Linda Kass’s latest novel, “Bessie,” delves into the life of Bess Myerson, the first and only Jewish Miss America of 1945, using her story to confront issues of antisemitism. Kass’s interest in Myerson was sparked by the unique timing of her win, which occurred just six days after World War II ended. Intrigued by this historical context, Kass immersed herself in research about Myerson’s life, as well as the culture of mid-20th-century beauty pageants and the working-class Jewish community of the Bronx, where Myerson grew up.
“Bessie” is a rich historical novel that explores the complexities of Myerson’s life, including her role as an advocate against antisemitism and racial prejudice, her career with the Anti-Defamation League, and the gender expectations of her time. Myerson, who originally aspired to be a concert pianist, grappled with the conflicting desires of pursuing her musical dreams and settling into the roles of wife and mother.
Kass’s novel vividly portrays the Bronx community of Sholem Aleichem Cooperative Apartments, where Myerson was raised, and highlights the social and economic challenges she faced.
Re-reported from the article originally published in The Ms magazine