Bella Spewak began life in Transylvania in 1899, the love child of a teenage peasant and a man who disappeared before Bella was born. Three years later, she and her mother joined the flood of Eastern European Jews emigrating to New York City. In her memoir, Streets, which she wrote in her twenties but never published, Spewak recalls growing up in the slums of the Lower East Side. Through her eyes, we see the deprivation she and her mother had to endure: the abysmal housing, the unsanitary living conditions, the inadequate health care, the demeaning, exhausting work in sweatshops and wealthier homes, and the inevitable predatory employers happy to take advantage of a young single mother. Written in the stark, naturalistic prose of a born journalist, the book provides a startling, clear-eyed look at the difficult life millions endured in what sentimentalists call a simpler, happier time in America.
from the introduction