You are here

Share Share Share Share Share Share Share

Marcia Soloski Levin

Businesswoman
1921 – 2010
by Michelle Levin Parker

Marcia Soloski Levin shared the story of many women who left their families to enter the working world in the 1940s. This included settling in a large city, earning a living, taking care of herself, marrying, and having a family.

The child of Russian immigrants, Mother grew up in Duluth, MN, where her family had moved after arriving in nearby Virginia, MN in approximately 1905 or 1906. Education must have been important to her motherÕs family because my maternal grandmother spoke Russian and French as well as Yiddish. The Soloskis were a close and loving family. My great grandfather Theodore (Tevye) was a scribe, and his son was a store clerk and grocer.

Mom graduated from Central High School in Duluth, MN, on June 9, 1939 at the age of 18, after completing her business education studies and winning an award for taking dictation at 100 words-per-minute.

Following graduation, and while living at home, Mother worked in the downtown DuluthÕs fashionable Glass Block Department Store, where her father also worked. After winning $100 in a University of Minnesota football pool, she decided it was time to leave Duluth and seek adventure in Chicago. Surprisingly, Mother's parents didn't object to her leaving home and becoming a working girl in the big city.

Mother had two childhood friends who lived in Chicago. Through one of them, she met Chicagoan Jeanette Frank, who would become her lifelong friend, attending the bar mitzvah of Mother's grandson' on May 19, 2006.

Mother traveled from Duluth to Chicago by overnight train. Mom was met at the train station by her friends and they took her, on a streetcar, to a residential hotel on Wilson Avenue, where she stayed for a month. Wilson Avenue was no longer the fashionable area it had once been. Jeanette's cousin lived on the West Side and had a room for rent. Jeanette's brother helped her move to the city's Lawndale neighborhood the Jerusalem of Chicago and she became a West Sider.

Mother was a lodger (at $3.75 a week) in the first floor flat of the Berman family's graystone on St. Louis Avenue. She described her living quarters as a small, dark room with a bed and a chest of drawers. She had a key to the flat, giving her the freedom that she wanted, but she had to eat her dinners in a restaurant. She remembered Silverstein's Delicatessen at St. Louis Avenue and Roosevelt Road as a magnet for lodgers like herself.

To support herself, she was a secretary and a bookkeeper. For a fee, an employment agency helped her get her first job on Wabash Avenue. A working girl had to watch how she spent her earnings. A single ride on the streetcar cost ten cents, and she had to eat all of her lunches in downtown restaurants.

In 1941, she got her second job with the Laminet Company, which manufactured plastic garment bags and plastic shoulder covers. On an income of $15 a week, there wasn't much left for entertainment. Mother and her friends went to the Jewish People's Institute (JPI) on Douglas Boulevard at Central Park Avenue for entertainment. Plays, classes. and sports programs were offered at a reasonable cost.

Mother met my father (Edward Levin) her egg and butter man on a blind date arranged by a cousin in 1940. My father was a graduate student at Illinois Institute of Technology, and he and Mother were married in Duluth on July 22, 1945. She worked for Mr. Bach until 1950, leaving only a week before I was born.

In 1951, my mother and father started their own company to manufacture a base for dehydrated soup. She encouraged my father to rent a bread mixing machine in a factory at Morgan and 15th. After working at his day job, Dad mixed the soup base and took the streetcar to make his deliveries. Mother kept the books at the dining room table, while keeping an eye on me. She often accompanied Dad to food shows where she was the only woman on the sales floor. Within 10 years, she was Vice President of what was then called Private Brands, Inc. When the company was sold 30 years later, it was a well-established leader in the institutional food industry.

Mother was a working girl when most women found their identity in motherhood and the home, but she was much more than that. She was a free spirit, supreme motivator for women who wanted to start their own businesses, and a generous friend to those causes she believed in and the people she cared about.

Michelle Levin Parker has been a college instructor and worked in hospitals, but her real passion is the preservation of personal histories.

More memories from Linda Radin

Marcia Levin was sensitive, fiercely loyal, generous to a fault, clever and creative. She was my "Fairy Godmother." She had a gift for art and creativity. She was more than a friend to our family; she was a true family member. She was always there for important occasions and traveling to see us for all special family occasions even when her health was fighting her.

She whisked me away from Minnesota to the fabulous City of Chicago when I was 15-years-old. She introduced me to all the wonderful things about Chicago and was always the "watchful mother hen." I can never see Chicago without seeing and thinking of Marcia and how she loved the City.

How I will miss her. She will always be in my memory bank.

Linda Radin is a retired Speech Pathologist and Early Childhood Special Education teacher, who lives in St. Cloud, MN. She and her husband have two sons, who grew up knowing and delighting in Marcia.

More memories from Linda Schwartz

Marcia Levin was ahead of her time. She was a pioneer in feminism in the truest sense of the word. She was my mother’s best friend, and they couldn’t have been more dissimilar. She was strong willed, opinionated and adventurous. As I think back, I believe she had a great impact on my life and the person I am today. I soaked up her uniqueness and strength.

I remember being 8 years old when she would roar up to our suburban house in a convertible with a scarf tied around her head to keep the wind at bay. While most women of that time were just discovering TV dinners as an alternative to the daily grind of cooking, she would research new and exciting restaurants and take her friends (and their kids) to sample “exotic” new locales. From Old Town to Chinatown, she was never too intimidated to head out for a day to an art fair or a museum. I knew Marcia since I was born, and I will remember her forever.

Linda Schwartz is an active stay-at-home mother of four children. She lives in Highland Park, IL with her husband, Michael. One day she hopes to own a convertible!

More memories from Myrna Kaufman

Going out to dinner with Marcia and Ed was always an experience. She loved perch and so did we, but she hated bones. We went to a restaurant where the perch was delicious, and I convinced her that they never had bones in the fish. The three of us ordered perch…and of course…Marcia was the only one to have bones. She never again ordered perch.

I don't know where she got all her energy. She would go to work at four o'clock in the morning, take care of the books and then meet me at the Temple for a Sisterhood meeting, shopping or just seeking out new places.

Myrna Kaufman grew up in a small town in central Illinois and, like Marcia Soloksi, moved to Chicago and got a job. She met her husband through a roommate, married and raised two children.

Marcia Soloski Levin, headshot cropped from group portrait
Full image
Marcia Soloski Levin, 1981. Courtesy Michelle Levin Parker.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Marcia Soloski Levin, 1921 - 2010." (Viewed on November 27, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember/levin-marcia>.

Donate

Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Sign Up for JWA eNews

 

Discover Education Programs

Join our growing community of educators.

view programs