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Threadbare, the prequel to In the Hands of Women is a historical novel written as a tribute to Jane Rubin's great-grandmother and explores the late Victorian era through a character living among the emerging middle class. 


Jane's great-grandmother, Mathilda (Tillie), emigrated from Germany with her parents in 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War. They passed through Castle Garden in New York City and settled in the northern farms while Central Park was in development. All but lost to history, with scant family folklore, she chose to capture her spirit through the shreds of those remaining stories.

Threadbare recounts the story of an innocent but tenacious young girl who chooses marriage to Abe, a lonely widower, rather than follow her farming community north as urban development transforms rural Harlem. Convinced Abe will help her attend high school on the Lower East Side, she faces a rude awakening to the filth and disease of the tenements. Through the following decades, Tillie turns her energy and intelligence to partnering with Abe as he builds a thriving button business while she and her neighbor Sadie launch a unique garment company. Pushing back against anti-Semitic, Victorian values dominating the time, they acquire wealth only to have life upended by the challenge of their life. 


After an exhaustive search, Jane found Mathilda in a 1900 census record. Woven into the story are the few facts of her life. She died from a woman's disease before her father's birth in 1923. This discovery led to the formation of the Mathilda Fund to raise money for ovarian cancer research. Jane's essay memoir, Almost a Princess, My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor, supports the fund and honors women, like Tillie, were lost to history. During her annual appeal three years ago, she was inspired to give Tillie her own story. 

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Kirkus Reviews


"A striking novel of a changing New York City... the plot is dramatically powerful, and Tillie is a memorably dauntless protagonist." 

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