Miriam Shomer Zunser
1882 – 1951
Miriam Shomer Zunser, journalist, playwright, and artist, was an important promoter of Jewish culture in America during the period before World War II. Born Manya Shaikevitsch in Odessa on November 25, 1882, she was the daughter of the well-known novelist and playwright Nokhem Mayer Shaikevitsch (Shomer) and Dinneh Bercinsky. The family immigrated to New York in 1889, where Miriam attended public school. After graduation, she worked as a librarian while studying drawing and art at the Jewish Educational Alliance under Henry McBride. In Europe, and later in America, she was surrounded by the leading lights of the Yiddish literary world. She became a contributor to publications such as the Yidishes Tageblat [Jewish daily news] and American Weekly Jewish News, where she wrote for the women’s pages, often on feminist themes and in support of suffrage. In 1905, she married Charles Zunser, the son of the folk bard Eliakum Zunser. The couple had three children.
Later in life, Zunser began a career as a Yiddish playwright, usually in collaboration with her sister Rose Shomer Bachelis. In 1921, they authored Ayne fun Folk, billed in English as One of the Many, which was among the first Yiddish plays written by women. Starring Bertha Kalich, it was received with critical acclaim. They followed with two more Yiddish plays, Sirkus Meydl [Circus girl, 1928], which starred Molly Picon, and In di Hent fun Gezets [In the hands of the law] as well as an operetta, Der Zingendiker Ganef [The singing thief], starring Ludwig Satz. Zunser also wrote several plays in English, including Goldenlocks and the Bears, which appeared on Broadway.
Active in Zionist affairs, Zunser founded a Brooklyn chapter of Hadassah. She was also a delegate to the first American Jewish Congress, convened by her brother Abraham Shomer. In 1932, she founded MAILAMM, an organization designed to promote Jewish music in Palestine and the United States, which became the Jewish Music Forum in 1942. Her memoir Yesterday appeared in 1939. She died in October 1951.
Yesterday: A Memoir of a Russian Jewish Family (1939. 2d ed. edited by Emily Wortis Leider, 1978); Unzer Foter Shomer, with Rose Shomer Bachelis (1950).
WWIAJ (1938); Zunser, Miriam Shomer. Papers. New York Public Library.