Bread Givers

Sara Smolinsky, Polish immigrant to NYC in the early 20th century, beats all odds and becomes a successful, independent American woman. Along the way, we catch glimpses of the dirty, hungry, hand-to-mouth existence of living in the Lower East Side as a young woman in a family of women all supporting their Torah-hugging father who does not work but who shouts obscenities at them, telling them women are worthless. Lovely! Sara runs away from home after her father is duped into buying an empty grocery story in Elizabeth, NJ, with the money that he got from selling his oldest daughter into slave-marriage to a fishmonger. Her other sisters’ marriages are also grim affairs of abuse and neglect. Sara works her ass off, ironing and studying night school, then putting herself through college to become a teacher. She marvels at the “real Americans” at college– these pink playthings that have not seen any hardships and that are consumed with picnics and sororities. Working her way through college, she balks at having to take a “physical education” required course, asking how much they’re paid for their sweat. The dean gets her out of this requirement after she breaks a hurdle in disgust. She wins an essay contest (with $1000 prize) and heads back to NYC in grand style, picking out a clean, well-lit apartment before starting work as a public teacher. She eventually goes to visit her family, finding her mother dying and her father scheming about who to marry next. Not content to leave us with loose ends, she ends up marrying the principal of her school and taking in her father to live out his dying days.
Published in 1925, a great glimpse into the real life of women in the early 20th c.