Bel Kaufman used her experiences as a public school teacher as fodder for her bestselling novel, Up the Down Staircase. The granddaughter of acclaimed writer Sholem Aleichem, Kaufman fled to the US with her family at age twelve to escape post-revolutionary Russia and was placed in a first-grade class because of her lack of English. Touched by the kindness and patience of the teachers who helped her catch up and succeed, Kaufman vowed to become a teacher as well, graduating magna cum laude from Hunter College and going on to a master’s in literature from Columbia before beginning her teaching career in New York public schools. Up the Down Staircase, published in 1964, follows a new teacher through the Catch-22 bureaucracy she must overcome in order to do her job. The novel spent sixty-four weeks on the bestseller list and was made into a film in 1967. Kaufman continued to write, teach and lecture, becoming the world’s oldest professor when she was hired by Hunter College at age 99 to teach a course on Jewish humor.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Bel Kaufman." (Viewed on February 23, 2017) <https://jwa.org/people/kaufman-bel>.