September 21, 2018

Harriet Rochlin, noted historian, 92

rochelinHarriet Rochlin, a noted writer and historian sometimes called the “Mother of Western Jewish History,” died Feb. 6 at her home in Westwood. She was 92.

The youngest of three children, she was born Nov. 4, 1924, and raised in the diverse East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. During the first 20 years of her life, she was immersed in its foods, languages and multicultural social character.

Without a scholarship or financial assistance from her parents, she left home at age 20 and put herself through college at UC Berkeley, earning a bachelor’s degree in Hispanic Studies. It was there she met Fred Rochlin, her future husband.

Between raising their four children, Harriet Rochlin began a career as a journalist and novelist. She spoke four languages: Spanish, Portuguese, English and Yiddish.

In the early 1960s, inspired by the emerging ethnic history movement, she delved into her past as a woman, Jew and Westerner. Her pursuit soon launched a quest for Jewish roots in the Spanish, Mexican and American West, and ultimately resulted in “Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West,” a landmark social history co-authored with Fred, first published in 1984, reprinted more than a dozen times and frequently used as source material, notably by David Milch in creating his HBO series “Deadwood.”

Rochlin next wrote the fictional “Desert Dwellers Trilogy”: “The Reformer’s Apprentice: A Novel of Old San Francisco,” “The First Lady of Dos Cacahuates” and “On Her Way Home.”

She also amassed two Western Jewish collections — one historical, the other photographic — both now housed at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library.

She then instituted the first comprehensive guide to Western Jewish historical societies, museums and archives, The Rochlin Guide, which can be found online at rochlin-roots-west.com. She was 90 when she completed her final book, “A Mixed Chorus: Jewish Women in the American West, 1849 to 1924.”

Rochlin is survived by daughters Judith (Mitch Fink), Davida (Fred Marcus) and Margy Rochlin (Robert Abele); son Michael J. Rochlin; three grandchildren; and sister Charlotte Ginne.

She was predeceased by husband Fred in 2002. They were married for 55 years.

Donations in Harriet’s memory can be made to the Harriet Rochlin Memorial Education Scholarship at lightbringerproject.org. The annual scholarship will benefit a graduating senior from her alma mater, Roosevelt High School.