Heirs of Yesterday by Emma Wolf


Originally published in 1900 and set in fin-de-siècle California, Heirs of Yesterday by Emma Wolf (1865–1932) uses a love story to explore topics such as familial loyalty, the conflict between American individualism and ethno-religious heritage, and anti-Semitism in the United States. The introduction, co-authored by Barbara Cantalupo and Lori Harrison-Kahan, includes biographical background on Wolf based on new research and explores key literary, historical, and religious contexts for Heirs of Yesterday. It incorporates background on the rise of Reform Judaism and the late nineteenth-century Jewish community in San Francisco, while also considering Wolf’s relationship to the broader literary movement of realism and to other writers of her time. As Cantalupo and Harrison-Kahan demonstrate, the publication history and reception of Heirs of Yesterday illuminate competing notions of Jewish American identity at the turn of the twentieth century.

Compared to the familiar ghetto tales penned by Yiddish-speaking, Eastern European immigrant writers, Heirs of Yesterday offers a very different narrative about turn-of-the-twentieth-century Jewish life in the United States. The novel’s central characters, physician Philip May and pianist Jean Willard, are not striving immigrants in the process of learning English and becoming American. Instead, they are native-born citizens who live in the middle-class community of San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, where they interact socially and professionally with their gentile peers.

Tailored for students, scholars, and readers of women’s studies, Jewish studies, and American literature and history, this new edition of Heirs of Yesterday highlights the art, historical value, and controversial nature of Wolf’s work.

"This book returns to print a revealing novel by the foremost American Jewish woman novelist of her time, Emma Wolf.  In their remarkable introduction, Cantalupo and Harrison-Kahan disclose new details concerning Wolf’s life and career in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, her creative circle of Jewish women friends, the subtle antisemitism that she experienced, and her complicated  relationship with the men of the Jewish Publication Society.  A wondrous contribution to early American Jewish literature."

--Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University

“A powerful corrective to common historical narratives of Jewish American identity and prevailing conceptions of turn-of-the-century Jewish fiction, this beautiful edition is also a substantial work of scholarly recovery. The thorough and rigorous introduction is a valuable resource, giving Emma Wolf the attention she richly deserves.”

—Marc Dollinger, professor at San Francisco State University and author of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

“Cantalupo and Harrison-Kahan have crafted an impressive volume on the work and import of Emma Wolf. More than just an excellent description of Wolf’s contributions to literature, Heirs of Yesterday shows us the important intersections between gender, region, and history. Only a woman such as Emma Wolf, writing as she did during San Francisco’s early history, can offer us perspectives and understandings all too often missed in scholarly writing. The footnotes themselves offer an extraordinary tutorial for those interested in a nuanced understanding of Wolf’s extraordinary work.”

—Jennifer S. Tuttle, Dorothy M. Healy Professor of Literature and Health, University of New England

The Superwoman and Other Writings by Miriam Michelson

The Superwoman and Other Writings by Miriam Michelson is the first collection of newspaper articles and fiction written by Miriam Michelson (1870–1942), best-selling novelist, revolutionary journalist, and early feminist activist. Editor Lori Harrison-Kahan introduces readers to a writer who broke gender barriers in journalism, covering crime and politics for San Francisco’s top dailies throughout the 1890s, an era that consigned most female reporters to writing about fashion and society events. In the book’s foreword, Joan Michelson—Miriam Michelson’s great-great niece, herself a reporter and advocate for women’s equality and advancement—explains that in these trying political times, we need the reminder of how a "girl reporter" leveraged her fame and notoriety to keep the suffrage movement on the front page of the news.

In her introduction, Harrison-Kahan draws on a variety of archival sources to tell the remarkable story of a brazen, single woman who grew up as the daughter of Jewish immigrants in a Nevada mining town during the Gold Rush. The Superwoman and Other Writings by Miriam Michelson offers a cross-section of Michelson’s eclectic career as a reporter by showcasing a variety of topics she covered, including the treatment of Native Americans, profiles of suffrage leaders such as Susan B. Anthony and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and police corruption. The book also traces Michelson’s evolution from reporter to fiction writer, reprinting stories such as "In the Bishop’s Carriage" (1904), a scandalous picaresque about a female pickpocket; excerpts from the Saturday Evening Post series, "A Yellow Journalist" (1905), based on Michelson’s own experiences as a reporter in the era of Hearst and Pulitzer; and the title novella, The Superwoman, a trailblazing work of feminist utopian fiction that has been unavailable since its publication in The Smart Set in 1912. Readers will see how Michelson’s newspaper work fueled her imagination as a fiction writer and how she adapted narrative techniques from fiction to create a body of journalism that informs, provokes, and entertains, even a century after it was written.

The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary​

During the first half of the twentieth century, American Jews demonstrated a commitment to racial justice as well as an attraction to African American culture. Until now, the debate about whether such black-Jewish encounters thwarted or enabled Jews’ claims to white privilege has focused on men and representations of masculinity while ignoring questions of women and femininity. The White Negress investigates literary and cultural texts by Jewish and African American women, opening new avenues of inquiry that yield more complex stories about Jewishness, African American identity, and the meanings of whiteness.

Lori Harrison-Kahan examines writings by Edna Ferber, Fannie Hurst, and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as the blackface performances of vaudevillian Sophie Tucker and controversies over the musical and film adaptations of Show Boat and Imitation of Life. Moving between literature and popular culture, she illuminates how the dynamics of interethnic exchange have at once produced and undermined the binary of black and white.


The White Negress received an honorable mention for the Society for the Study of American Women Writers Book Award.

"Placing gender squarely at the intersection of black-Jewish cultural imaginings, The White Negress makes a stunning contribution to our understanding of whiteness, race relations, and ethnic literature."

--Joyce Antler, author of You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother

"Skillfully demonstrates how Jewish American women writers employ images of blackness to undermine the division between 'white' and 'black' identity. The figure of the 'White Negress' thus becomes the site for a feminist critique of whiteness."

--Martha J. Cutter, editor of MELUS

"By sustaining attention to women and fidelity to the complex and even contradictory texts, The White Negress constitutes both a convincing critique of scholarship on minstrelsy and a fascinating literary study in its own right."

--American Jewish Archives Journal

"This is a fine book, filled with expertly hewn close readings of a small but important group of female actors and authors, women who made significant contributions to how African Americans and Jews of European descent imagined one another."

--Journal of American History

Selected Articles

Featured Articles: 

“Miriam Michelson’s Yellow Journalism and the Multi-Ethnic West” (with Karen Skinazi). MELUS 40.2 (Summer 2015): 182-207. Winner of the 2016 Don D. Walker Award for best essay in Western American literary studies.

Praise for "Miriam Michelson's Yellow Journalism and the Mult-Ethnic West" from the Don D. Walker Prize Committee: 


"In addition to recovering a best-selling, second-generation Jewish immigrant writer committed to representing multi-ethnic America in ways that resisted dominant conceptions of race and race relations, the authors tell a great story in this article. I particularly appreciate how they situate Michelson in American literary history and Western literary history, with the links to Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Edna Ferber, for example, as the most compelling. It’s fantastic.” 


"This is obviously Western, yet also engaged with the Pacific world, necessarily including considerations of imperialism and Indigeneity, and is vastly multi-ethnic and multi-generic in scope. I particularly was compelled by its incorporation of Jewish literary traditions into the multi-ethnic West in its turn to women's journalistic work in the early 20th century.” 


“Its power lies in its recovery of a little remembered Jewish frontier author and her richly multi-ethnic archive—including representations of Hawaiian, Irish American, Indigenous, and Chinese immigrant peoples. Michelson’s diversity challenges us to keep revising our understanding of cross-racial encounters and multi-ethnic populations of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth century West.”

Other Work:
"The Seeds of #MeToo Started Growing 100 Years Ago" CNN, November 2, 2019

Miriam Michelson, American Jewish Feminist Literary Star of the Western Frontier



This is (Not) What a Jewish Feminist Looks Like: San Francisco Women’s Clubs and Jewish Literary History



“The Girl Reporter in Fact and Fiction: Miriam Michelson’s New Women and Progressive Era Periodical Culture” (with Karen Skinazi). Legacy 34.2 (December 2017): 321-338. 



“'A Grave Experiment’: Emma Wolf’s Marriage Plots and the Deghettoization of American Jewish Fiction.” American Jewish History 101.1 (January 2017): 5-34. [excerpt



“Feminist Collaboration in an Era of Academic Instability” (with Karen Skinazi) in “Forum: Recovering American Women Writers through the Periodical Archive.” Ed. Desiree Henderson. American Periodicals (Spring 2017): 16-20. [excerpt



“Total Immersion: An Interview with Allegra Goodman.” MELUS 37.4 (Winter 2012): 187-202. [excerpt]



“Finding Home: The Future of Jewish American Literary Studies” (with Josh Lambert). Editors’ introduction to special issue of MELUS 37.2 (Summer 2012): 5-18. [preview of the special issue]



“Scholars and Knights: W.E.B. Du Bois, J.E. Spingarn, and the NAACP.” Jewish Social Studies 18.1 (Fall 2011): 63-87. [abstract]


“Inside Inside Man: Spike Lee and Post-9/11 Entertainment.” Cinema Journal 50.1 (Fall 2010): 39-58. Reprinted in The Race and Media Reader. Ed. Gil Rodman. New York: Routledge, 2013. [abstract]


“'Structure Would Equal Meaning’: Blues and Jazz Aesthetics in the Fiction of Nella Larsen.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 28.2 (Fall 2009): 267-289. Excerpts to be reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition of Quicksand by Nella Larsen. [abstract]