry Rose wrote about her time in
the cigar factory, Hochschild corroborates her grim portrait with
notes made by a factory inspector. Where information is scant or
nonexistent, he deploys elegant workarounds that evoke a vivid sense
of time and place. About Graham’s bachelor years before meeting
Rose, he writes: “For unmarried men of his class and time, any
sexual experience was likely to be furtive and paid for.”

When Rose met Graham she was working as a reporter for The Jewish
Daily News (a job she was offered after writing an occasional column
about factory life), living on the Lower East Side as the sole
breadwinner in a household that included four of her younger siblings
and their mother. Graham had a medical degree and was living in
settlement housing, where the wealthy lived alongside the poor, which
appealed to his sense of noblesse oblige. He was charmed by her,
recounting in a letter how much he enjoyed her 25th birthday, when she
invited him to her humble apartment and offered him a glass of milk,
bread and butter, an egg and a banana. She was charmed by him, too,
recalling years later that he had reminded her of “the young Abe
Lincoln.”

 
 

Rose Pastor Stokes, circa 1906. The socialist and feminist activist is
the subject of Adam Hochschild's new book, "Rebel Cinderella."
Credit:  Rose Pastor Stokes Papers (MS 573), Manuscripts and
Archives, Yale University Library  //  The New York Times
 

They embarked on a partnership that was remarkable — at least at
first. His ample funds afforded a material security that allowed them
to devote all of their time to the socialist cause. Rose proved to be
a charismatic orator, holding forth with the exuberance and volume
that were essential before the advent of loudspeakers and mics. She
would eventually take to writing plays, believing they were a tool for
justice, and she had an instinct for theatrical gestures. During a
restaurant workers’ strike, she suggested putting salt in the sugar
bowls and replacing the drinking water with vinegar.

As Rose was flourishing, though, Graham seemed to languish, and a
little more than halfway through “Rebel Cinderella,” Hochschild
foreshadows a dark turn. Graham had started a book on the Founding
Fathers but never finished it, and ran for elected office several
times without success. He was never as popular a speaker as his wife,
and would get petulant when she had been away for what he felt was too
long. But he could be petulant when Rose was at home, too, accusing
her of “loafing” when she was convalescing from bronchitis. “The
terrible loneliness of one’s soul in such moments!” she confided
in her diary.

World War I was the external shock that did in their marriage, as
Graham began supporting American involvement in the war and even sent
letters to the State Department to name former comrades he suspected
of being German agents. Rose initially sided with Graham, but she soon
recoiled. She felt like she was betraying her own class and ideals,
and was particularly disturbed by an invitation to visit the White
House, or “the seat of Capitalist power,” as she put it. “What
is wrong with me that I elicit such an invitation?”

Hochschild suggests that Rose’s story should speak to us because in
our new Gilded Age, “the appeal of making that magical leap from
poverty to great affluence is once again resurgent.” But the
parallels, as he acknowledges, aren’t exact. The Cinderella scenario
seems hopelessly retrograde — not to mention that a social safety
net, however fraying, exists largely because of efforts by agitators
like Rose. Hochschild’s book shows us what a radical movement looked
like from the inside, with all of its high-flown idealism and personal
intrigues. Whatever protections we take for granted once seemed
unfathomable before they became real.

_Biographer ADAM HOCHSCHILD is s an American author, journalist,
historian and lecturer. His best-known works include King Leopold's
Ghost (1998), To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion,
1914–1918 (2011), Bury the Chains (2005), The Mirror at Midnight
(1990), The Unquiet Ghost (1994), and Spain in Our Hearts (2016).
His writing has also appeared in the New Yorker, Harper's Magazine,
The Atlantic, Granta, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York
Review of Books, the New York Times Magazine, The Nation and other
venues.. He was also a commentator on National Public Radio's All
Things Considered._

_[Essayist JENNIFER ILDIKO SZALAI has been the New York Times
nonfiction critic since 2017.  Formerly an editor at its Sunday Book
Review section and an erstwhile senior editor at Harper’s Magazine
who also had a stint on the op-ed page of The Times, Jennifer is a
graduate of the University of Toronto, where she studied political
science and peace and conflict studies, and the London School of
Economics, where she received a master’s in international relations.
Jennifer has taught journalism and criticism at Columbia and NYU. Her
work has appeared in The Times Magazine, Harper’s, The Economist,
New York Magazine, Slate, The Nation, The New Statesman, The New
Yorker online and The London Review of Books.] _

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