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Nov. 1st, 2016 01:45 am
smackenzie: (faye)
[personal profile] smackenzie
Sadie Grabel was born in a small city in upstate New York in 1908, the second child, and first daughter, of Isaac and Fanny. Her mother had come to the US as a five-year-old. Her father came when he was sixteen. They were both children of the old world, but Sadie was a child of the new.

At nine, she knew what she wanted to do, and what she wanted to do was make dresses. She didn't know anything about fashion, but she did know that she liked to draw clothes, and when her mother taught her how to sew, she started making little outfits for her doll. None of them were very good, or lasted very long, but she was only nine, she'd learn. Someday she'd get married, because all little girls grew up to be young women, and young women got married, and she'd make clothes for herself and her children.

Then her brother Henry, her parents' pride and joy, was killed in the Great War, and ten-year-old Sadie buried her plans. She'd help her mother take care of Edith, who was seven, and Jonathan, who was five, and she learned not to mention Henry's name because it made her mother cry. His clothes and academic medals and certificates were packed away - everything that had been in the bedroom he shared with Jonathan - and while his high school graduation picture still sat on the mantel, and Jonathan inherited the fountain pen Henry had gotten for his bar mitzvah, Sadie's parents sometimes talked about him as if he was just away on a long trip, or as if he had moved somewhere there was no post office and no telegraph office and no telephones, as if he would come home someday.

Sadie missed him, because he was her big brother and even though he teased her and didn't like it when she tried to join the conversation when he had friends over, she loved him. But he was gone, and he was going to stay gone, and she accepted that long before her parents did.

By the time she was sixteen she'd started thinking about what she'd do after high school. She couldn't stay in the house, she knew that, and she didn't want to stay in her small upstate city. They had movie theaters and a playhouse and a couple of car dealerships and electronics shops and two synagogues (one of them Reform) and many of the things big cities did, but it was a small city and Sadie had bigger plans. She could be the next Jeanne Lanvin, or Paul Poiret, or she could make competition for Fortuny or Callot Soeurs or Worth. She didn't just want to cut pictures of beautiful clothes out of magazines, and she didn't just want to make dresses for herself and her little sister and her Aunt Minnie. She wanted her own atelier.

And to do that, she needed to leave. She couldn't go to Paris - she didn't have the money and she wasn't confident in her language skills - but she could go to New York.

It took her two years to convince her parents, from the time she had the idea to the time she graduated from high school, and they let her go on two conditions: one, that she go to secretarial or business school first, to acquire some useful office skills, and two, that she bring friends. Neither her mother nor her father were about to let her travel across the state and settle in a big city by herself.

So Sadie and her friends Ida and Rose Teitelbaum - the twins - went to Albany for a year, and with secretarial certificates in hand, took the train to New York. Sadie's mother had a cousin, Lily, who lived in Brooklyn. Fanny had written to her explaining Sadie's plans and asking if Sadie could live with her, and Lily had written back that she didn't have a lot of room, but she could use some help with the children and her husband could probably find Sadie a job in a dress shop - or there was a tailor who lived in their building, she could talk to him - Sadie's mother had relayed some of this to Sadie, and Sadie had tried to be diplomatic but she didn't want to live with Lily and her family, and she didn't want to work in a dress shop in Brooklyn. She wanted to apprentice herself to a dressmaker in Manhattan, learn the business, strike out on her own. She'd be her own woman and do her own thing, for her own satisfaction rather than her parents'.

Her parents wanted her to marry a nice Jewish boy, a local, and learn the business of running a shop so she and her eventual husband could take over from her father, who owned a grocery. You can make clothes for your family, her mother had said. Her parents had grand plans for her baby brother, but he was a boy and boys were supposed to do great things. They were supposed to surpass their fathers in the careers they had and the money they made. Girls married well, raised families, took care of their husbands and their households. That was how they surpassed their mothers - they married up.

By the time the train pulled into Grand Central Station, Sadie wasn't even sure she wanted to get married at all. Rose wanted to meet a city boy, a boy with prospects and money and maybe a more interesting life than the boys back home. Ida wanted what Rose wanted. The three of them had already made arrangements to live in a residential hotel for ladies, a brand-new building with strict codes of conduct that didn't feel a lot different from living at home. But it was safe and clean and cheap and full of young women living in the city on their own, going to school or working or looking for jobs or trying to be actresses. Sadie was thrilled. Rose and Ida were a little apprehensive, but within a week the three of them felt they'd made the right decision.

Now all Sadie needed was a job.



words: 1039
note: the residential hotel where the girls live is based on the barbizon hotel, which opened in 1927.

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