In the political ferment of early twentieth century New York City, when socialists and reformers battled sweatshops, and writers and artists thought a new world was being born, an immigrant Jewish woman from Russia appeared in the Yiddish press, in Carnegie Hall, and at rallies. Her name was Rose Pastor Stokes, and she fought for socialism, contraception and workers’ rights.
What set her apart was not just the strength of her speeches or the passion of her commitments, but her marriage to James Graham Phelps Stokes, the wealthy Episcopalian son of one of the oldest and most elite families in the United States. Over the course of their marriage they lived in an apartment on the Lower East Side, a private island in Long Island Sound, and a townhouse in Greenwich Village.
The book Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes by Adam Hochschild (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020) explores her life, her unlikely marriage and the great hopes of the Progressive Era in New York City.
Hochschild, a master of deeply researched narrative history, is the author of ten books—among them King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa and Spain In Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War. He has won widespread recognition for his writing and received the Theodore Roosevelt—Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Historical Association.
Rebel Cinderella draws on Rose Pastor Stokes’ own papers, the extensive press coverage that she received in her lifetime, and the records of her investigation at he hands of the Bureau of Investigation (later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation) and her prosecution under the Espionage Act.
The book explores her life, her marriage, and the political currents that she navigated in her journey from immigrant cigar worker to celebrity activist, all the while setting her in the context of her tumultuous times. The compelling cast of characters in Rebel Cinderella includes Eugene Debs, Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, and John Reed.
Although Rose and her husband were initially political comrades, they moved apart in the World War I years when he grew more conservative. The marriage ended in divorce in 1926. She moved further to the left, eventually joining the Communist Party. By the time she died of cancer in 1933, Rose’s heady days of radical prominence were a memory.
Mabel Dodge, whose Greenwich Village salon attracted a fertile mix of artists, rebels, artists and intellectuals in the years before World War I, wrote of how in that time “barriers went down and people reached each other who had never been in touch before”. Rebel Cinderella sensitively illuminates the strengths of limits of that era and two people whose lives expressed its intensity, illusions, and possibilities. “The love between Rose and Graham may have been short-lived and absolutely mistaken,” concludes Hochschild, “but for a luminous few years it made the couple into figures far more memorable than either would have been alone.”
Robert W. Snyder, Manhattan Borough Historian and professor emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Rutgers University, is co-author of both All the Nations Under Heaven: Immigrants, Migrants and the Making of New York (Columbia) and Metropolitan lives: The Ashcan Artists and Their New York (Norton/Smithsonian).
Robert W. Snyder, Manhattan Borough Historian and professor emeritus of American Studies and Journalism at Rutgers University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.