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 mother’s 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 Duluth’s 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.