Sonia Pressman Fuentes

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Excerpts from Eat First -- You Don't Know What They'll Give You

  • Jewish Geography -- this story was first published in October 1998 in Der Bay, the newsletter of the International Association of Yiddish Clubs.  Here, both the English version and a version in transliterated Yiddish are available in pdf format.
  • Return to Germany -- the story of Sonia’s return to Germany in 1978 to speak about the women’s rights revolution in the US for the then-US Information Agency (USIA), published on the website of The Jewish Writing Project on Jan. 19, 2009. That story is also contained in the anthology, Marking Humanity, Stories Poems, & Essays by Holocaust Survivors, edited by Shlomit Kriger (Aug. 23, 2010, pp. 226-234).
  • If You Speak His Language --This piece was published in Tzum Punkt (Nov.-Dec. 1999, Vol. 1, No. 2)  p. 5, the newsletter of Yiddish of Greater Washington.
  • Thai Silk -- This piece was first published in the Common Law Lawyer and then on the websites of,, and (September 2001).
  • Florida and Beyond -- This excerpt appeared on May 25, 2001, in the Story Lady e-newsletter and on its website, the Jewish Frontier, the Jewish Internet magazine, the Jewish Magazine online, the e-zine, Home-Based Working Moms, and the Writer Online. Terry Boothman, the editor of the Writer Online, had this to say about it in the January 14, 2003, issue that carried the story:

    Everyone's life is interesting, right? Sure. So, everyone should write a memoir, right? Yeah, why not.. And everyone should publish a memoir, right? Good Lord, no. Because not everyone knows how to write a publishable memoir, which means a memoir that lots of other people will enjoy reading. Sonia Pressman Fuentes, one of the founders of the National Organization for Women, published just such a memoir--"Eat First--You Don't Know What They'll Give You, The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter." Now, in How I Got My Mink Stole, excerpted from that memoir, you can get a glimpse of exactly how good memoirs are written.

  • Weinberg's Glasses - the story of what happened when Sonia's father found a pair of eyeglasses.
  • Sex Maniac -- the story of the Second Wave of the women's movement and Fuentes' role in it.  
  • Harry Golden and "the Coat" -- Sonia Fuentes sues Harry Golden, published in Jewish Currents, June 16, 1997. 
  • How I Got My Mink Stole -- a lengthy struggle with an unexpected denouement.
  • Eating Out -- published in the April 11, 2001, issue of Writer's Bloc Online, the e-newsletter of the National Writers Union.
  • Graduating With My Class -- Fuentes' desire to graduate with her high school class has a significant consequence.  Published originally in the Catskill/Hudson Jewish Star 6.2 (June 1996) 17.1 and then on Harry Leichter's website.
  • Mother and the Night School -- published in the December 2001, issue of Kolot, A World of Jewish Voices. 
  • Catskills Stories -- Some of Fuentes' stories about her experiences in the Catskill Mountains of New York State may be found at the Museum of Family History.

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cover Eat First -- You Don't Know What They'll Give You,  The Adventures of an Immigrant Family and Their Feminist Daughter by Sonia Pressman Fuentes

Book Ordering Information

In the United States, EAT FIRST can be ordered in paperback and hardback from,, and  The book can be ordered from in the UK and in Canada. EAT FIRST is also available for Kindle which includes free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet.

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Eat First

Eat FirstBook Review

Unions Today, July 2001

by Corrine Streich

Sonia Pressman Fuentes, a pioneer of the second wave of the American women's movement, has written an unorthodox memoir in Eat First -- You Don't Know What They'll Give You.

The book is about her roots in Yiddish Eastern Europe, her family's exodus from Nazi Germany to the US, and how the pampered daughter of eccentric and overly protective parents became the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).  She was also one of the founders of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the highest-paid woman in the headquarters of two multinational corporations, and an international speaker on women's rights for the US Information Agency.

Her story begins with the wedding of her parents in Piltz, in Poland.  The young Pressmans left Poland for Berlin where her father opened a men's clothing story which flourished.

In the most poignant chapter, Fuentes relates how her brother saved the family from the Holocaust.  On his 18th birthday he started a diary of the political developments in Berlin.  As atrocities against Jews escalated, he persuaded his father to leave everything he'd worked for and escape with his family to the US.

Fuentes was four when the family emigrated.  "I was the bespectacled, asthmatic child of older, immigrant parents in a new country, and learned to cope with life by using humor," she writes.

Her book is long on anecdotes and short on organisation and chronology - with good reason.  The family moved often because of her father's many business ventures.  Fuentes went to 10 schools before entering Cornell University, against her parents' wishes.  When she told her parents she was accepted at law school, they believed "that would put the final nail in the coffin of my spinsterhood".  She proved them wrong - she married Roberto Fuentes when she was 42 and had her first child a year-and-a half later.

Her years after law school were productive.  In 1957, she got her first job as a law clerk in the Office of Alien Property in the US Department of Justice.  When the Office was shut down, she was hired in the Contempt, Legal Advice and Services branch of the National Labor Relations Board.  The NLRB acts on allegations for unfair labour practices by either unions or employers.

Fuentes left the NLRB after six years for a much more challenging position with the EEOC.  The Commission had been established to implement a new law.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on age, race, colour, religion, and national origin by employers, labour unions and employment agencies.

The members of the Commission never thought they'd be allowed to include sex discrimination, but Congressman Howard W Smith, principal opponent of the bill, introduced the amendment to add it.  Fuentes writes, "He may have viewed the amendment as a tactic to delay or forestall the bill's passage.  He may have favored it because he didn't want African Americans achieving rights at the expense of white women.  In any event, the bill became law.  In the EEOC's first fiscal year, 37% of the complaints alleged sex discrimination, and these complaints raised a host of new issues."

The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published the year before Title VII became law, and the suddenly famous author was interviewing EEOC officials and staff for a second book.  She met Fuentes and asked her to talk about the problems and conflicts at the Commission, but Fuentes felt she couldn't speak publicly about these issues.

However, when Friedan visited Fuentes a second time, she found her frustrated at the Commission's failure to implement the law for women despite a high percentage of cases.  Fuentes said that the country needed an organisation to fight for women in the same way that the NAACP fought for African Americans.

The result of their discussion was the founding of NOW.  Fuentes dedicates this chapter to the women who have struggled for women's rights with the words of an African American woman who Martin Luther King was fond of quoting:

"We ain't what we oughta be,
We ain't what we wanna be,
We ain't what we gonna be,
But, thank God, we ain't what we was."

This review first appeared in Unions Today, July 2001.