In a few of my earlier blogs I have shared some of the details of my father’s life as well as that of his father and step-father. So, I’m thinking that now might be the time to delve a little into my mom’s life and her lineage.
Interestingly, just as my parent’s early lives differed dramatically so did their family heritages. Whereas my father descended from European Royalty my mom’s ancestors emerged from lives of great poverty in both Lithuania and the Ukraine.
My great-grandfather, on my mom’s side, arrived in the United States on a ship from Hamburg in 1881 (age 16) along with his father, mother and three brothers. These travels were made possible through the efforts and support of a sympathetic Jewish physician who felt so sorry for my near penniless great-great grandfather, a hunchback tailor, crippled since childhood.
Upon reaching the U.S. the family initially settled in Atlanta before ultimately setting down roots in Chicago where they began to establish themselves as seamstresses and tailors. It did not take my great-grandfather, Abraham Bisno, long to recognize and detest the vast violations of human rights being exercised on a daily basis by the major manufacturers within the garment industry.
At great financial, and personal risk, he soon took it upon himself to serve as the spokesperson, representative and protagonist of the common factory worker of the day. Creating and serving as the first president of the Chicago Cloak Makers’ Union….Abraham became one of the most influential labor leaders in the country and ultimately played a key role in the founding and development of major labor unions in general throughout the United States.
In his spare time, Abraham Bisno was a primary supporter of…. and popular speaker at “Hull House”, one of the first and most influential settlement houses in the United States. He was also one of the first individuals to recognize the potential talents of legendary attorney, Clarence Darrow (of “Scope’s Trial” fame) and in addition to becoming one of Darrow’s primary mentors and friends, he became the driving force behind Darrow’s decision to establish himself as a notable labor lawyer.
As a family man, Abraham and his wife, Sarah raised five children…..four sons and a daughter. One of these sons, Louis, was my grandfather. Of the four boys, my grandfather was the most scientifically oriented and ultimately moved from Chicago to Montclair, New Jersey in the late 1920’s where he became the Chief Food Chemist for the very popular bakery, the Wagner Pie Company.
The other three brothers all became active businessmen focusing most of their efforts on real estate investment. Given the time period in which my great uncles were growing-up in Chicago and the nature of their vocation I was not surprised to learn of their personal relationships with a number of major players within the mob leadership. This first became quite apparent to me at age ten when having an ice –cream soda with one of my aunts at the world-renowned Beverly-Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, she was greeted and given a huge hug by non-other than Mickey Cohen, the successor to the infamous Bugsy Segal!
Well, in spite of it all…my uncles did manage to accomplish some great things. My Uncle Al, for example, was the creator and developer of the one and only “Moulin Rouge” resort in Las Vegas. This resort, by the way, was the very first in Vegas to be racially integrated, one of my uncle’s primary objectives. Eventually forced into bankruptcy by the mob only months after it’s original opening, its short-lived existence actually triggered the integration of ALL casinos on the strip!
Uncle Al also made a name for himself as U.S. Open Chess Champion and as Captain of the U.S. Chess Team on its first visit to the Soviet Union. It was also my Uncle Al, who together with Mrs. Gregor Piatigorsky, helped to establish the successful chess career of the legendary “Bobby Fischer”.
As I mentioned above, my grandfather, Louis, had a sister. Her name was Beatrice. Auntie Bea was an amazing woman and actually was the only one of the siblings that followed her father’s footsteps into the world of labor unions. Serving for years as the private secretary and administrative assistant to Sidney Hillman, President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, she ultimately gained a great deal of notoriety as the author of “Tomorrow’s Bread”, an autobiographical novel describing the early years of the American labor movement and the creation of labor unions within this country.
Lastly…it is my great-grandfather, Abraham Bisno, who is given the primary credit for the enactment of the first major child labor laws in Illinois. Laws which were eventually adopted by numerous additional states.
Hope you will join me for next week’s episode which will focus on my maternal grandmother’s family and a bit about my mom, Rochelle. See you there!