The Russ Sisters - Hattie Russ Gold (1913-2014), Ida Russ Schwartz (1915-2001), Anne Russ Federman (1922-)
Entrepreneurs, Institution, "Sturgeon Queens"
Joel Russ, an Eastern European immigrant who arrived in America in 1907, started the business from a pushcart to cater to the throngs of Jewish immigrants settling in the Lower East Side of New York. He began by schlepping Polish Mushrooms on his shoulders to support his family, and save enough money to purchase a pushcart. In the true spirit that defines the early 20th Century immigrants, Joel Russ soon was able to buy a pushcart, and expanded his operation and sold pickled herring and Polish Mushrooms. Then in 1914, Joel Russ opened J Russ International Appetizers, a storefront around the corner from the current location, thus the beginning of what would become the landmark Russ and Daughters is today.
In 1920, Joel Russ opened his store at the current location of 179 East Houston Street, after a few years of operating out of the original storefront around the corner. In 1933, he renamed the business "Russ and Daughters" after making his three daughters, Hattie, Ida and Anne, partners in the store. According to Hattie, they had all worked in the store "since they were 8 years old" on weekends. They would fish out the herring fillets from the pickle barrels and learn the importance of hard work and dedication. Once each one of them finished high school, they all worked full-time, and so it was only natural that they continue to work in the business that had provided for them since they were born.
Historically, businesses typically took on the name "and sons", but since Joel Russ only had daughters, the unique way in which this small family business began took on a whole new meaning. Moreover, Joel Russ never closed the store, working seven days a week. However, Joel Russ was not a 'feminist' ahead of his time. For him, getting his daughters into the business was not a matter of persuasion, but a matter of parnosa, or surviving to make a business. Vi nemptmen parnosawas what Joel Russ famously used to say, meaning 'From where do we take our living.'
“Everything else was ‘Shmuel & Sons,’” says Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in The Sturgeon Queens (the 2014 independent film from director Julie Cohen), recalling how struck she was by the store’s name as a girl. “Even before I heard the word ‘feminist,’ it made me happy to see that this was an enterprise where the daughters counted just like sons counted. That was most uncommon in those days.”
References from/Credits to:
New Republic, "The World's Greatest Feminist Fishmonger," Rebecca Traister
Tablet Mag, "New Film Tells the Story of Russ & Daughters," Leah Koenig
The New York Times, "Ida Russ Schwaartz, A Purveyor of Delicacies," Mimi Sheraton
The Women Who Made New York, Julie Scelfo, Seal Press, 2016