Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

by Adam Hochschild and LIsa Flanagan

From the best-selling author of King Leopold's Ghost and Spain in Our Hearts comes the astonishing but forgotten story of an immigrant sweatshop worker who married an heir to a great American fortune and became one of the most charismatic radical leaders of her time.

  • Format: Audiobook
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358313168
  • ISBN-10: 0358313163
  • Publication Date: 03/03/2020

About the book

From the best-selling author of King Leopold's Ghost and Spain in Our Hearts comes the astonishing but forgotten story of an immigrant sweatshop worker who married an heir to a great American fortune and became one of the most charismatic radical leaders of her time. 


Rose Pastor arrived in New York City in 1903, a Jewish refugee from Russia who had worked in cigar factories since the age of eleven. Two years later, she captured headlines across the globe when she married James Graham Phelps Stokes, scion of one of the legendary 400 families of New York high society. Together, this unusual couple joined the burgeoning Socialist Party and, over the next dozen years, moved among the liveliest group of activists and dreamers this country has ever seen. Their friends and houseguests included Emma Goldman, Big Bill Haywood, Eugene V. Debs, John Reed, Margaret Sanger, Jack London, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Rose stirred audiences to tears and led strikes of restaurant waiters and garment workers. She campaigned alongside the country’s earliest feminists to publicly defy laws against distributing information about birth control, earning her notoriety as “one of the dangerous influences of the country” from President Woodrow Wilson. But in a way no one foresaw, her too-short life would end in the same abject poverty with which it began. 


By a master of narrative nonfiction, Rebel Cinderella unearths the rich, overlooked life of a social justice campaigner who was truly ahead of her time. 


Lisa Flanagan is an award-winning narrator, voice actor, stage director, improviser, opera librettist and classical singer. Her VO work includes animation, video games, and commercials. Lisa has received multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards, Voice Arts Awards, and the 2019 Audie Award winner for Fantasy (Spinning Silver). She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her cats.

About the author
Adam Hochschild

ADAM HOCHSCHILD is the author of ten books. King Leopold's Ghost was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, as was To End All Wars. His Bury the Chains was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and PEN USA Literary Award. He lives in Berkeley, California.


 Tsar and Queen 


Until the First World War redrew national borders in Europe, Augustów, a trading center for cattle and the region’s small, wiry horses, lay in imperial Russia. Today it is in the far northeast corner of Poland. Augustów was a garrison town when Rose—?Raisel in Yiddish—Wieslander was born there in 1879. “I slipped into the world,” she would later claim, “while my mother was on her knees, scrubbing the floor.” One of her earliest memories was of the clatter of iron horseshoes on cobblestones as the tsar’s cavalry swept across the town’s wide market square. “One voice, ringing steel, commands. Men and horses swing and whisk and turn and gallop, stop suddenly, race, and disappear with a cra-kerra! Kerreka-Kerreka! ” 


Throughout the sprawling Russian Empire, there were often more troops in places with restive populations that were not ethnically Russian. In Augustów, that meant Poles and Jews. The latter had long been the officially sanctioned scapegoats for all the ills of the creaky realm of the Romanovs, with its corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy. Famine deaths? Jewish grain dealers hoarding all the wheat. Debt? Jewish moneylenders. Disease? Spread by the Jews, of course. Defeats on the battlefield? The Jews were spying for the enemy. 


Though they often prospered in business, Russia’s Jews faced almost insuperable barriers to obtaining a university education or a government job. Only one of the empire’s five million Jewish citizens, for example, managed to become an army officer. With rare exceptions, Jews were restricted to the Pale of Settlement, a swath of territory spreading mostly across parts of what today is Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. And even there, they were banned from certain districts and cities without special permission. 


Augustów lay in a region of lakes, rivers, and a long canal. On these waters Rose’s grandfather, known as Berl the Fisherman, plied his trade. She remembered his “thinly-bearded rugged face, with its high cheek-bones, generous mouth, and kindly grey eyes.” He lived near a public well in a hut with a thatched roof, which held the traditional large Russian tiled oven used for both cooking and heating. “Some of my earliest recollections,” Rose wrote, “are of a boat and oars and a wide expanse of shining water.” She recalled her grandfather fishing from the boat with nets, women dressed in soft white muslin laughing as they bathed and washed their sheets in a river, and more women chatting as they rolled loaves of dough at a bakery. In the town’s synagogue, there was “sunlight streaming in through a tall, high window, and a bird flying in the rafters.” When her grandmother died in a typhus epidemic, her body was laid out on the dirt floor of Berl’s hut, under a Persian shawl that had once been a wedding gift. 


Despite those kindly grey eyes, Berl seems to have been a tyrant to his family of six children. He rudely broke up a romance between his daughter Hindl and a young Pole, forcing her instead to marry a Jewish bootmaker, a widower with a small child. The 17-year-old Hindl resisted ?— ?dirtying her face and dress when the bootmaker came courting, and fleeing to her father’s hut when it was time to stand under the huppah, the wedding canopy, already surrounded by waiting guests. Berl slapped her face and dragged her to the ceremony ?— ?or so Rose heard. It was this loveless union that produced Rose. Before long, the bootmaker departed for America, leaving behind his resentful wife, their new daughter, and the small son from his previous marriage. From New York, he finally agreed to a divorce. 


Above the bed where Rose’s beloved grandmother died hung the only piece of artwork in the hut, a portrait of Tsar Alexander II. He was the reformer tsar, the emperor renowned for liberating Russia’s serfs, millions of peasants who had been living in a state akin to slavery. Making a few additional cautious moves to modernize his country, he had shown considerably more tolerance for Jews than his predecessors, ending some anti-Semitic measures including the harshest, a decree that sent tens of thousands of Jewish boys away for 25 years of military service. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli called him “the kindliest prince who has ever ruled Russia.” The Pale of Settlement and most other restrictions on Jews, however, remained in place. 


In 1881, the year Rose turned two, on the very day he put his signature to a new set of reforms, Alexander was being driven along the embankment of a canal in St. Petersburg, the capital, when a revolutionary threw a bomb at him. The tsar was not harmed, but the bomb killed or wounded several Cossack guards and bystanders.


“Although the stuff of fairy tale—penniless immigrant factory worker marries old-money millionaire, then uses her fortune and influence to fight for the laboring classes—the story Adam Hochschild tells in Rebel Cinderella is as taut and true as a well-tuned violin.  Rose Pastor Stokes comes alive as a woman of passionate conviction and rare imaginative power, restored by Hochschild to her rightful place in the history of America’s rise to world prominence in the first decades of the twentieth century.” 

––Megan Marshall, author of Elizabeth Bishop 


“Through the lens of a remarkable marriage, Adam Hochschild draws a vivid portrait of the Gilded Age – of immigrants, sweatshops, tenements, strikes, enclaves of patrician privilege, and a ‘citadel of socialism’ on a private island.  At the center of it all is Rose, whose extraordinary story ends as anything but a fairy tale.” 

––Jean Strouse, author of Morgan: American Financier 


“Adam Hochschild recounts the incredible story of Rose Pastor Stokes, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who toiled in a cigar factory, met and married a rich socialite, and became an infamous socialist firebrand. The book is chock-full of fascinating characters and stories, with Stokes and her comrades often recounting their dramatic lives in their own words." 

––Tyler Anbinder, author of City of Dreams 


“Lucidly written and painstakingly researched, this is a joy to read, cementing Pastor in her rightful place with other progressive figures of the time.” 

––Library Journal, starred review 


“Hochschild’s captivating and fast-paced biography is a true delight and an excellent addition to women’s history shelves.” 



“Polished and accessible . . . few histories capture the era’s combustible mix of idealism and inequality better.” 

––Publishers Weekly 


 “Adam Hochschild writes movingly about an unlikely pair who also served as a potent symbol . . . Hochschild is a superb writer who makes light work of heavy subjects . . . Where information is scant or nonexistent, he deploys elegant workarounds that evoke a vivid sense of time and place . . . Hochschild’s book shows us what a radical movement looked like from the inside, with all of its high-flown idealism and personal intrigues. Whatever protections we take for granted once seemed unfathomable before they became real.” 

––New York Times 


"This vibrant biography portrays the riveting charisma of the socialist activist Rose Pastor Stokes . . . Hochschild captures the improbability and idealism of both Pastor Stokes and her era, a time when it seemed that stark divisions of class, race, and gender might be erased, in an instant, by love." 

––The New Yorker 


“Adam Hochschild is among the most readable of historians . . . Hochschild has done a brilliant job of bringing [the Stokes’ marriage] to life and in doing so, illuminating the complex social and economic history of a generation whose rabble-rousers and dreamers bequeathed us such reforms as Social Security, Medicare, child labor laws and the eight-hour day.” 

––Associated Press 


“A thrilling book. Adam Hochschild is a wonderful writer with a social conscience.” 

––Bill Goldstein, Weekend Today in New York, WNBC-TV 


"Hochschild's historical account is both gripping and occasionally heartbreaking." 

––Shelf Awareness for Readers 


"A solidly researched and impressive biography." 

––Los Angeles Review of Books 


"A compelling read about a fascinating time in American history, one that bears some resemblance to today." 

––Minneapolis Star-Tribune