The Real Sarah Kaufman

I discovered Sarah by chance while combing through the hundreds of news clippings that led to my first novel, O’Brien’s Desk. Judge O’Brien O’Donnell was my main interest, but it was impossible to ignore the dark-haired woman who peered out from the dusty pages.

The real Sarah Kaufman

Sarah worked at O’Donnell’s side, as juvenile social worker, domestic counselor and ultimately Head of both the Juvenile and Women’s Probate Court. Over time, some of the articles featured her alone, lauding her many accomplishments, including encouraging the formation of the NAACP, the Traveler’s Aid Society, and numerous other local chapters of progressive organizations. Though unmarried and childless, she saved countless marriages and devoted herself to the welfare of children.

That Sarah was Jewish made her all the more interesting to me. She was the first president of Hadassah in Toledo as well as a key member of the Jewish Federation and other such organizations. I am not conventionally religious. But through Sarah, I grew closer to my cultural heritage. It was special enough that Sarah had been so successful as a woman in that era, but being so as Jew was unique indeed, a tribute to both her talents and O’Donnell’s forward thinking.

I don’t profess to know the source of life’s mysteries, but it certainly seemed that Sarah and I were meant to be. Since the writing of the book, she has received the acknowledgement she deserves, not just as a fictional character, but as a real historical woman. In 2005, she was inducted into the Toledo Civic Hall of Fame, an honor that I am thrilled to say my book precipitated. In one of my visits to Toledo, I laid flowers at her grave, an act of respect and appreciation and one that solidified the bond I feel with her.

Sarah has indeed become a beloved friend, a member of the family, inspiring my creativity, even comforting me when I’m down. If in a way I brought her back to life, giving her new, challenging and often harrowing experiences, she has done the same for me, setting me on my novel writing path, leading me into her complex world, acting as both my sleuth and ever-encouraging muse.