Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to the Hungarian Jewish immigrant Jacob Charles Ferber and his American-born Jewish wife, Julia Neumann. Jacob Ferber was a storekeeper whose business failures caused the family to move frequently. As a result, Ferber spent her childhood in various towns and in Chicago. She lived in Ottumwa, Iowa, from 1890 to 1897 and then for several years in Appleton, Wisconsin. In Ottumwa, Ferber was exposed to anti-Semitism, which may have helped produce the strong opposition to bigotry seen in her fiction. Also in this period, her father began to go blind, and her mother took over his business and became the power in the family.
Ferber’s early ambition was to become an actress, and she performed in plays in high school. She would have liked to attend the Northwestern University School of Elocution, but her family did not have the money to send her there. She pursued a career in journalism instead, first working for the Appleton Daily Crescent and then for the Milwaukee Journal. An illness forced her to leave Milwaukee, her job, and journalism, and she turned to writing fiction, selling the short story “The Homely Heroine” to Everybody’s Magazine in 1910. She sold a number of stories to magazines over the following several years, including a popular series about an independent saleswoman named Emma McChesney. Three volumes of McChesney stories appeared in book form between 1913 and...
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