I Came a Stranger y
One Book, One Freeport

One Book, One Freeport 2013: I Came a Stranger by Hilda Satt Polacheck

The Book

Every person who immigrates to the United States has a story to tell. Hilda Satt Polacheck's family emigrated from Poland to Chicago in 1892, bringing their old-world Jewish traditions with them into the Industrial Age.

She recounts her introduction to American life and the Hull-House community, working in a sweatshop, her friendship with Jane Addams, her marriage and life in Milwaukee, her support of civil rights, woman suffrage, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and her experiences as a writer for the WPA. The book begins when Hilda is ten and proceeds through WWI, Prohibition, and the Great Depression, ending with WWII. This is a uniquely personal recounting of many events that shaped the Twentieth Century. Back to top

The Author

Although born in Poland, Hilda Satt Polacheck (1882-1967) spent her life in the Midwest. Throughout her career as a writer and activist, she never forgot the immigrant neighborhoods, the markets, and the scents and sounds of Chicago's West Side. She received help and aid from Hull House, later worked as an employee there, and became a friend of Jane Addams. She wrote the manuscript in the 1950s but was told by the editors she contacted that no one would be interested in reading about an "obscure woman," and it was never published.

After her death, several versions of the unpublished manuscript were found in her home by her family. Her daughter, Dena J. Polacheck Epstein, revised the manuscript, checked all the facts included and published the book in 1989. Back to top

New in 2013

Please donate a can of soup for your neighbors when attending any of the One Book, One Freeport events. A barrel will be available for this purpose. All donations will be given to the Freeport Area Church Cooperative and the Salvation Army.

Soup lines were very common during the Great Depression. In 2013, most people know someone who is struggling and needs help. Let's have a good time and help our friends and neighbors at the same time. Back to top

Calendar of Events

Calendar Additions and Changes

The 2013 Calendar includes a variety of interesting programs designed to capture your interest, including:

Free Book Giveaways of I Came A Stranger by Hilda Satt Polacheck

Book Discussions


A movie, a play, and a re-enactor

A Reception with a folksinger, artwork and re-enactments from the book: The Empty Bowl Reception at the Freeport Art Museum from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on February 16.

Lectures including the annual American History Lecture Series this year featuring topics related to immigration and travel throughout this country. The University of Illinois Extension is also providing a guest lecturer. Talks will be held at the Freeport Public Library and will begin at 7 p.m.

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Book Discussions & Guide

Listing of Book Discussions

Questions for your Book Discussions

  1. In what ways did the author's vivid descriptions of the immigrant neighborhoods, markets, scents and sounds of Chicago's West Side make the setting come alive for you?
  2. Do you think Hilda's immigrant experience was typical or representative of other immigrants at the time?
  3. What do you know about the immigration experience of your own family?
  4. At first publishers told Hilda Polacheck that readers would not be interested in the experiences of an obscure woman. How does this book show the powerful effect a determined woman can have on the social issues of her time?
  5. Identify the motivating factors that led Hilda's father to move his family from an affluent lifestyle in Poland to become nameless, faceless immigrants in Chicago.
  6. What factors combined to cause Hilda to become a social activist in her adult life?
  7. What aspects of the Jewish culture are important to the reader's understanding of the values and character of the Satt and Polacheck families?
  8. How do Hilda's observations and quotations from her time at Hull House portray Jane Addams?
  9. How does the change of settings throughout the book parallel Hilda's growth as an independent and purposeful thinker?
  10. From this memoir, what factors motivated Jane Addams to dedicate her life to the immigrant poor in Chicago and Hull House?
  11. What connection did Jane Addams draw between women's rights, human rights, and freedom of speech in her directing of Hull House programs?
  12. Of Hilda Polacheck's many experiences – both good and bad – identify two that stood out to you and why?
  13. Other than Jane Addams herself, who do you think had the greatest impact on Hilda's life and why?
  14. What role did the arts, music and theater play in the life of Hull House (and Hilda's life)?
  15. What stands out to you as the most challenging situation for the Satt family or for Hilda herself?
  16. When in her life do you sense that Hilda felt the greatest sense of accomplishment or satisfaction?
  17. Identify some of the significant figures of the socialist movement who appear in this book – and the role they played.
  18. How and why did some in the media seem suspicious of Hull House and some of its programs?
  19. Did the Polacheck family's move to Milwaukee signal the end of her life as an activist?
  20. Contrast Hilda's mother's reaction to the loss of her husband versus Hilda's reaction to widowhood.
  21. 21) Some critics have suggested this memoir spends too much time glorifying Jane Addams. Agree or Disagree.
  22. Comment on this quote: "Jane Addams…woke the conscience of America to the debt owed to great masses of people pouring into America." (pg. 96)
  23. How does the tone of this memoir manage to be both mundane and exciting, both humble and satisfied?
  24. Of what value is it – here in 2012 – to read this collection of old memories and experiences?
  25. Are there any other autobiographies you've read that this book reminds you of?
  26. What new understanding or insight did this book give you regarding this period in history?

> Download the Discussion Guide Back to top

Sponsors & Partnering Agencies

One Book, One Freeport is truly a community program. These partnering agencies make it all happen, providing funding or programming assistance.

Any of your tax-free donations would be greatly appreciated to help fund this program. Please forward them to:

One Book, One Freeport
Freeport Public Library
100 E. Douglas Street
Freeport, IL 61032

Freeport Public Library Illinois Humanities Council Freeport Community Foundation Freeport Art Museum Stephenson County Convention and Visitor’s Center O’Mara Moving & Storage The Journal-Standard FSD145 - Freeport School District Stephenson County Historical Society Highland Community College Barnes & Noble FHN Classic Cinemas Lindo Theater University of Illinois Extension Aquin Catholic Schools Winneshiek Playhouse Empty Bowl Project Back to top

About Us

The "One Book" movement began in 1998 when Nancy Pearl, executive director of the Washington Center for the Book in the Seattle Public Library, initiated "If All Seattle Read the Same Book." With funding from the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund and several local sponsors, she invited members of the public to read the novel "The Sweet Hereafter" by Russell Banks, and brought the author to Seattle for three days in December to discuss his book in a series of free public programs.


The mission of the program at the Freeport Public Library is to encourage a shared reading experience, foster a sense of community and promote literacy to people of all ethnic backgrounds, economic levels and ages. Based on similar programs in communities across the country, One Book, One Freeport provides free copies of a selected book and coordinates educational programs and events to explore topics related to the book.

The inaugural program ran in January and February of 2011, featuring the book Playing with the Enemy by Gary Moore. The Freeport community enthusiastically embraced the program. Participation was high and reviews were positive.

This is our second program and will run from January 5 through March 13. The WPA Display at the Freeport Art Museum will be available for public viewing until April 6. Copies of the book have been given to other libraries and schools in Stephenson County, widening the audience.

Committee members for One Book, One Freeport:

Judy Barney
Allen Buus
Jill Collin

Dr. Edward Finch
Nikki Keltner
Sharon Koch

Margaret Larson
Jennifer Priest
Pat Vorwald

For more information, comments or suggestions about One Book, One Freeport, please contact:

Pat Vorwald
Head of Adult Services
Freeport Public Library
100 E. Douglas Street
Freeport, IL 61032
815-233-3000 x221
815-297-8236 fax
pvorwald@freeportpubliclibrary.org Back to top

For the Media

12/28/2012: One Book, One Freeport: Free books and programs for the community Back to top