“Mingling with Her People in
Immigrant Aid and the New Woman in
Jewish Women's Fiction
Contemporary literary critics, perhaps unintentionally, have read immigrant and acculturated Jewish women novelists apart from one another. Yezierska is read alongside other immigrant authors such as Mary Antin and Rose Cohen. Edna Ferber and Fannie Hurst are rarely read in the context of their ethnicity, let alone in relation to immigrant fiction. 1 This critical trend suggests that Eastern European immigrant authors have little in common, at best, with middle-class writers of German Jewish descent and, at worst, that Jewishness and Americanism are still being figured as antithetical. 2 In fact, working- and middle-class Jewish women's writing in the 1920s intimately informed one another. A historicized analysis of Yezierska's fiction in relation to the work of her middle-class sisters, Ferber and Hurst, suggests not thematic unity but the rich exchange of rhetorical strategies and sometimes conflicting ideas among Jewish women writers of the 1920s. Yezierska, Ferber, and Hurst's fiction also demonstrates how immigrant and acculturated women writers constructed their ethnicity in relation to one another and in relation to women's writing across cultures, though to a lesser degree.
The biographies of Yezierska, Ferber, and Hurst establish that all three women involved themselves in debates occurring among Eastern European and German Jewish communities, specifically those concerning immigrant aid. Yezierska actually knew Fannie Hurst,