Miriam wants to be a printer, just like her daddy. She has a book of printing fonts in her bedroom, and imagines creating such lovely posters, menus, and bills that people line up at the door of her print shop door. Unfortunately for her, Daddy doesn’t believe that girls are able to do the work, and intends someday to leave the shop to Miriam’s younger cousin Albert. Mama doesn’t believe girls need an education. This fall, instead of going to school again as she wants, Miriam will leave Ohio to accompany her Mama to the marriage markets of New York.
Absolutely nothing is going Miriam’s way at all. Life is so, so unfair. Suddenly,
Miriam meets people who plan to change their own lives. At the synagogue, a strange, olive skinned girl named Serach in mismatched clothing asks if she received her blue threads yet. At the hat shop, the milliner who makes lovely hats asks if she’s going to the Votes for Women rally. Even the woman who runs the charity home asks questions that make Miriam think twice.
When Miriam visits her father at his shop, she meets a woman who works for him – further proof that women can do the job – any woman but Miriam, that is. She is expected to let her father take care of her, and then let her husband take care of her. And she should be happy that she has menfolk to take care of her, instead of complaining about it. Working is for poor women, and for unfortunate women who have no male relatives.
Meeting independent women opens Miriam’s mind to new possibilities, but she will still need all her courage to take the first step.
Grandma Miriam, rest in peace, left a shawl with a blue thread to the grand-daughter named after her. Will Miriam be allowed to keep the shawl? It’s a terrible controversy in her family, between Mama and Papa and Papa’s brother, because it stirs up terrible memories. But the shawl’s history goes much further into the past…
Miriam looks up the history of the Miriams that came before her, and further back. Much further back than she had ever thought existed. And Serach asks her for help – for friends who lived thousands of years ago. Serach is a time traveler, and with Grandma’s shawl with the blue thread, Miriam can travel with her.
Will she be able to give advice to Serach’s friends? These five sisters want to inherit their fathers lands They are exactly the “unfortunate women” her father talked about – they have no husbands, father, or brothers to help take care of them. They want to inherit the land in their own name. Serach wants Miriam to encourage them. How can she, when she is afraid to argue with her father about the shawl that was left to her?
With the example of her friends, and the words of encouragement she herself gave the five sisters, Miriam takes the first step toward becoming a real printer. And the next step. And there’s always one more step, until she takes a step that she can’t walk away from.
Ruth Tenzer Feldman captures the spirit of the times, from settlement houses to attitudes about alcohol. she sprinkles details about clothing, immigrants, and politics through the book like chocolate chips in a cookie, without hitting the reader over the head with it. It is left to the reader to decide whether Miriam or her father is right...
Incidentally, the Dedication page of this book contains the phrase, Well Behaved Women Seldom Make History. I didn't know that, when I picked up both books at the same time!