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

How the world has changed for women An insider's look at women's rights struggle

by James Abraham

March 17, 2002

Newspapers were once the workplace equivalents of locker rooms. From the city editor with the bottle of bourbon and a gun in his desk drawer to the cop reporters, who stood around telling the kind of jokes cops told about women, the newsroom was a male preserve.

But today, seemingly at the speed of sound, the landscape is much different. The first person to read this column is a female editor, who in turn reports to another woman. At the top of the chain, the editor maximus is a woman, as is the Herald-Tribune's boss of bosses.

None of this happened overnight. There's a hidden history of women's advances not only in journalism, but throughout American society. Like all such revolutions, this one has a list of protagonists whose contributions may never be known.

That's why I consider myself fortunate to get a chance to read one account of how we got from there to here, Sonia Pressman Fuentes' "Eat First, You Don't Know What They'll Give You."

Fuentes, who winters in Sarasota, may be well known on the local lecture circuit. Her book reflects the dichotomy between storyteller and history-maker that informs much of her lecture.

For example, she writes of her childhood and personal life with the raconteur's style of a jet age yenta. But in doing so, she almost obscures what is probably the most important part of her book and life -- her contribution to the women's movement.

In a nutshell, reading the book is like finding teeth in the chicken soup.

Fuentes is one of those few folks prescient enough -- in the midst of a historical and historic watershed -- to have understood how pregnant with promise her era was. She came to Washington shortly after President Kennedy launched a commission on women's issues. Out of that grew legislation such as the 1963 Equal Pay Act. The momentum engendered by the women's issues committee also led to a push to legalize protections for women's civil rights.

Fuentes, as a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, became one of the unsung technicians of the fight for women's political and civil rights.

Her role as an insider makes her account of that period particularly informative. Here's an example:

"As originally drafted, Title VII did not prohibit sex discrimination, but on a wintry day in February 1964, 81-year-old Congressman Howard W. Smith introduced an amendment to do so. He was chairman of the House Committee on Rules, which was then preparing to consider the civil rights billナHis motives for doing so were apparently mixed. He was a Virginia segregationist and the principal opponent of the civil rights bill. He may have viewed the amendment as a tactic to delay or forestall the bill's passage."

Regardless of Smith's motives, it's somewhat ironic that the greatest outcry against the affirmative action policies spawned by the bill comes from so-called "angry white males" who worry that women and minorities are squeezing them out of places of privilege.

The next time one of those malcontents looks for a scapegoat, maybe they should go no further than the grave of that certain late congressman from Virginia.

Fuentes' first-hand account of the machinations that made discrimination against women illegal is the high point of the book.

But her discussion of how the times engendered a new paradigm in women's sexual rights also merits careful reading. In her book, she does not credit the political climate for her unconventional choices of mates. Yet, her growing sophistication made her more confident. She began to fix herself up; she wanted to look as good as she felt. The bookish duckling became a swan. A discerning reader can glimpse how an entire generation of women gained the confidence to make spousal and relationship choices once left to mommy, daddy, or an unforgiving society.

Like Victoria Woodhull, that legendary feminist who believed in a woman's right to choose her sexual partners, Fuentes apparently paid little heed to social convention in her love life.

When some looked askance at her choice of a Hispanic, non-Jewish husband, Fuentes ignored the criticism. He made her happy -- for a while. That sort of confidence was part and parcel of the legacy built by the political actions of Fuentes and others, and probably offers yet another reason why the word feminist is anathema among many traditionalists.

The world's better and richer (but probably more confusing to many men) because of the efforts of women such as Fuentes.

That alone is reason to read her book.

James M. Abraham is the Sarasota, Florida, Herald-Tribune's literary columnist.