Chapter One

Third Child


"There is no happier fate for a man than to live his life in a culture never challenged, a culture he is never called upon to justify; to eat and speak and dress and pray without ever realizing that there are other ways of doing these simple things.

-- Jessie Bernard, 1942[1]


A carefree culture was a luxury that Jewish immigrants of the generation of Jessie Bernard's parents would never know. On both sides, her ancestors were from Transylvania, the poetically named portion of eastern Europe that historically has been Austrian, Hungarian, Roumanian, or Russian, as the political tides dictated. When the issue arose, family members considered themselves Roumanian. Their move to America began in the early 1880s when Jessie's maternal grandmother, Bossie Kantar, recently widowed for a second time, left her three grown sons and migrated with Jessie's mother, Rebecca, then not quite twelve, to New York. A decade later, this daughter returned home briefly to marry a man whom her three brothers had chosen for her, a candlemaker who hoped to recoup his faltering fortunes in America. In the early 1890s, the young couple settled in Minneapolis.[2]

For the newcomers, America , first of all, meant new names. At Ellis Island, David Revici, Jessie's father, became David Ravitch. By the time of the census of 1900, Bossie Kantar was Bettsy Kanter, her daughter Rebecca (Rifke) Bessie. Two decades later Ravitch was Ravage, just as Jessie Sarah (her given names) in time became Jessie Shirley. For the family as a whole, as she later noted, the census also had its own special language: "foreign born" for the parents; "native white, both parents foreign," for the children.

Socially, Minneapolis was ethnically if not racially diverse. Although in 1890 native born settlers outnumbered the foreign born by two to one, Scandinavians constituted some 55% of the latter. In 1880, the city's population was approximately 50,000, of whom 2500 were Jews. By 1900, the total population had reached 202,000 with Jews at 8000, slightly less than 4%. After 1900, a flood of Eastern Europeans swelled the Jewish population as poor and largely uneducated immigrants fled the ghettoes of Russia, Poland, and Lithuania. Blacks , a distinct minority, numbered only some 2500 by 1910, less than 1% of the population.[3]

The pattern of Jewish settlement by 1900 reflected the successive stages of immigration, as nationality groups clustered for emotional and economic support. Arriving first in the 1870s, Jews from Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary established thriving commercial enterprises and staked out their neighborhood on the soon-fashionable West Side of the city. Eastern European arrivals from the 1890s onward clustered on the North Side, where over 80% of the city's Jews lived by 1910. A middle stratum consisted of Eastern Europeans, mostly Roumanians, who arrived after the first Germans but before mass migration at the turn of the century. Better off educationally and economically, typically shop owners or salesmen, they established an enclave on the South Side. To this group belonged Jessie's parents. [4]

Despite its ethnic diversity, Minneapolis remained an outpost of New England Yankee culture. The great milling names--Pillsbury, Loring, Washburn--were the success stories of the New Englanders who had trekked north from Ohio and Illinois a generation earlier. With the coming of the railroad in the 1870s, transportation also became an important industry. Within another decade, the Northern Europeans who had laid the rails made up much of the city's middle and working classes. Unlike other cities, where newcomers gradually filtered into the ruling elite, the old Yankees and their heirs consolidated their social and economic power in Minneapolis. More than half a century later, two sociologists reported, young Jews in Minneapolis enjoyed fewer economic opportunities than in eastern cities.[5]

The city many remembered, in any case, was predominantly Yankee. The New York Times reporter Harrison Salisbury, born in Minneapolis five years after Bernard, called it a "Victorian City in the Midwest." Of the state as a whole, a Federal Writers Project survey concluded that the "Yankees" left an "indelible stamp," despite the "incalculable debt" to other European countries. [6] Bernard agreed. "Sometimes I say, in fact, that I went to a New England Academy," she recalled of her schooling. The curriculum was "classical" in the grand style, including four years of Latin, and even Greek for those who wanted it. The teachers too, most of them women, were "stamped with a New England brand." The great American writers were of course New Englanders; the chief statesman was Alexander Hamilton, the architect of the Federalist party. Only years later did Bernard realize that the Southerners Jefferson and Washington were far greater men.[7]

The Ravitch home was on Lake Street at 11th Avenue, an area still suburban when they moved in soon after Jessie was born. "Most of the houses were of the geometrically square type, with generous front and back porches," she later described it in Sarah Gordon, one of several novels she wrote in the late twenties. Lawns and shrubbery made up for whatever may have lacked architecturally. Once fashionable, the lower part of Lake Street was quickly becoming heavily trafficked and commercial. But their block "still retained some of its old flavor."[8]

Jessie's most vivid memories of her house, however, were of things it was not. For one thing, it was not in the ghetto, but far from even the closest Jewish quarter, that of their fellow Roumanians on the South Side. The Ravitch family, in fact, were the only Jews in the neighborhood. "River Avenue [Lake Street] was extremely far away," she wrote, again in Sarah Gordon. Far away from friends; far from Jewish shops; far from the synagogue. "Sarah [Jessie] never had an intimate Jewish friends except her cousins," she continued, exaggerating her own situation only slightly. The house, for another thing, was not really theirs. Although they had bought and paid for it, someone else's ancestors had built it and planted the tall oaks in the yard. The Ravitches, like the fictional Gordons, were "mere intruders." [9]

Like most American children, Jessie was aware of social and ethnic differences without quite knowing what to make of them. Her neighborhood friends had names like Oleson and Hansen; a Greek Orthodox Church stood a block to the west; and a former slave named Peebles fascinated the neighborhood children (only two other blacks lived in the area, both married to white women). But she remained innocent of the hostility of "old" toward "new" immigrants, just as she was blind to the tensions between grain traders and farmers, or employers and workers that would burst forth in later Minnesota history. [10]

Mostly, in fact, Jessie had fond memories of these years: outings with parents, confidences with her sister, visits to cousins. If Jews were a minority in this new land, the fact caused few problems. She had been "only vaguely conscious of myself as a Jew," she recalled two decades later. She changed her middle name from Sarah to Shirley, not out of shame, but simply because it was more like the name of her friends. Pressed on the issue of anti-Semitism, she claimed that she had experienced little if any during her youth. The issue, she told alumnae of her alma mater in 1970, "had been worked through" by the 1940s. To a biographer she spoke almost casually of the "whole bit about my Jewish background"--the "bit" suggesting how inconsequential she now thought it.[11]

The reality, as one might suspect, was more complicated. Happy memories of family life, although doubtless genuine, masked tensions that racked her early life. If resolved after a fashion by the 1940s, the problem of identity--Jew versus American--plagued her earlier years more than she cared to remember. Tensions within Judaism--between German and non-German, Reform and Orthodox--also left their mark. Although she could not have realized it then, the years of youth set her sociological agenda for a good many years to come.


The Ravitch family, to all appearances, was the classic American success. Starting as a "butter-and-eggs man" delivering dairy products, Jessie's father moved into haberdashery, then into buying up bankrupt stores throughout the upper midwest, and finally into real estate. "He is no longer a peddler," she later wrote in a lightly-disguised account of his rise. "He is a broker." [12] The children arrived in girl-boy order: Clara in 1898, Sam in 1901, Jessie in 1903, and and Maurice five years later. A network of uncles, aunts and cousins helped one another along. Just as David's brother had started him in dairy delivery, so he now brought another brother into the men's clothing store, overlooking the fact that he proved worthless as a salesman, and would not work on Saturdays.[13]

Below the surface, however, things were less tranquil, in part as they are in almost all families, in part because of the special strains of being "foreign" in a still-Yankee world. Jessie's relations with her father were a case in point. As she later told it, she was his special favorite, and he hers. "I basked in the warmth of my adoring and adored father," she reminisced, recalling the evening ritual of helping him draw homemade wine from a basement barrel, or sitting snugly in his lap on Sunday horse-and-buggy rides. At the same time, her sharpest memories were of paternal fallibility, even weakness: of a failure when she was four to bring her a doll without being asked, when she was sure he could read her mind; of being left at home while older siblings enjoyed a long awaited summer trip to North Dakota; or of her brother's similar disappointment when, believing that he was to spend the summer alone with his father, he found himself left with an uncle. On another occasion, father forbade his daughters to spend the night with girl friends (a firm family rule) and ordered them to their rooms only to remember that the varnish he had applied on the stairs was still wet. With a desperation peculiar to beleaguered males, he then lined the stairs with newspaper, bits of which remained embedded in the varnish, as Jessie remembered, "a long time."

Jessie's memories of her mother were also mixed, although, as with her father, possibly clouded by a wrenching break of later years. Since arriving in America, Bessie Kanter's life had been a round of hard work and self-sacrifice. As a teenager, she toiled in the garment district of New York for a weekly wage of $3, which she dutifully turned over to her mother. During these years, or so young Jessie was told, she once marched in a women's rights parade, and another time joined a workers' demonstration. But, by the time Jessie arrived, the burdens and responsibilities of marriage were taking their toll: first a miscarriage and a resulting grief never mentioned; then four children in a decade. Although an avid reader, Bessie's tastes ran to the newspaper equivalent of today's soaps: her particular favorite was an ongoing series on "Married Life." Her favorite songs were the current hits: "After the Ball Is Over," "Why Did You Wink Your Eye?" After decades of denial, she was more interested in women's clothes than women's rights. When, on one occasion, a solicitor from the League of Women's Voters invited her to a meeting, she complied more in gratitude for the personal attention shown than out of concern for the vote. [14]

In later years, although not for want of trying, Jessie found little in her mother in the way of a feminist model. Quite the opposite. Her mother's devotion to her father and dependence upon him demonstrated "Some Disadvantages of Being a Happily Married Woman"-- the title of a curious essay Jessie wrote when her own marriage was anything but happy. Her mother's "complete satisfaction in my father isolated her from other women," she observed (anticipating a theme of The Female World). "Her personality seemed to be bled white when he was gone." The conclusion: "A happy marriage deprives a woman of initiative, drive, leadership!" [15]

The power in the family, and the source of Jessie's fondest memories, was her grandmother Kanter. It was she who gave permissions, provided moral guidance, and dispensed discipline when necessary, all the time helping with the cooking and the housework. It was she also, as Bernard wrote twenty years later, "who set the Jewish stamp on our home": saying prayers before and after every meal, providing blessings for virtually every occasion. But in the process she also overshadowed her daughter. "She was a much more important person than our mother," Bernard added, in a characteristically frank assessment. [16] Not surprisingly, Bettsy Kanter provided the role model in Bernard's later conversion to feminism. "Almost as important as God himself," she wrote of her grandmother in the early 1970s. "Obviously His wife."[17]

The network of uncles, aunts, and cousins was also not the source of comfort many Americans like to imagine. Older settlers in the Jewish community resented the arrival of newcomers since family claims often drained valuable resources. [18] In the novel Sarah Gordon , Bernard dramatized this issue as it applied to her own family. "The Solomon Gordons hated him," she wrote of the rich uncle "Isador" from whom the family must borrow money for a new house, "because they knew that his theories were wrong, and still he had succeeded, whereas their own theories were right, and they had not." To this was added the fact that children born in the new country lauded it over those born abroad. "[Sarah] had always boasted proudly that she was native born American," she wrote of her fictional self. "Not all her cousins were, and those who were felt superior and slightly condescending to those who were not." [19]

For the two older Ravitch children, a perennial causus belli was the issue of when, where, and with whom they might socialize. "My sister fought my father tooth and nail," Jessie recalled of Clara's rebellion over this issue. When her brother Sam proposed to date a young woman of whom his mother disapproved, her anger and frustration were so visible that Jessie remembered them years later. Made literally ill by the demands of his Yankee school teachers, hounded by his parents to enter a prestigious profession, Sam also carried a burden of bitterness against his father into adult life. The younger brother, for reasons unexplained, had an ungovernable tendency to escape from the house whenever possible.

Clara, as the oldest, was the first to explore the outer world. In the process, she provided Jessie a model of sorts, despite their up-and-down relationship in later years. It was Clara who majored in English (strengthening Jessie's resolve to do the same). It was also Clara who first studied the sciences and social sciences, zoology and anthropology being favorites. From one of these courses she brought home a text in social psychology by William McDougall (whose theory of "instincts" Jessie's future husband was then in the process of demolishing); from another, the theory of evolution; and from a third the professor himself, Albert E. Jenks, chairman of the Anthropology Department at the University of Minnesota.[20] When the Professor graced their home, the Ravitches were deeply honored. But when Clara elaborated some of the latest theories (evolution, in particular) the family poked "good-natured fun." "Prof said so" became the family joke, armor of a sort against the modern world.

On matters of taste and life-style, Clara also served as emissary of modern science and expertise. Lettuce and celery must replace the rich heavy vorspeis of roasted eggplant, chopped onion, and olive oil; milk must be substituted for coffee. In America, each person must have individual napkins, individual knives, and, above all, privacy. Windows must be opened to the Minnesota winter to provide fresh air, even though, as Jessie later recalled , "it meant pneumonia, colds, and sinus infections for us all."[21]

The amused skepticism of these recollections in fact veiled feelings more truthfully revealed in Jessie's later fiction. In one particular story, Jessie as "Ruthie" recounted how her sister "Helen" brought the latest American habits into the home. "Everything American had prestige and therefore Helen [Clara] had prestige," she wrote. In this version the family jokes seemed less amusing. "When the Kaplans [Ravitches] protested or grumbled or showed dissatisfaction with anything Helen did," the story continued, "Ruthie despised them." [22]

To the bespectacled, sometimes rumpled, always studious Jessie, her American, more glamorous sister represented a life-style that was tempting, if not quite attainable.[23] In still another sister-story, Clara as "Audrey" was the well-dressed New Yorker, bouyed by her successful work with a child-study group (by the late 1920s, Clara was working in a similar position with Lucy Sprague Mitchell at Columbia).[24] Jessie as "Lucy Page" was a dowdy doctoral assistant in psychology, working for a "Professor Smith" whom she feared and idolized. At dinner at Audrey's, Lucy is a source of amusement to two young men who lament the faults of "scientific women" who "become too truthful and direct for their main business in life which is to charm men." Currying their favor, she tells stories on her professor, only to be overwhelmed by guilt when she meets him the next day. Perhaps she should give up her assistantship, she suggests, to which Smith replies that he has a substitute already in mind. Feeling betrayed, Lucy runs from the office to an unanticipated sensation. "She had expected relief from inner torment to result from her conference" the story concludes. "But she had never anticipated this lovely joyous peace." Now part of her sister's world, in spirit at least, she spies a former lab associate, deep in thought and oblivious to her appearance. Lucy gloats at the sight of her friend's wrinkled stockings: "She allowed herself for the first time to laugh at them." [25]


Although Jessie's grandmother put the Jewish stamp on the household, her parents had some definite ideas of their own concerning religion. "My mother hated gentiles, in her cheerful, matter-of-fact way, all her life, " Bernard later wrote. "Nothing could surpass the contempt and scorn in her voice when she spoke of our playmates as veesta goyim or shiksahs or schootzim. "[26] When Clara reported that anthropologists no longer believed in "pure" races, they were horrified since it implied that her father's blue eyes and her mother's blond nieces were something less than Jewish .[27]

From these religious convictions flowed a number of dos and don'ts. Do work hard, but avoid manual labor. On one occasion, so the story went, the family was scandalized to hear that the husband of one of Jessie's cousins was seen wearing overalls and was placated only when assured that he contracted for painters, but did not himself do the work.[28] Study hard, but beware of heretical ideas, a lesson Clara had already learned concerning evolution. Do marry and have children, but not outside the faith. A favorite story of Jessie's father concerned a messenger who, when confronted with the task of telling an old Jewish man that his daughter had died, first approached him with the statement that she had eloped with a Gentile. "I would rather have seen her dead at my feet," the old man wailed. "She is dead, sire," the messenger replied.[29]

Jessie also lived with the ever-present tension of Jewish and gentile culture. One Christmas it was stockings hung innocently over the fireplace by Jessie and her sister, and father ripping them down after administering a good tongue lashing.[30] On another occasion, it was the taunt of a playmate that Jews had killed Jesus. In high school, it was a subtle attempt by a favorite teacher to convert her, an incident she decided not to report to her parents.[31] Although she maintained friends among all groups, it was an uphill struggle. During her school years, she was forbidden to date gentile boys, or to bring them into her home. [32] "My Jewish friends and my non-Jewish friends did not feel. . . at home in one another's presence," she recalled in a lengthy, but unpublished analysis years later.[33]

The issue of the death of Jesus so absorbed her that she opened the novel Sarah Gordon with a fictionalized account of one childhood confrontation. "Mama, why did we kill Jesus?" Sarah asks. "Who said we killed him?" her mother replies with a flash of anger in her eyes. "Why Frances Locke told me so. We killed him and he was God's little boy." "Who is Frances Locke?" the mother shrieks in excited Yiddish. "Veesta shicksa.. It's a lie!" Ordered not to play with the offending Frances, Sarah nonetheless returns several days later with the news that a Sunday school teacher was the authority. "But we didn't kill God's little boy...did we Mama," Sarah pleads. "No, of course not," her mother explains, forced finally to tell the whole story. "The Romans killed him and blamed it on the Jews."[34]

Anti-Semitism in Minneapolis was not, of course, confined to children. When Eastern European Jews moved to the North Side in the 1890s, they lived in ghettoes as much for self-protection as from economic necessity. Local lore had it that it was physically dangerous for a Jew to live above Fifth Street North.[35] Social and service organizations, from the Rotary to the Automobile Club, denied membership to Jews. The result, two sociologists later concluded, was "the systematic exclusion of Jews from participation in the community's social and civic life."[36]

Despite these realities, and her own experiences, Jessie held to the conviction that she was "American" first and only incidentally a Jew. "I felt myself to be an American and I did not want to acknowledge any relationship with Europe," she wrote when finally coming to grips with the issue in the forties. She identified America with herself, and when grownups spoke well of the country she took it as a personal tribute. When a newly arrived cousin claimed that Russian scenery was the equal of American, she took it as a personal affront. America was unproblematic. Everyone--playmates, teachers, the newspapers--told her she was American. The result, she realized in hindsight, was a kind of complacency. Eventually, she (and her generation) would have to confront the uncomfortable fact "that we were not as American as we supposed."[37]

Soon after high school, the first hint of this fact intruded. Graduation night was a triumphant vindication of Jessie's faith in America. In the Roll of Honor she had been elected Best Looking and Most Courteous among the girls. "I was certainly among the most maudlin," she later wrote, recalling graduation-night hugs and kisses and promises to keep in touch forever. But then parents intervened to take each girl back to her separate world. The following autumn, this same lesson was reinforced at the funeral of one of the girls in her group. Suddenly Jessie felt alienated by the customs and rituals that in death claimed her friend back to the ancient and (to her) alien faith of her parents. "I learned that whenever adults--parents, that is--or boys, were involved, something happened and we were not the same." Although her friends--Catholic and Protestant, as well as Jew--continued to see one another, it was not the same. "Like iron filings we seemed to become polarized and...lined up according to our ancient ways." [38]


Ironically, although hardly a surprise, the tensions Jessie knew best were within the Jewish community itself. The poverty of the East European newcomers shocked and embarrassed the well-established Germans. Addressing the poverty of North Siders through charity soon became a form of status seeking among them. German-Jewish organizations, even the Minneapolis chapter of B'nai B'rith, excluded the newcomers. Backlash against the mass influx after 1900 in turn cost older Jewish residents some hard-won gains. The Athletic Club, for example, excluded from membership the sons of Jews who were already members. The Ravitches and others in the middle presumably got it both ways: condescension from German Jews, rejection through association with the newcomers. The results would appear, often between the lines, in Bernard's later discussions of their situation.[39]

The city's synagogues, reflecting these divisions, ran the gamut from extremes of Orthodoxy to the Reform Temple (as it was called) of the West Side Germans. As members of the South Side synagogue, the Ravitches joined those who were attempting to carve a path between West Side Reform Judaism and varieties of North Side Orthodoxy--a middle position finally called Conservative Judaism. Although their services were in Hebrew, as Jessie described them in a later account of the Jews of "Milltown," there was singing (but no instrumental music) and women were allowed to sit downstairs, both innovations unacceptable to the Orthodox. When even these compromises failed to stem the exodus to the Reform Temple, younger members organized a new synagogue, Beth El. By the forties, the two Conservative synagogues together claimed almost 800 families as members.[40]

For those leaving the faith, the two most popular destinations were Christian Science and Unitarianism. For the first, the "tender-minded," as she called them, Jessie had nothing but scorn. "Few members of the community credited these Jews with sincerity," she remembered . "The motive attributed to them was that of cowardice. . . .They were ashamed of their heritage." [41] A review of a biography of the writer Paul Cowan decades later kindled these same thoughts. On his mother's side, Cowan (né Cohen) came from a family which, having embraced Christian Science in 1910, celebrated Christmas extravagantly, and ate ham and sweet potatoes for Easter. It took their grandson, now a fifth-generation American, to undo the damage, as he did in finally embracing his Jewish past.[42] Unitarianism, in contrast, was less a competing religion than a way of learning Christian history and theology while remaining a Jew. "They remained loyal to their faith, at least in words," Bernard wrote of the "Milltown" Jews who attended Unitarian services in ever-increasing numbers, "while they drank at the stimulating fountain of New England's transmutation of Christianity."[43]

At home, a friend of her father named Diamond brought alive the rationalist strain of Reform Judaism without the unwanted snobbery of the West Side Temple. A disciple of Voltaire and an avowed agnostic, he proclaimed untiringly how happy and free he was. He also, as it happened, had a house in the best part of town, complete with a study lined floor to ceiling with books. David Ravitch told his daughter that Diamond protested too much. No one could be that happy! But the visitor made a definite impression on young Jessie, who later told his story on several occasions. Neither eccentric nor atheist (as David Ravitch believed), Diamond represented those Jews in late 18th century Vienna and elsewhere who had felt the liberating winds of the Enlightenment. To her own daughter, Bernard later told this whole story of Jewish emancipation from stultifying traditions and rituals. [44] "It was eerie," she wrote in an autobiographical account of her encounter with Diamond, "to have even this evanescent contact with the Enlightenment."[45]

Jessie was not long content with South Side Conservative Judaism, nor did she think of joining the Reform Jews of the West Side. But the combination of rationality, affluence, emancipation, and assimilation that Diamond and the Germans represented was not lost on her when, within a few years, she encountered in Auguste Comte, neo-positivism, and Luther Bernard the latest recrudescence of the Enlightenment spirit.

What sort of Jew, then , was young Jessie Bernard after all distinctions are made? The appearance of a biography of Hannah Arendt six decades later[46] returned her again to this question. Arendt's piercing analysis of Jews through history left her in awe. In the presence of Arendt's work, she felt like the child on a Saturday Evening Post cover gazing "fascinated but uncomprehending" at a honeymooning couple in the next railway seat (a fitting image given Bernard's roots in Norman Rockwell's middle America). Particularly interesting was Arendt's distinction between Jewish "parvenus" and "pariahs, " the first trying without success to make it in the gentile world, the second weaving "the strands of their Jewish genius" as Jews into the fabric of European culture. Arendt, of course, was a pariah--indeed, "a pariah for all seasons." But what was Bernard herself?[47]

Striking similarities in their backgrounds, as she saw them, gave the question special point. Although the two never met, they were roughly contemporaries (Arendt was born in 1906). The Königsberg of Hannah's childhood and the Minneapolis of Jessie's, although light-years apart culturally, showed similar patterns of Jewish settlement. As girls, both received weekly religious instruction, but nonetheless became fascinated by the person of Jesus, and troubled by the taunt that their ancestors had murdered Him. Both came under the sway of charismatic university professors--in Arendt's case, the philosopher Martin Heidegger. But differences proved finally more important. Whereas Arendt had lived in one of the city's ghettoes, Jessie had not. Just as Minnesota was not East Prussia culturally, so Bernard never knew the passionate intellectual debates that were a daily part of Arendt's home life. "She had powerful convictions, [and] believed strongly in making judgments," Bernard observed; "my own background had instilled in me just the opposite." German rather than Roumanian, Arendt "was elitist, even snobbish, vis-a-vis East European Jews." And the positivist L.L. Bernard was not, after all, the existentialist Heidegger.

Was Bernard thus a "parvenu"? Somehow this term also did not fit. Although she had sometimes found herself "passing" in gentile company, "smiling foolishly" at anti-Jewish jokes she did not understand, even sticking up for WASPs when everyone else was on the attack, she had never shared the parvenu's fear of being unmasked. Perhaps English needed some equivalent of the Spanish distinction between "estar" and "ser," the first referring to a variable state (wherein one consciously chooses to become "Jewish"), the second to an inherent quality (being a "Jew")--a state of belonging, as Arendt put it, "as a matter of course, beyond dispute or argument." [48] Sammy Davis Jr. and Elizabeth Taylor became Jewish but were not Jews. Jessie Bernard was a Jew, but not Jewish. As she moved into the world beyond high school, however, this distinction was not always easy to maintain.


Looking back, Bernard ascribed her optimistic, trusting, and sometimes naive outlook on life to her special position as third child. Clara had led the way without benefit of an older sister; Sam bore the brunt of the career expectations of parents and teachers; Maurice shouldered the pain that Jessie's marriage later caused their parents. "I was the protected one," she wrote, "the enchanted one, the untested one." [49]

Her future husband, Luther L. Bernard, characteristically, took a different view, as he analyzed her youth years later. Her "dogmatic, self-centered family" had wounded each of their children, Jessie included. Clara almost escaped, since she was born before they "had sufficient security and determination to immolate her." But the others paid double. "I suppose many an old hatred filled Jew said to your parents that they let Clara run wild and that they must get in their work early with Sam," Luther continued. The result in all cases was what he termed a "phantasy complex" born of the inability to accept, or to break totally from, the Jewish reality. "Sam . . .had the phantasy complex the same as you, apparently. But he fell between the two worlds--Jewish and normal--and never entered into either, so he is a stranger to all worlds except the lost and roving world, which lives in a world of fantasy and escape from reality, like yours" (the latter most likely a reference to the fact that Sam in later years had a serious drinking problem, among others). Her parents blamed this brother for his troubles "when they should dress in sackcloth and ashes, like their ancestors, and beat their breasts and say. " 'Oi, oi, oi, what fools and sinners we were. We have utterly ruined one son and may yet ruin a son and a daughter.' "[50]

Sheltered or immolated? Naive or phantasy-prone? Although the truth was somewhere in between, the result was the same so far as the lessons Jessie learned, or rather, did not learn during her youth. In turn-of the century Minneapolis, the problems were there, but she did not yet see them. The trauma of Americanization; generational strife; ethnic and social conflict; anti-Semitism so subtle it sometimes seemed invisible. More than she realized, these issues set her intellectual agenda for years to come. Culture versus environment.[51] Factors determining whether children associate with family or friends, in or out of the neighborhood.[52] Jews in a gentile world, and what she later termed "biculturality." [53] Dating and mating[54]. The role of conflict in society.[55] The nature and future of the family. For the moment, however, at age sixteen and a half, she was off to the University of Minnesota for her freshman year.

To ch. 2

Prepared in HTML by: Robert Bannister ( May differ slightly from published edition. Copyright Rutger Press, 1991. Latest revision 11/20/98. Send comments or suggestions to Robert Bannister Department of History, Swarthmore