Women’s History Month Spotlight: Maimie Pinzer

Historians in the News
tags: womens history, work, prostitution, social work, settlement houses

Mamie Pinzer, whose last name is a pseudonym, was born into an Eastern European Jewish family in Philadelphia in 1885. The Pinzers fell into financial straits when Maimie’s father was murdered, and her mother struggled to support the family. She forced Maimie to leave school at 13 and devote herself to housework.

Pinzer, resentful of being deprived of an education and not paid for her labor, took a job in a department store. This created even more friction in her family.

“The daughters of immigrants faced suspicion when they went dancing, stayed out late and interacted with men. They wanted to be American girls, while their parents held them to their own European standards of behavior,” said Professor Ruth Rosen, the scholar who edited and compiled Pinzer’s letters into the 1978 book, “The Maimie Papers.” “Maimie struggled with her desire for independence throughout her youth and into adulthood.”

Pinzer also began earning money through sex work with men she met at her job. Her mother had her arrested when she spent the night at a man’s house, and she was sent to a reform school until she was 18.

“Throughout history, prostitution has been a rational economic choice for poor, unskilled women who have no other way to bring money into their households,” said Melissa R. Klapper, professor of history and director of gender studies at Rowan University. “It should be seen as a rational decision made by women in constrained circumstances, not through the lens of moral judgment.”

Read entire article at Jewish Exponent