The Boston Girl

Cudos to Anita Diamant, author of this fascinating story full of history and social change with a truly sympathetic heroine, Addie Baum.  Addie  was most definitely a woman ahead of her time. I cheered her every move to resist and escape the societal constraints placed on women as the 19th century carried over into the 20th. Addie wanted things her parents couldn’t imagine, such as an education and a career. She also wanted to wear stylish clothes — what young girl doesn’t?

The story opens when Addie’s granddaughter, Ava, who is studying to become a rabbi, interviews her for a class project. Addie reveals that her parents and two sisters emigrated from Russia before Addie was born, in the late 1800s, and lived a one-room apartment in the filthy tenements of the North End of Boston. She also wanted a better life: a home, a happy marriage (which her parents did not have), and a family.

Raised by extremely strict parents and a bitter, overly critical mother, the daughters were discouraged from attending secondary school, but Addie found ways to continue her education. She joined a reading club at the local library, read everything she could get her hands on, and later said, “That’s where I started to be my own person.”

The Boston Girl is full of historical information, and deals with some very important social issues. For example, Addie learned that her sister Celia, whose suicide left her parents in disbelief, had been a child laborer in a cotton mill. The small children who did this work suffered lung damage from cotton dust. They looked and felt far older than they actually were. Many suffered mental health problems many years later. Addie worked on these issues by writing newspaper articles that exposed some of the atrocities against children. Her young boyfriend (later husband) Aaron, fought for child labor laws. Aaron also fought for protection for the children of the orphan trains (see The Orphan Train) who were often adopted or fostered for the purpose of being free labor.

The book is well-written and is an easy read. It is peppered with Yiddish words and phrases, some of which were explained in the dialogue, some not. So this was a different type of language education for this reader. I loved this book. I believe you will, too.

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