The Reformer’s Apprentice

The Reformer’s Apprentice is a sweet but slight novel about a young Jewish woman’s coming-of-age in late 19th century San Francisco. Frieda Levie is a bright, 17-year-old dedicated to the “Sisters of Service,” a women’s rights and community service organization. When Frieda’s family suddenly loses its money and starts a boarding house in a poor section of San Francisco, Frieda finds herself pulled between social reform and the realities that the world presents. Her two dreams—of falling in love and of “making the world a better place”—clash with her family’s desire to marry her off to one of the residents of their boarding house. The real interest in this novel lies in Rochlin’s depiction of Jewish immigrant life in San Francisco during this period, as well as her portrayal of the early women’s rights movement.