Fannie Hurst was the only surviving child of a well-to-do Jewish-American couple of German descent. Her younger sister died of diphtheria at age three. The Hursts were entirely secular though they did experience anti-Semitism. Young Fannie received piano and dancing lessons and briefly attended private school before enrolling at Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating in 1909, she moved to New York City and worked as a waitress, salesperson, and actress. She also combed the city and Ellis Island picking up local color for her writing. Fannie Hurst became a prolific writer despite receiving many rejection letters before the Saturday Evening Post pubished her first story "Power and Horse Power" in 1912. In 1915, she secretly married Jacques Danielson, a pianist; the couple did not live together and the marriage was not announced for five years. Fannie Hurst became one of the most highly paid and widely read novelists of her time. Her 1933 bestseller Imitation of Life was adapted into two films and played a prominent role in American debates about race. Fannie Hurst used her celebrity to promote causes in which she believed. In 1921, she was among the first to join the Lucy Stone League, an organization that fought for the right of women to keep their birth names after marriage. She also was active in New Deal politics, the Urban League, and various Jewish causes. Beginning in 1958, she hosted a television talk show called Showcase. It became controversial when she invited gay men as guests. At her death, among the many bequests in her will were endowments to create chairs in creative writing at two universities.