The Winthrop Agreement

  • Review
By – February 12, 2024

Set in New York City in the Gild­ed Age, this detailed his­tor­i­cal fic­tion book fol­lows Mimi Mil­man, the daugh­ter of immi­grant Rivkah Mil­manovitch from Mar­i­jam­pole. Rivkah is new­ly mar­ried and preg­nant when she arrives at a ten­e­ment on Eldridge Street on the Low­er East Side. She search­es for her hus­band, Jacob, who arrived a month ear­li­er. (It was not unusu­al for hus­bands to dis­ap­pear when they arrived in New York, unable to face their respon­si­bil­i­ties.) A woman named Lot­tie was once in the same posi­tion, so she takes Rivkah in. She becomes a lov­ing, life­long friend to both Rivkah and Mimi.

Mimi and her moth­er work hard sewing in a fac­to­ry under ter­ri­ble con­di­tions. Mimi dreams con­stant­ly of fine fab­rics and pat­terns and cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful dress­es. Young and naive, she falls into the clutch­es of an extreme­ly wealthy slum­lord named Fred­er­ick Winthrop. Here, the sto­ry takes a goth­ic turn, involv­ing Mimi’s rela­tion­ship with the Winthrop fam­i­ly. She makes a secret deal with Frederick’s old­er, gen­tle­man­ly broth­ers, who are kind and gen­er­ous and move her uptown for her safe­ty and a new lease on life. 

Mimi is ambi­tious and focused, fol­low­ing her dreams with her unique tal­ent and the finan­cial help the Winthrops pro­vide. She advances from mak­ing per­fect alter­ations to becom­ing a cou­ture dress­mak­er, all the while remain­ing keen­ly aware of the dan­gers she might face.

This book describes the extreme pover­ty and hor­ri­ble con­di­tions of down­town life for the immi­grant women at work and at home. Some stay stuck in their rut while oth­ers advance. We read about Mim’s rela­tion­ships with suit­ors, as well as the spread of Span­ish flu. We also learn about the lav­ish lifestyle of the wealthy, with scenes tak­ing place at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera, and the inter­est­ing down­town Green­wich Vil­lage artists who are mov­ing toward modernity.

The Winthrop Agree­ment is a worth­while read about a fas­ci­nat­ing peri­od in New York City.

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams, mom, grand­mom, avid read­er, some­time writer, born in Havana, raised in Brook­lyn, resid­ing in Long Beach on Long Island. Long­time for­mer One Region One Book chair and JBC liai­son for Nas­sau Hadas­sah, cur­rent­ly pre­sent­ing Inci­dent at San Miguel with author AJ Sidran­sky who wrote the his­tor­i­cal fic­tion based on her Cuban Jew­ish refugee family’s expe­ri­ences dur­ing the rev­o­lu­tion. Flu­ent in Span­ish and Hebrew, cer­ti­fied hatha yoga instructor.

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