Prohibition Wine

A True Story of One Woman’s Daring in Twentieth-Century America

In 1918, Rebecca Goldberg―a Jewish immigrant from the Russian Empire living in rural Wilmington, Massachusetts―lost her husband, Nathan, to a railroad accident, a tragedy that left her alone with six children to raise. To support the family after Nathan’s death, Rebecca continued work she’d done for years: keeping chickens. Once or twice a week, with a suitcase full of fresh eggs in one hand and a child in the other, she delivered her product to relatives and friends in and around Boston.

Then, in 1920―right at the start of Prohibition―one of Rebecca’s customers suggested that she start selling alcoholic beverages in addition to her eggs to add to her meagre income. He would provide his homemade raw alcohol; Rebecca would turn it into something drinkable and sell it to new customers in Wilmington. Desperate to feed her family and keep them together, and determined to make sure her kids would all graduate from high school, Rebecca agreed―making herself a wary participant in the illegal alcohol trade.

Rebecca’s business grew slowly and surreptitiously until 1925, when she was caught and summoned to appear before a judge. Fortunately for her, the chief of police was one of her customers, and when he spoke highly of her character before the court, all charges were dropped. Her case made headline news―and she made history.

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Praise for Prohibition Wine

As a feminist and aging activist, I found Prohibition Wine compelling. This book highlights the importance of giving voice to women’s stories as part of American history. It is relevant today as current generations of immigrant women rise up to the challenges of life. It touches the lives of all of us across multiple generations as we all cope with the pandemic challenges. Prohibition Wine is powerful narrative and inspiring read!

Joan Ditzion, LICSW, co-founder of Our Bodies Ourselves and co-author of all nine editions of Our Bodies, Ourselves; Ourselves And Our Children; and Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause

’Ma knows best,’ Rebecca, an immigrant from Lithuania, tells her sons. These three words sum up the strength and determination with which she supports and steers her family through disastrous challenges and losses to ultimate success. Her powerful story recalls the ingenuity and sheer grit with which many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers–– immigrants, widows, women who birthed and buried countless babies, women who faced poverty and discrimination––held the world together for future generations. A timely reminder.

Hendrika de Vries, author of When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and The Moon Broke Curfew

We first meet a feisty teenaged Rebecca Goldberg fleeing a Cossack and later as a young widow who became a bootlegger. Hats off to Marian Knapp for uncovering this powerful story of her grandmother and sharing it with us!

Pamela S. Nadell, author, Director of the Jewish Studies Program and Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s & Gender History at American University

This is a stunning story of the trials, tribulations, tragedies, and triumphs of a Jewish immigrant, the indefatigable Rebecca Wernick Goldberg, and her survival financed in part by a self-generated clandestine enterprise, making and bootlegging wine in Massachusetts during the days of Prohibition.

Peter I. Rose, author and Sophia Smith Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology, Smith College

‘In many ways, Rebecca Goldberg wasn’t unusual,’ Marian Knapp writes in Prohibition Wine, her brief, poignant biography of her extraordinary grandmother. But of course Rebecca Goldberg was unusual, or there would be no reason to read this engrossing tale. This is a fun, short book proving that, if America isn’t the greatest country ever, it is certainly one of the most quixotic, and interesting. Well done!

Alex Beam, retired columnist for the Boston Globe and author of Broken Glass: Mies Van der Rohe, Edith Farnsworth, and the Fight over a Modernist Masterpiece

Marian Knapp’s reconstruction of Rebecca Goldberg’s life―as a Jewish immigrant, a struggling widow and mother, and a Prohibition-era bootlegger―both confirms and confounds our preconceived notions of the history of American Jewish women. This little book goes deep into the archives, telling a story that heightens our understanding of the past and our empathy for those who lived through it.

Marni Davis, author of Jews and Booze and Associate Professor, Georgia State University

Prohibition Wine: Book launch at Belmont Books

Please join us as author Marian Leah Knapp discusses her grandmother’s story in “Prohibition Wine: A True Story of One Woman’s Daring in Twentieth-Centrury America,” with author Pamela Nadell! This event was originally recorded on May 25th, 2021, and hosted by Belmont Books.

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Questions for Book Clubs

If you want some prompts to use in your book club discussion or just to ponder after you’ve read Prohibition Wine, review Marian’s prepared questions here.

Book club questions

Recommended Reading

Interested in learning more about the topics in Prohibition Wine? Check out Marian’s recommended books about immigration, prohibition, true crime and more.

Recommended Reading