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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.
Historian Hochschild (Lessons from a Dark Time and Other Essays) delivers a polished and accessible biography of early-20th-century radical Rose Pastor Stokes. A Russian-Jewish immigrant, Rose went to work in a Cleveland cigar factory in 1890 at age 11. The experience sparked her interest in writing about labor rights and socialist politics, and in 1903 she took a newspaper job in New York City, where she met and married James Graham Phelps Stokes, a millionaire involved in the progressive settlement house movement. The couple's social circle included left-wing activists Eugene Debs, Margaret Sanger, and Upton Sinclair, and Hochschild provides captivating details about the 1909 N.Y.C. garment workers' strike, the International Workers of the World, and the American Birth Control League. Though Graham stood by his wife when she was convicted in 1918 for violating the Espionage Act (she claimed the U.S. government served "profiteers" rather than "the people"), disagreements over the Soviet Union (Rose was a founding member of the Communist Party of America) and American involvement in WWI caused the marriage to unravel. The depth and richness of Hochschild's portrait is somewhat compromised by his commitment to the reductive Cinderella trope, but few histories capture the era's combustible mix of idealism and inequality better.