Fannie Hurst had a very active career that spanned over fifty years. She had written seventeen novels, nine volumes of short stories, three plays, many articles, speaking engagements, a television talk show and collaborated on a number of films.
She was born on October 18, 1889, in Hamilton, Ohio. She was the only child of Rose and Samuel Hurst, who was a successful manufacturer of shoes. Her parents were Bavarian-Jews, who immigrated to the United States in 1860. Fannie Hurst was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, in a "middle-western world of assimilated Jews."
After receiving her A.B. degree from Washington University in St. Louis, in 1909, she went to Columbia University for graduate courses. Despite the objections of her parents, she left for New York in 1910.
She wanted to be a writer and for that she had to study people. She worked as a waitress and as a salesgirl. She also did bit acting roles in the theater, attended night court and studied people on the street.
Hurst was neither a radical or intellectual, but she was preoccupied with many social issues: equal pay for equal work, the right of a woman to retain her name after marriage, relief of the oppressed Jews in Eastern Europe, the social and medical problems of homosexuals, etc.
Her first story, "Ain't Life Wonderful," had been published in Reedy's Weekly, a St. Louis newspaper, while she was attending college. There followed a string of rejections until 1912, when a second story was accepted and she received thirty dollars. Her writing talent was quickly recognized and the Saturday Evening Post wanted all of her future stories. Her novels and stories were eagerly greeted by the publishing world so that by 1925, she and Booth Tarkington were the highest paid writers in the United States.
She became a long-time friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and supported the New Deal and labor. She chaired a national housing commission, 1936-37; the committee on workmen's compensation in 1940, a member of the national advisory committee to the Works Progress Administration, 1940-41; and she was a member of the board of directors of New York Urban League.
Hurst was very active in raising funds for the refugees from Nazi Germany in the 1940s, a staunch supporter of Israel in the 50s, and donated $50,000 to the support of writers. When she died, she left one million dollars to Brandeis and Washington Universities to establish professorships in creative writing.
In 1915, she had secretly married pianist Jacques Danielson and they each had their own residence. When their marriage was revealed in 1920, a New York Times editorial took them to task for having separate residences when there was a housing shortage.
Hurst retaliated by stating that a married woman had the right to retain her own name, her own special life and her own personal liberty. They remained happily married until his death in 1952.
She was very sharp and to the point in vocalizing her views on the rights of women. When Justice Arthur Goldberg declared in 1962, "that it is time that we evaluated Women on merit and fitness for a job," she snapped back, "Time sir! You are a half century too late."
Fannie Hurst died in New York City, on February 23, 1968, at the age of seventy-eight. She left behind her writings to stimulate the mind to the social issues that she had raised.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.