It’s 1919 and my Grandma is an Entrepreneur
It’s 1919 and my grandmother, Sarah, is sixteen. This same year, her mother tragically died from an asthma attack at the age of forty-two. Sarah had little money and no prospects in the Polish town in which she lived. So she followed her older sister to Germany, and lived with her and her husband. The newlywed couple had few resources of their own, and Sarah had to figure out how she could support herself.
She decided to sell dry goods, specifically materials for clothing, to individual customers. My mother explains to me, “She carried two suitcases with materials on the trains, going from town to town, door to door. Sometimes a client wanted additional material of a certain pattern and she would try to get it and return to where they lived. At this time women stayed home, tended the house, married and raised families. A woman alone as a traveling salesperson, that was unheard of.”
My grandma was all of four feet nine inches. I can just imagine her as a young girl, determined to proudly support herself, dragging two huge suitcases on the train.
She made a living with only a few years of formal education. My mother shares, “She was a pleasant, friendly person with good math skills. Your grandma did this from 16 until she married my father at the age of 25. All the while she taught herself how to read and write in German, Polish, and Russian. Needless to say I admired her greatly.”
There are many studies that say parental entrepreneurship is one of the strongest determinants of one’s own entrepreneurship. I’ve got to think the pioneering entrepreneurial grandma effect was pretty strong in my and my mother’s case (mom is an entrepreneur too).
And here I am with my sweet Grandma Sarah. She spoke to me in perfect, although heavily accented, English. (She taught herself English when she came to the U.S. in her late forties). I remember her as always reading a newspaper and I thought it was pretty cool that she could speak lots of different languages. I had no idea of her girlpreneur back story until I was older and she had passed away.
And you know what mom? I admire her greatly too.
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