Several people at the readings I have given from my memoir ‘Woman in a White Coat’ in Westminster Libraries have suggested that I record excerpts. I am therefore appending a reading from Chapter 1 and the corresponding text.
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‘Woman in a White Coat’ is the story of a young Jewish girl brought up in a cold-water tenement in London’s East End. In spite of her disadvantages, she becomes in turn a Harley Street dentist, an entrepreneur, a Consultant Pathologist and Director of a Cancer Research laboratory, as well as a wife and mother of four children.
This excerpt starts in 1931 when Dr Abby J Waterman was born.
Excerpts from ‘Woman in a White Coat‘
My mother said she cried for days when I was born. I wasn’t the son she wanted, the son who would carry on the family name and say the prayer for the dead (the Kadesh) at her funeral. She didn’t need a third daughter.
My elder sister, Rebecca age 12, burst into tears when my mother brought me home from the Jewish Maternity Hospital in Whitechapel. I wasn’t the brother she had been looking forward to and I had a nasty rash on my face.
‘We’re going to call her Abigail,’ my father said.
‘It’s a stupid name,’ Rebecca said.
I screwed up my eyes to cry and the blotches on my face glowed bright red.
‘She’s ugly,’ Hannah, my six-year-old middle sister said. ‘Take her back.’
Thursday October 8th, 1931 was not an auspicious day to be born. The mild sunny weather of September and early October had turned cold and wet, and the Great Depression was at its height. My father was laid off from his work as a journeyman printer, so he tried to get temporary work in the docks but he was turned away. He had to take work where he could, some of the time as a road sweeper.
My family lived at 116 Wentworth Dwellings, a development of cold-water tenements on the corner of Wentworth Street and Goulston Street in what was known as Petticoat Lane. However, Petticoat Lane as such hasn’t existed as a thoroughfare for over 160 years. Originally near pig farms and called Hog’s Lane, it was where the Huguenots living in Spitalfields sold their petticoats and lace. In 1846, during a boundary rearrangement, its name was changed by the prudish Victorians to Middlesex Street. Petticoat Lane now refers only to the street market.
During the week, the shops and stalls were mainly in Wentworth Street and Goulston Street, but, on Sundays, they spread into the surrounding streets.
Our flat was on the third floor, with an entrance in Goulston Street. Many years later I discovered that in the doorway of 119 Wentworth Dwellings, two floors above us, at 2.55 am on Sunday September 30th, 1888, PC Long found a blood-soaked piece of Catherine Eddowes’ apron. Her murderer, thought to be Jack the Ripper, had left her mutilated body in Mitre Street, some distance away. His reign of terror in the East End of London, killing and disembowelling local prostitutes, finally ended three years later, with the murder of Mary Jane Kelly.