Maimie's Name

Maimie in 1909

"I wish I was born a man. I know what I'd do in the morning. I'd button up my coat and jump on the tail of a train and steal a ride to wherever it was going -- and when I'd get there, I'd stop to consider 'What's next?'"

--Maimie Pinzer


     So, what's a nice Jewish girl like Maimie doing in a place like this?  The House of Rhetoric does not discriminate based on race, religion, gender or time period!  Besides, she certainly can't go home to her mother in Philadelphia; in those days Jewish families families sat shiva for daughters who became call girls.  Maimie, however, has had the last word. Her rhetoric has outlived them all.
     Maimie Pinzer was born into a well off Jewish family in Philadelphia. She was intelligent, educated, multilingual -- in short, not trained for anything that resembled making a living.  This deficiency was not a problem until she turned twelve. At this time, her father was murdered, and left the family without an income.  Mrs. Pinzer pulled all the children out of school and put them to work.   Maimie drifted into the habit of making side money through "dates."  By the age of thirteen she was a full time call girl.  At this point, her mother called the vice squad and had her arrested for prostitution. Their relationship was more than a little strained ever after.
     At first, Maimie seemed destined for the stereotypical prostitute's end. She picked up syphilis. She got hooked on morphine.  Just when things were bleakest, she wandered into a shelter and sought help. It was her lucky day.  Various "good" women volunteered to mentor women from the shelter, and, for once, the woman on duty that day was a real mentor (not the usual thinly disguised proselytizer for Christianity).  The two became friends, and thus began a twelve year period of letter writing. Maimie's letters were wonderful  -- she skillfully blended realistic descriptions of her life with the emotional appeals needed to create identification. They were so good that her friend tried to get them published. They were so good that editors would not publish them -- because no way could a prostitute have written them.  They have been edited and published now, so you have no excuse not to read them.
    You mustn't think Maimie turned her life around immediately. Her letters chronicle her slips back into prostitution, her nightmare secretarial jobs, her attempts to open a woman's shelter and her eventual marriage over a twelve year period.  After she married, the letters trickled to a stop. It is hoped this is because she found him to be a better audience.  The last letter was written in 1922. The photo of Maimie and friend in 1909 is owned by Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College.

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