The Hired Girl Important Characters

Joan Skraggs

Joan is the main character of the book. She is a fourteen year old girl who runs away from home, because her father only sees her as worker, someone to keep his house for him. He does not have any love for her, in fact it is quite the opposite, he despises her because he feels he will always have to provide for her. Joan changes her name to Janet Lovelace and runs away to Baltimore to become a hired girl. She is found on a park bench by Solomon Rosenbach, who takes her to his parent's home where she is given a place to live and a job as a hired girl. The Rosenbachs are Jewish, which is a central theme to the book, because Joan is Catholic. They are also very rich and Joan comes from a very poor family. Joan, now Janet, learns about class differences, religious differences and educational differences while living at the Rosenbach house. She is a child who is starved for love and attention, therefore when David, one of the Rosenbach sons, shows an interest in her, she mistakes it for love. This leads to complications for both her and David. Joan learns to negotiate her way through the 1911 world of class distinctions and religious intolerance. She eventually is allowed to continue her education, which her father had forbidden her, giving her the chance to be the woman she and her mother had always dreamed she would become.


Malka is the housekeeper for the Rosenbachs, she is in her 70's. Joan's main responsibility is to assist Malka in any way possible. Malka is an Orthodox Jew and has suffered at the hands of Christians in her homeland of Germany. She is therefore suspicious of this Catholic girl who has come to work for her. The situation is not helped by the fact that Joan is ignorant of the Jewish way of running a household. Malka is not totally against Joan and is willing to teach her the correct way of cooking and cleaning, if Joan is willing to learn. Malka is upset easily and takes offense easily. She thinks she is being replaced to a certain degree by Joan because Mrs. Rosenbach thinks she is too old to do her work, in a way she is correct, but is an act of kindness and not an act of malice. Mrs. Rosenbach is trying to make Malka's life easier, in an effort to accommodate her advancing age. Malka, under her gruff exterior, is a kind and loving woman who eventually takes Joan under her wing, even growing to love the girl.

Mrs. Rosenbach

Mrs. Rosenbach is a woman who does not suffer fools easily. She also has a kind heart and is willing to give someone a chance to prove themselves. This is exactly what she does with Joan, even though she is suspicious of Joan at first. The girl presents herself to Mrs. Rosenbach as Janet Lovelace an 18 year old girl. Mrs. Rosenbach does not believe that Joan is eighteen, because she is too naive for an eighteen year old. But, she is willing to take her in because she needs someone to help Malka and she feels sorry for Joan. She sees the bruises on Joan's face and believes they were put there by Joan's father. The bruises, are in fact, the result of a kick to the face from a cow. Mrs. Rosenbach, while a Reformed Jew, does not believe her children should associate with non-Jews and only should be friendly with people of their own social class. This causes a problem for Joan, because the Rosenbach's daughter and son both in their own ways try to befriend Joan. Mrs. Rosenbach is very stern with Joan, even threatening to fire her after hearing Joan speaking of her Catholic beliefs to Mrs. Rosenbach's grandson. In the end, when she learns the truth about the fourteen year old Joan, she allows Joan to work for her married daughter and help in her household on the Shabbos.

Mr. Rosenbach

Mr. Rosenbach owns his own department store and is the benevolent head of the household. He tries to do what he thinks is best for his wife and children. He is also able to calm and control the moods of both his wife and Malka. He is taken with Joan's intelligence and desire to learn as much as she can. He does not jump to conclusions quickly, instead he asks questions and learns both sides of an argument before making a decision. For instance, Joan received a letter from her priest in which he apologizes to Joan for remarks he made concerning the Jewish Rosenbach family. Malka read the letter and jumped to the conclusion that Joan was spreading lies about the family to the priest. Mr. Rosenbach calmed Malka down and then asked Joan what she had said to the priest. Joan had actually rebuked the priest for his anti-Semantic remarks. This made Mr. Rosenbach proud of Joan, because she stood up to a priest in order to defend his family. Mr. Rosenbach also hoped one of his sons would one day take over the running of his store, but the boys wanted to pursue different careers. Instead of making them give up their dreams, he allowed them to pursue them, even paying for both boys schooling.

Mirele Rosenbach

Mirele, also called Mimi, is the twelve year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Rosenbach. She is very spoiled and uses her position as the youngest in the family to get her way. She does not pick up after herself and sees no reason why her every whim should not be allowed. Mirele decides Joan should become her friend. Joan is reluctant to be cast in this role, because she suspects Mrs. Rosenbach would not approve of the hired girl being friends with her daughter. Joan is, of course, correct in this assumption, unfortunately, Mirele will not take no for an answer. She takes Joan shopping at Mirele's father's store and talks Joan into buying clothes that she would not normally have purchased. They are seen and Mrs. Rosenbach rebukes both the girls for this outing. Mirele is stubborn though, insisting on continuing the friendship until the day Joan suggests to Mr. Rosenbach that Mirele might need glasses. Mr. Rosenbach could not understand why his daughter did not want to read. Joan tells Mr. Rosenbach she had noticed how Mirele could not see fine details on a piece of jewelry and often complained of headaches. Mirele was furious at the thought of having to wear ugly glasses. She threatened to make Joan pay for her betrayal of their friendship.

David Rosenbach

David is the older Rosenbach son and is studying to be a painter. His father thinks this is just a phase until David takes up his true career as head of the family department store. David, sees painting as his passion and wants to continue his studies in Paris. David also flirts with just about any girl he meets, which causes problems when he flirts with Joan. He starts innocently enough using her as a model for a painting, then one evening he kisses her. Young Joan thinks she is in love with him and the two of them will run away together to Paris. Of course, this is not true and Joan is crushed when she finds out. David is harmless, he just doesn't seem to know how to reign in his desire to be liked by all the girls. This leads to problems for him at home and in New York where he is studying painting.

Solomon Rosenbach

Solomon is the person who finds Joan on a park bench trying to sleep. It is her first night in Baltimore and she doesn't have a room to sleep in, so she decides the bench is as good of place as any to sleep. Solomon is a kind person, who is always bringing home lost animals and so bringing home Joan, is just an extension of his open hearted ways. He is responsible for Joan being employed at the Rosenbach home and for giving her a place to stay. He wants to be a Jewish scholar and marry a Polish girl, who is also Jewish. He is afraid his mother will not approve because the girl is Polish and they are German. He is also afraid of disappointing his father by not wanting to work in the store. Joan through her own mistakes gives him the courage to tell his father the truth. This leads to him marrying the girl he loves and being allowed to follow his dream of becoming a scholar.

Mr. Skraggs

Joan's father is a hard hearted man who is beaten down by life. He feels that he will always be saddled with the responsibility of Joan, because he does not think she will ever marry. He is also a closed minded man who does not believe in the necessity of an education or in religion. His mean manner towards Joan is responsible for her running away from home.

Miss Chandler

Miss Chandler is Joan's school teacher and the person responsible for Joan's love of books and education. She in some ways is a surrogate mother to Joan. She presented Joan with a diary on her last day of school. The book is composed of Joan's diary entries, which gives us a glimpse into her life. Miss Chandler is a kind woman who shows compassion and empathy towards Joan.

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