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Antler, Joyce. The Journey Home: Jewish Women and the American Century. New York: Free Press, 1997. 410 p.
Recounts the lives of more than fifty high achievers involved in major public issues of the twentieth century: immigration, social reform, political radicalism, Zionism, emergence of popular culture, professionalism, internationalism, Cold War culture and politics, feminism, and postfeminism. Antler weaves a social history from the fabric of women’s lives, From iconoclastic American Jewess editor Rosa Sonneschein to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who accepted nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court by saying she hoped to be all her mother would have been had she been born in an age when women could aspire and daughters were cherished as much as sons. Each of these accomplished writers, activists, and entertainers had to confront the Jewish, American, and female aspects of her identity, and they arrived at different resolutions. Antler asserts that Jewish feminism has made it possible for many Jewish women to be both assertively Jewish and imbued with a feminist consciousness. This is a lively cross-over book that can be read and enjoyed both by scholars and general readers.
Balka, Christie and Andy Rose, eds. Twice Blessed: On Being Lesbian, Gay, and Jewish. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989. 305 p.
Part Two, “Reclaiming Our History,” includes an oral history by Jeffrey Shandler of Gerry Faier, a great-grandmother who was involved with the gay liberation movement of the 1970s and at the time of the interview was active with SAGE (Senior Action in a Gay Environment). The interview reveals her personal devotion to her Jewish cultural heritage. Other essays in this section cover new ways to approach traditional Jewish texts and the absence of lesbian and gay experience from recorded Jewish history.
Baskin, Judith R., ed. Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994. 382 p.
A companion to Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (1991), also edited by Baskin, this volume explores the lives of women in different times and places through literature. Many deal with American Jewish writers. Norma Fain Pratt provides an abridged and somewhat altered version of her article originally published in American Jewish History and reprinted in Decades of Discontent recovering the names and work of over fifty Yiddish women writers. The meagre number of poets and poems by women in the canonical anthology Finf Hundert Yor Yidishe Poezye [Five Hundred Years of Yiddish Poetry], by M. Bassin, 1917 are compared by Kathryn Hellerstein to the seventy poets and range of poetry found in Yidishe Dikhterins: Antologye [Yiddish Women Poets: An Anthology], by Ezra Korman, 1928. Janet Burstein examines three women’s writings from the 1920s (Rebekah Kohut’s autobiography My Portion , Elizabeth G. Stern’s fictive memoir I am a Woman — and a Jew , and Emanie Sach’s novel Red Damask  ) that bring the experience of the mother to center stage, and Laura Wexler demonstrates why Anzia Yezierska deserves to be better known. Sarah Blacher Cohen calls Cynthia Ozick a “prophet of parochialism,” while Carole S. Kessner probes the zealous identification with the Jewish people exhibited by Emma Lazarus and her spiritual daughter, Marie Syrkin, with reference to Ozick as well. Sara Horowitz respectfully considers the meaning of memory and testimony in the memoirs and oral histories of women Holocaust survivors, many of whom settled in America. These essays, while fully grounded in feminist theory, literary criticism, and Jewish sensibilities, are written to be read by anyone interested in understanding the writers and writing of Women of the Word.
Baum, Charlotte, Paula Hyman, and Sonya Michel. The Jewish Woman in America. New York: Dial Press, 1976. 290 p.
Groundbreaking study that made many American Jewish women aware of their rich history for the first time, but received little attention from the academic Jewish studies community ostensibly because it was aimed at a popular audience and lacked footnotes. It does makes use of memoirs, contemporary newspapers and reports, archival material, interviews, and especially literary sources, all of which are listed in an extensive bibliography. Successive chapters examine the traditional Jewish attitude towards women, assimilationist German Jewish immigrants, robust working women of the East European migration and the life they made in America, union activism, the complex and ambiguous relationship between “Uptown” German Jewish women and the “Downtown” Eastern Europeans, and the evolving image of Jewish women in literature, including the shift from veneration of the Yiddishe Mame to vituperation for the overbearing Jewish mother and her materialistic “Jewish American Princess” daughter. Concludes that no single set of characteristics does justice to American Jewish women, who should draw upon the strength of the heritage of Jewish womanhood to fight stereotypes and face modern challenges.
Burstein, Janet Handler. Writing Mothers, Writing Daughters: Tracing the Maternal in Stories by American Jewish Women. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996. 205 p.
Analyzes successive generations of twentieth-century authors writing in English on the mother-daughter theme. In her first four chapters Burstein focuses on psychological dimensions; in the fifth and final chapter her emphasis shifts to the influence of the history of Jewish women’s political activism on the daughters. Chapters one and two are daughter- centered. In the first, literature by daughters of immigrants is described (by Mary Antin, Anzia Yezierska, Emma Goldman and Kate Simon) in which the protagonists confront the effects upon them of the gender imbalance within immigrant families. The daughters desperately want to be subjects of their own lives, rather than the subordinate objects their mothers are, yet they remain connected to the mothers and translate the mothers’ stories into English. Chapter two concentrates on writers of the 1920s and 1930s, principally Tess Slesinger, Edna Ferber, Fannie Hurst, who detach from home in order to differentiate themselves from their mothers, and for whom the American part of their identity is critical. Mothers recover their own voices in the writing discussed in the next chapter, by Rebekah Kohut, Leah Morton, Tillie Olsen and others. Daughter-writers of the 1960s and 70s (Cynthia Ozick, Anne Roiphe, Erica Jong, etc.), though influenced by the feminist movement, see their stories as mirroring their mothers. They do not like what they see and try to break away through sexual encounters and romantic love, which fail them. The last chapter reveals an integration of American/Jewish/Woman aspects of identity in the writing of contemporary writers who look to the activist history of Jewish women as a source of inspiration and mothering.
Braunstein, Susan L. and Jenna Weissman Joselit, eds. Getting Comfortable in New York: The American Jewish Home, 1980-1950. New York: Jewish Museum, 1990. 110 p.
Catalogue from 1990 exhibition at the Jewish Museum includes a personal reminiscence by Irving Howe and articles by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett and Joselit. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s “Kitchen Judaism” is a careful reading of Yiddish and English cookbooks that demonstrates how food shapes social life and cultural values. She discusses books with non-kosher recipes, especiallyAunt Babette’s Cookbook, first published in 1889, kosher cookbooks, food columns in the Jewish newspapers and their subsequent compilation into books, and charity cookbooks, such as The Settlement Cook Book, revised and reprinted numerous times since its original appearance in 1901. Joselit focuses on the social implications of a communal reliance on domestic rituals as a vehicle for acculturation in “‘A Set Table’: Jewish Domestic Culture in the New World, 1880-1950.” In her view (developed further in her Wonders of America ), attention centered first on the physical parameters of domesticity (table settings, cleanliness of homes, etc.), then shifted to the promotion of home-based rituals to strengthen the family and appeal to children. Her evidence includes manuals on home observance directed at middle-class Jewish housewives, such as The Jewish Woman and Her Home, by Hyman Goldin (New York: Montauk Bookbinding, 1941) and The Jewish Home Beautiful, published that same year by the National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America. Copious photographs of material in the exhibition throughout.
Calof, Rachel. Rachel Calof’s Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains, ed. J. Sandford Rikoon; tr. from the Yiddish by Jacob Calof and Molly Shaw. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1995. 158 p.
Memoir of a harsh life on the prairie by a woman who arrived there in 1894 at age 18. Volume includes an epilogue, by her son Jacob Calof; and essays “Jewish Farm Settlements in America’s Heartland,” by J. Sanford Rikoon, and “Rachel Bella Calof’s Life as Collective History,” by Elizabeth Jameson.
Ewen, Elizabeth. Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars: Life and Culture on the Lower East Side, 1890-1925. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1985. 303 p.
Examines the lives of two generations of working-class Jewish and Italian “unwitting pioneers” who were confronted with a rapidly expanding mass production economy and consumer culture in America, conditions that de-valued family and group bonds important in the Old Country, particularly to women. Daily life became a “theater of cultural conflict” for them, with criticism from social workers and Americanized children alike. Ewen is interested in the interplay of class with the status of belonging to an immigrant ethnic group, less in distinctions between the Jewish and Italian communities.
Feingold, Henry L., gen. ed. The Jewish People in America. 5 v. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.
This series of five separately-authored books covering successive historical periods synthesizes much of the research on American Jewish women and incorporates it into a general history of Jews in America. The two volumes dealing with German and Eastern European immigration, which have received the most attention from historians of women’s history, do an especially good job of integrating the research. These are A Time for Gathering: The Second Migration, 1820-1880, by Hasia R. Diner, and A Time For Building: The Third Migration, 1880-1920, by Gerald Sorin.
Fink, Greta. Great Jewish Women: Profiles of Courageous Women From the Maccabean Period to the Present. New York: Menorah, 1978. 197 p.
An example of efforts in the 1970s to restore women to history through discovering the lives of exceptional women. Women included (who lived some or all of their lives in America) are an eclectic bunch — from founders of Jewish women’s organizations (Hannah G. Solomon and Henrietta Szold) and anarchist Emma Goldman to artist Louise Nevelson and cosmetic mogul Helena Rubinstein.
Fishman, Sylvia Barack. A Breath of Life: Feminism in the American Jewish Community. New York: Free Press, 1993. 308 p.
Based on analysis of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, interviews, and keen observations, Fishman argues that since the 1960s feminism has invigorated the American Jewish community. She covers the impact of the growing number of women Rabbis and cantors in non-Orthodox branches of Judaism, new liturgy and life cycle rituals created by women, and options available to contemporary Jewish women. Also useful are the extensive appendices of statistical data from the Survey, broken down by gender. Her earlier essay, “The Impact of Feminism on American Jewish Life,” in the American Jewish Yearbook 89 (1989): 3-62, was one of few in Yearbook history to assess the role of Jewish women in American Jewish society, with Rebekah Kohut’s “Jewish Women’s Organizations in the United States,” in the 1931/32 Yearbook (vol. 33, pp. 165-201) being another. The AJYB article is reprinted in American Jewish Life, 1920-1990, ed. Jeffrey S. Gurock, 257-316. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Foner, Philip S. Women and the American Labor Movement: From Colonial Times to the Eve of World War I. New York: Free Press, 1979. 621 p.
Eminent labor historian Foner traces the history of working women from colonial times to World War I. The contributions of Jewish women such as Clara Lemlich, Pauline Newman, Rose Schneiderman, Rebecca Saul, and Dora Landburg are critical to the development of the movement. Excellent, detailed coverage of the succession of strikes that brought the women to the fore.
Friedman-Kasaba, Kathie. Memories of Migration: Gender, Ethnicity, and Work in the Lives of Jewish and Italian Women in New York, 1870-1924.Albany: State University of New York, 1996. 242 p.
Newest of several works (see Krause, Ewen, and Smith) on immigrant Jewish and Italian women. Sociologist Friedman-Kasaba draws from many disciplines — migration studies, feminist scholarship on gender, and ethnicity/race concerns — to demonstrate the complexity of what immigration means for these women. The main question she poses is “Was the experience empowering or disempowering?” But she finds there is no single unifying “immigrant experience.” For married women and/or women with children in both groups, she concludes that immigration disempowered most, while single women took more control over their own lives. Russian Jewish women had the advantage over the Italian women of assistance with vocational and Americanization training provided by German Jewish “co-ethnics,” dubious though this help may have been at times. Whatever their background, Friedman-Kasaba regards immigrant women as active participants in migration and acculturation, engaged subjects rather than reactive objects of these processes. The academic prose and theoretical concerns make this a more difficult work to read than the earlier assessments.
Gay, Ruth. Unfinished People: Eastern European Jews Encounter America. New York: Norton, 1996. 310 p.
A mixture of personal remininiscences and material from published accounts, the chapter “Girls” vividly captures the persistence of negative attitudes towards girl children and women among the immigrant Jewish community.
Glantz, Rudolf. The Jewish Woman in America: Two Female Immigrant Generations, 1820-1929. Vol. 1, The Eastern European Jewish Women. Vol. 2, The German Jewish Woman. New York: Ktav for the National Council of Jewish Women, 1976-1977.
Published at the same time as the Baum-Michel-Hyman book by the same name, Glantz’ two volumes are the inferior work, hampered by disconnected chapters, little attention to chronology, and inconsistent style. Yet, his descriptions of nineteenth century Jewish social life are instructive, and his use of contemporary periodicals, letters, and material from Jewish organizations, cited in extensive notes and bibliographies, provided historians with a glimpse into the primary sources available for the study of Jewish women in America.
Glenn, Susan Anita. Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990. 312 p.
Glenn’s thesis is that Jewish women garment workers developed their own version of “New Womanhood” activism based on cooperation and partnership with men, unlike middle class Progressive “New Women” who operated separately. She finds the roots of the Jewish brand of New Womanhood in the conflicting shtetl legacy of the woman who could be breadwinner but not a leader in the shtetl power structure, because such roles were exclusively reserved for men; the socialist Bund, which tended towards gender equality; and the influence of the American notion of domesticity. This backdrop helps her explain convincingly why young Jewish women workers could be strike leaders one day, then non- working wives and mothers the next, yet champions of full education and work roles for their daughters. Her argument is complex, knitting the strands of gender, ethnicity, labor, and the immigrant experience. Generous use of quotations from memoirs and oral histories personalizes the social history.
Goldman, Anne E. Take My Word: Autobiographical Innovations of Ethnic American Working Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. 237 p.
Goldman is interested in women’s writing that falls outside the traditional boundaries of the literary canon or even literature as commonly understood. About a third of this study focuses on autobiographical writing of working-class Jewish women, in particular assessing how the women balance their need to present themselves as individuals yet represent Jewish culture. In contrast to the assimilationist narratives of Mary Antin, Elizabeth Stern, and others, Goldman finds that Jewish labor activists took a different approach. In effect, they substituted the language of class consciousness for ethnic affiliation. Her principal examples are Rose Pesotta’s Bread Upon the Watersand Rose Schneiderman’s All for One, with their intertwining histories of labor and self. Couched in the discourse of cultural studies, this is a difficult but rewarding read.
Gurock, Jeffrey S. and Marc Lee Raphael, eds. An Inventory of Promises: Essays on American Jewish History in Honor of Moses Rischin. Brooklyn: Carlson, 1995. 436 p.
This anthology is an excellent illustration of a sensitivity to women’s history in recent scholarship. Unlike collections from earlier eras that ignored women’s experiences and contributions to American Jewish life, or those more recent that sport a token women- focused essay, this one explicitly includes several. Jenna Weissman Joselit describes the vocational training of American Jewish women before the Depression, while Allon Gal tackles the political characteristics of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Pamela S. Nadell discusses how rabbinic ordination for women was achieved, distinguishing between the “top down” direction in which it came about in the Reform Movement from the “bottom up” path taken among Conservatives. Norma Fain Pratt rediscovers “lost” first generation immigrant Yiddish women writers, who published poems and prose in the Yiddish press on themes ranging from sweatshop work to yearnings for full lives. William Toll looks at settlement work in western cities in the United States, conducted by Jewish women trained in social work.
Heinze, Andrew. Adapting to Abundance: Jewish Immigrants, Mass Consumption and the Search for American Identity. New York: New York University Press, 1990. 276 p.
Particularly in chapter six, “Jewish Women and the Making of an American Home,” Heinze demonstrates the critical role of women, as “rulers of domestic consumption” in the successful adjustment of Jews to America. Makes virtues of the bale boste‘s keen observation of American social standards for home decor, festive meals, and use of modern appliances, along with her sharp eye for bargains. That chapter is reprinted in The Gender and Consumer Culture Reader, ed. by Jennifer Scanlon, 19-29. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
Henry, Sondra and Emily Taitz. Written Out of History: Our Jewish Foremothers. New York: Biblio Press, 1990. 303 p.
First published by Bloch in 1978 under the title Written Out of History: A Hidden Legacy of Jewish Women Revealed Through Their Writings and Letters, this collection introduces general readers (including those fortunate to receive a copy as a Bat Mitsvah present) to the life stories of illustrious Jewish women throughout history. The biographies of only four Americans are among them, however: Rebecca Gratz, Penina Moise, Emma Lazarus, and Rebekah Kohut. A new concluding chapter touches on events and new research on women’s lives published since 1978.
Hyman, Paula. Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: Roles and Representations of Women. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995. 197 p.
General purpose of this book is to reclaim the experiences of Jewish women as they accommodated to modernity in Europe and the United States and to explore the role of ideas about gender in the construction of Jewish identity. Chapter 3, “America, Freedom, and Assimilation,” analyzes how the patterns of assimilation of women and men immigrants differed in significant ways. Women were specific targets for socialization in respectability, whether taught in institutions like the Educational Alliance or instructed in manners and fashion by advice manuals. Their newfound work outside the home introduced single women to union issues and socialist ideas, yet they were also expected to find their principal fulfillment as married homemakers, as they had in Europe.
Jensen, Joan M. and Sue Davidson, eds. A Needle, A Bobbin, A Strike: Women Needleworkers in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984. 304 p.
Jensen’s introduction to the middle section of the book, “The Great Uprisings 1900- 1920,7quot; is a clearly-written schematic overview of the unions involved in the garment workers’ strikes in Rochester, Chicago, Cleveland and New York. Jewish women strikers are described in essays on each strike. They include Rochester strikers Ida Brayman (who was shot to death during the strike), Libbie Alpern, and Fannie Gordon; Hannah Shapiro and Bessie Abramovitz in Chicago; national union organizer Pauline Newman in the Cleveland strike; and numerous women in New York. Ann Schofield’s essay “The Uprising of the 20,000: The Making of a Labor Legend” is a good review of the varying interpretations of the events by feminist and other historians.
Joselit, Jenna Weissman. The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture 1880- 1950. New York: Hill and Wang, 1994. 349 p.
Examines the fashioning of American Jewish culture through three generations of American Jews: immigrants, first generation, and the Jews of the suburbs. What they created was a “domesticated Jewishness” centered around the home and family — its objects, meals and observances — with women at its core. This entertaining, richly illustrated text constructs a culture from the likes of the Maxwell House Haggadah, a mah-jongg tile menorah, ritual guidebooks for the Jewish home, and Yiddish press food columns. While the role of Jewish women is implicit on every page, the discussion of immigrant Jewish motherhood in Chapter Two (“Yidishe Nachas7quot;) is particularly noteworthy. Here Joselit discerns the origins of the Jewish mother stereotype in the works of health professionals (7quot;The Jewish mother betray[s] an unusual amount of concern about the problem of feeding her children,7quot; states Ethel Maslansky in a 1941 article in Medical Woman’s Journal) and anthropologists. Joselit’s enthusiasm for the wonders of “domesticated Jewishness” is infectious. Even those who equate “culture” with fine arts and highly intellectual pursuits will be engaged by the telling.
Kamel, Rose Yalow. Aggravating the Conscience: Jewish-American Literary Mothers in the Promised Land. New York: P. Lang, 1988. 194 p.
A study of the narrator-personae created by five Jewish American women writers (Maimie Pinzer, Anzia Yezierska, Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, and E.M. Broner). The women writers developed autobiographical personae who share six common characteristics: all are first-generation immigrant daughters, working-class, secular and self-educated; they live in cramped city surroundings; their relationships with men range from uneasy to antagonistic; mother-daughter relationships are tense, leading them to find literary foremothers for themselves; they identify with all victims of social injustice; and their texts are replete with Yiddishisms. The antihero pariah created by American Jewish male writers was quite different.
Kessner, Carole S., ed. The “Other” New York Jewish Intellectuals. New York: New York University Press, 1994. 382 p.
Considers the lives and contributions of intellectuals who were highly involved in Jewish concerns as compared to the better-known but disaffected Jewish literati of the 1930s and 40s. Only two of the fifteen essays are on women, because it was rare for Jewish women to devote themselves to lives of writing and lecturing on Jewish topics in that era. But both the chapters on Labor Zionist poet and Jewish Frontiers editor Marie Syrkin (by Carole S. Kessner) and German-born Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, who founded and spent half a century editing The Jewish Spectator (by Deborah Dash Moore), tantalize readers with glimpses into the lives of exceptional women worthy of book-length biographies.
Koltun, Elizabeth, et al., eds. “The Jewish Woman: An Anthology.” Responseno. 18 (Summer 1973), 192 p.
Influential first collection of writing from Jewish feminists committed to achieving equality for women within Judaism. Essays cover women’s spirituality, Jewish law and texts, life cycle events, Israel, the Jewish community, and Jewish history. Charlotte Baum’s contribution, “What Makes Yetta Work? The Economic Role of Eastern European Jewish Women in the Family,” is an examination of figures on female labor force participation from the 1900 and 1910 U.S. censuses. She provides reasons why female labor in general and Jewish women’s work in particular were underrepresented.
Koltun, Elizabeth, ed. The Jewish Woman: New Perspectives. New York: Schocken, 1976. 294 p.
Expanded version of the 1973 anthology, adding other role models from Jewish women’s past, and sections on women in Jewish literature and the status of Jewish women in modern society. Stephen M. Cohen, Susan Dessel, and Michael Pelavin advocate a stronger role for women in Jewish communal organizations in their “The Changing (?) Role of Women in Jewish Communal Affairs: A Look Into the UJA.” In “Mothers and Daughters in American Jewish Literature: The Rotted Cord,” Sonya Michel discusses the conflict between immigrant mothers and American-born daughters in autobiographies and novels, as well as the less frequently found theme of reconciliation. She speculates that the second generation kept some of their mothers’ traits that were reviled by the culture to which they aspired, leading to the negative stereotype perpetrated by their sons and (to a lesser extent) daughters. Says that the rotted (umbilical) cord may yet fall away if the condemned values come to be respected.
Krause, Corinne Azen. Grandmothers, Mothers, and Daughters: An Oral History Study of Ethnicity, Mental Health, and Continuity of Three Generations of Jewish, Italian, and Slavic- American Women. New York: Institute for Pluralism and Group Identity of the American Jewish Committee, 1978. 176 p.
The author found a continued importance of ethnicity as expressed in food, holidays, and family closeness in all three groups. Observed that Jewish grandmothers valued their independence and Jewish mothers were deeply empathetic with their children. The third generation of Jewish women studied wanted both families and careers, and their self-esteem was influenced by their level of educational attainment.
Kuzmack, Linda Gordon. Woman’s Cause: The Jewish Woman’s Movement in England and the United States, 1881-1933.Columbus: Ohio State University, 1990. 280 p.
Traces the role of Jewish women in the secular women’s movement on both sides of the Atlantic while creating a “feminist movement that was distinctively Jewish” as well. The latter led to the founding of the National Council of Jewish Women and efforts to enhance the position of women in the synagogue. Kuzmack’s research is based on newspaper accounts, diaries, and other archival material.
Lebeson, Anita Libman. Recall to Life: The Jewish Woman in America. South Brunswick, NJ: Yoseloff, 1970. 351 p.
The first history of Jewish women in America to be published, Lebeson’s work is based on various secondary sources on American Jews, published memoirs, the author’s prior publications (Pilgrim People, Jewish Pioneers in America), and her personal experiences in the National Council of Jewish Women. There was as yet virtually no critical historical research on Jewish women on which Lebeson could have relied. She is bent throughout on giving untempered praise both to the anonymous Jewish woman, who kept the faith and worked tirelessly on behalf of worthy causes, and to Rebecca Gratz, Emma Lazarus, Rosa Sonnenschein, Henrietta Szold, and a few other named women, better known because they left a written record.
Lichtenstein, Diane. Writing Their Nations: The Tradition of Nineteenth-Century American Jewish Women Writers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. 176 p.
First book-length critical treatment of the subject. Lichtenstein’s thesis is that nineteenth-century Jewish women writers shared a tradition combining two ideals: the pious, domestic, Christian “Cult of True Womanhood” and the protective, assertive “Mother in Israel.” According to Lichtenstein, these Sephardic and German Jewish women used their writing to achieve respectability and to integrate their Americanism and Jewishness. The twenty-five writers surveyed range from Rachel Mordecai Lazarus, who started writing early in the century, to twentieth-century writer Edna Ferber.
Marcus, Jacob R. The American Jewish Woman, 1654-1980. New York: Ktav, 1981. 231 p.
One of two companion volumes written by the eminent historian of American Jews and founder of the American Jewish Archives. This narrative history of American “Jewesses” begins in seventeenth-century New Amsterdam with the contributions women made to the first synagogue in the colony and ends over three centuries later when Jewish women were at the forefront of the women’s movement. Marcus highlights the lives of individuals rather than the social forces at work in the Americanization process. His excellent bibliographic essay at the end of the book, pointing to many avenues for further research, is an important bequest he bestowed on his successors.
Marcus, Jacob R. The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History. New York: Ktav; Cincinnati: American Jewish Archives, 1981. 1047 p.
Marcus was the first to bring together an array of primary source material for the study of American Jewish women. He provides introductions to 177 selections or groups of selections, which are arranged chronologically. They include such items as eighteenth century letters by Abigail Franks and Rachel Gratz, epitaphs, an ethical will from Deborah Moses (1837), poems by Rebekah Hyneman and Emma Lazarus, documents from Hebrew ladies benevolent societies, Civil War remembrances of Clara L. Moses (Old Natchez), recollections of life with her husband Wyatt by Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, excerpts from speeches at the Jewish Women’s Congress (1893), statements of purpose from labor leaders, suffragists, and Zionists, and selections from scores of additional memoirs, autobiographies, and essays.
Markowitz, Ruth Jacknow. My Daughter, the Teacher: Jewish Teachers in the New York City School. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993. 224 p.
Using interviews with sixty-one retired teachers as well as Board of Education records and union archives, Markowitz recounts how and why Jewish women in New York flocked to teaching in the 1920s and 1930s. Encouraged by their immigrant mothers, the women obtained college educations, typically at Hunter College, and positions teaching within New York City. They married, had children, and continued their teaching careers, because the New York City Board did not force married women to quit and because they found satisfaction in their profession. Markowitz is especially interested in the extensive involvement of these women in unionization. She does not deal with their lives as Jews except insofar as they were subjected to anti-Semitism.
McCreesh, Carolyn Daniel. Women in the Campaign to Organize Garment Workers, 1880-1917. New York: Garland, 1985. 298 p.
Reviews and analyzes the role of women workers and members of the Women’s Trade Union League in unionizing activities, tactics, goals, and gains. Believes that Eastern European immigrant Jewish women were both able to withstand the rigors of picket lines and to rise to Union leadership due to their idealism and heritage of fighting oppression. Furthermore, unlike native-born American women, they remained outside the constraints of “domesticity,” the view that women’s sphere should be convined to the home, and were therefore less reluctant to take on public roles. Describes the parts played by Rose Schneiderman, Fannie Zinsher, Bessie Abramowitz, and other Jewish women.
Metzker, Isaac, ed. Bintel Brief: 1: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the “Jewish Daily Forward”; 2: Letters to the Jewish Daily Forward 1950-80. New York: Doubleday, 1971-1981; repr. New York: Behrman House, 1982.
The best-known primary source for gaining an appreciation of the problems encountered by immigrants is this translated collection from the advice column in the Yiddish Forward. Many of the letters came from women struggling in poverty with added burdens such as husbands who deserted them or employers who harassed them.
Moore, Deborah Dash. To the Golden Cities: Pursuing the American Jewish Dream in Miami and L.A. New York: Free Press, 1994. 358 p.
In the course of discussing spiritual life in Los Angeles in the post-World War II era, Moore takes note of the high proportion of adult women students in the University of Judaism and Brandeis Camp Institute programs. They were welcomed by Jewish educators who recognized that educated mothers held the key to the future of Judaism in America. Favoring experiential learning over traditional study, these women also influenced the curricula.
Myerhoff, Barbara. Number Our Days. New York: Dutton, 1978. 306 p.
Influential ethnographic study of some 300 aged Jews (mostly women) living in Venice, California, who are members of the Aliyah Senior Citizens’ Center. Myerhoff looks for clues to successful aging, which she finds in their collective sense of being one people, and their individual sense of themselves. The women are the backbone of the Center although the men hold the ceremonial positions. The women continue performing “woman’s work,” which maintains a sense of worth that the men seem to have lost with retirement. Filled with anecdotes from the personal histories of the informants.
Orleck, Annelise. Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. 384 p. Also on compact disc: Princeton: Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic, 2003.
Collective biography of four labor leaders: Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, Pauline Newman, and Rose Schneiderman, whom Orleck calls “industrial feminists.” Each confronted sexism in the factory and the Union, elitism from their middle- and upper-class allies, and anti-Semitism from all sides, yet persevered to achieve great victories for labor and women. Deals with their personal as well as work lives.
Perry, Elisabeth Israels. Belle Moskowitz; Feminine Politics and the Exercise of Power in the Age of Alfred E. Smith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Reprint ed: Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000. 279 p.
Feminist biography of Moskowitz (1877-1933), advisor to Alfred E. Smith and the most powerful woman in Democratic party politics during the 1920s. Written by her granddaughter.
Pinzer, Maimie. The Maimie Papers, ed. Ruth Rosen and Sue Davidson. Old Westbury, NY: The Feminist Press, 1977. 439 p.
The unusual twelve-year correspondence (from 1910-1922) between a Jewish former prostitute and a Boston society woman is a rich source of information on poor immigrant women who chose prostitution over menial labor or marriage. By the time of the letters Maimie had been “saved” by a social worker, and during their exchange she founded a home for wayward girls. The introduction by Ruth Rosen does not dwell on Maimie’s Jewishness.
Rogow, Faith. Gone to Another Meeting: The National Council of Jewish Women, 1893- 1993. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993. 300 p.
This history of the first national organization of Jewish women emphasizes how the notion of separate spheres for men and women, shared by American “True Womanhood” and traditional Jewish societal values, influenced the rhetoric and activities of the Council. Maternalism allowed the women to move beyond the home into the public sphere to shelter and instruct immigrant daughters, offer classes on parenting, and promote protective legislation for women and children. Initially the organization provided Jewish education for its members as well as a vehicle for social and philanthropic work, but the religious divisions within the Jewish community and the great success of the Council’s social service program led to its increasing secularization. The book is especially strong on the founding and early years of the Council, but summarizes the period from the 1920s to the present in one final chapter. A section is reprinted in American Jewish Women’s History: A Reader. Ed. Pamela S. Nadell, 64-74. New York: New York University Press, 2003.
Schloff, Linda Mack. “And Prairie Dogs Weren’t Kosher”: Jewish Women in the Upper MidWest Since 1855. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1996. 256 p.
Companion to an exhibition at the Minnesota Historical Society and written by the curator, who hopes to dispell the notion that all Jews settled on the East Coast and worked in the garment industry. This richly-illustrated book describes Jewish women homesteaders in Minnesota and the Dakotas who worked alongside their husbands whether on the farm, or in their dry goods “Jew stores,” took in boarders, started organizations, and interacted with their neighbors at all levels. Schloff also analyzes Minneapolis/St Paul data in the 1910 manuscript census to contrast the occupational pattern of Jewish women residents with other European immigrants in the area and to Jewish women elsewhere. Bibliography lists relevant manuscripts held in the Minnesota Historical Society, the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, other repositories in the region, and the American Jewish Archives. The section “‘We Dug More Rocks’: Women and Work” is reprinted inAmerican Jewish Women’s History: A Reader, Ed. Pamela S. Nadell: 91-99. New York: New York University Press, 2003.
Schreier, Barbara A. Becoming American Women: Clothing and the Jewish Immigrant Experience, 1880-1920. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1994. 154 p.
Accompanying an exhibition organized by the Chicago Historical Society, this lavishly illustrated text documents the primacy of clothing in the acculturation process. Young Jewish women, especially those in the needle trades, were sensitive to fabrics and fashion and quickly adopted American styles. Their mothers were not so quick to abandon their sheitel (wig), the most tangible sign of old-world customs and the underlying religious values it symbolized.
Seltzer, Robert M. and Norman J. Cohen, eds. The Americanization of the Jews. New York: New York University Press, 1995. 468 p.
Includes a section on the impact of the women’s movement on American Judaism, with essays by Ellen M. Umansky on Reform Judaism, Paula E. Hyman on the Ezrat Nashim feminist organization, and Judith Hauptman on Conservative Judaism. All three chart major advances made by women since the early 1970s, but also mention areas resistant to change, including liturgical language, adding women’s voices to the Midrash (interpretation) of Jewish texts, and acceptance of egalitarianism as a warranted halakhic(legal) development.
Shapiro, Ann, Sara Horowitz, Ellen Schiff and Miriyam Glazer. Jewish American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical and Critical Sourcebook. Greenwood Press, 1994. 557 p.
The only reference work to date that combines biographical information, critical analysis, and bibliographic citations about historical and contemporary Jewish American women writers. Mary Antin and Anzia Yezierska typify those who wrote of the generational conflicts among the immigrant generations, while Ilona Karmel, Irena Klepfisz, and Lore Segal are three who write as survivors of the Holocaust. The fifty-seven writers studied include women estranged from Judaism early in their lives who subsequently returned to their Jewish roots for inspiration. A separate chapter by Barbara Shollar discusses the disproportionate number of autobiographies by Jewish women in what is a major genre of women’s writing in America. Shollar describes some of the 200 such twentieth-century writings in which ethnicity and gender are important themes.
Shepherd, Naomi. A Price Below Rubies: Jewish Women as Rebels and Radicals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. 336 p.
While mainly on European women, Shepherd’s chapter “I Need a Violent Strike” focuses on Rose Pesotta and other Jewish immigrant unionists.
Smith, Judith E. Family Connections: A History of Italian and Jewish Immigrant Lives in Providence, Rhode Island, 1900-1940. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985. 228 p.
Discusses the work, kinship, and communal patterns established in Providence by immigrant Jews and Italians. While the majority of both Jewish and Italian women did not then work outside the home, some took in boarders or were shopkeepers. Smith attributes divergence between the two ethnic groups to the skills brought with them from Europe rather than to cultural differences.
Sochen, June. Consecrate Every Day: The Public Lives of Jewish American Women, 1880- 1980. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981. 167 p.
Sochen’s thesis is that Jewish American women have been prominent in three areas (unionism, volunteerism, and literature) precisely because of the “ambivalent richness of their dual background,” which gave them fresh perspective, an “agonizing need to redefine themselves,” and “an impetus to move outside predictable forms” (Introduction). Besides detailed treatment of union leaders, radical activists, mainstays of organizations, and writers, Sochen includes some fascinating variations on the theme of successful mergers of Jewish and American identities, from Yiddish actresses to Rabbis. Given the brevity of the volume, its contribution is also to reveal the fertile, untilled ground remaining for further analytic ploughing. The book’s title comes from Hannah Greenbaum Solomon, founder of the National Council of Jewish Women and a Reform Jew, in answer to a challenge to her leadership from traditional women because she did not consecrate the Sabbath in an Orthodox manner.
Sorin, Gerald. The Prophetic Minority: American Jewish Immigrant Radicals, 1880- 1920. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1985. 211 p.
Seeks to explain the connection between radicalism and being Jewish by exploring the lives of 170 Jewish immigrants active in socialist unions or politics. Sorin’s view of the prominence of women in this history is evident from page one, where Pearl Halpern is the first activist to be mentioned by name. Women are featured throughout the book, and a separate chapter examines their special situation as female radicals. Sorin discusses discrimination they encountered as women within the unions, sexual harassment of women in the shops, and complicated relationships with feminist organizations. He also offers interesting information on the ways in which women radicals differed from other immigrant Jewish women. They had received more education in Europe, were more apt to continue their education at night schools in America, and almost half had already been in Socialist groups before emigrating. Women radicals were also more likely to have had parents with relatively egalitarian marriages. Unlike most Jewish women who stopped working at marriage, these women either continued working after marriage or never married.
Tax, Meredith. The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880- 1917. New York: Monthly Review, 1980. 332 p.
The chapter “The Uprising of the Thirty Thousand” in this study of socialist feminists pays particular attention to the role of Clara Lemlich in the shirtwaist-makers’ strike of 1909-10 and to the temporary unity of socialists, feminists, and trade-unionists.
Tenenbaum, Shelly. A Credit to Their Community: Jewish Loan Societies in the United States, 1880-1945. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993. 204 p.
Especially in the section “Women as Leaders (pp. 84-90) but interspersed throughout, Tenenbaum provides data and analysis of the operations of Jewish women’s free loan societies in numerous places in America. In her view, women formed their own organizations not because they wanted to give loans exclusively to women, but rather because they wanted control of disbursements, since they were rarely granted leadership positions in the general (male-led) Jewish loan societies and credit cooperatives. One notable exception discussed is Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, president of the Jewish Free Loan Association of Toledo, and grandmother of Second Wave feminist leader Gloria Steinem. Also covers the reasons women applied for loans, which included paying for rent, household expenses, medical bills, and education for themselves and their children. By contrast, most loans to men were for business ventures. Tenenbaum’s “Borrowers or Lenders Be: Jewish Immigrant Women’s Credit Networks,” in American Jewish Women’s History: A Reader, Ed. Pamela S. Nadell: 79-90 (New York: New York University Press, 2003) is based in part on the book.
Toll, William. Women, Men and Ethnicity: Essays on the Structure and Thought of American Jewry. Lanhan, MD: University Press of America, 1991. 240 p.
Pulls together a series of studies on women and the formation of Jewish communities in the South and West. Reassessing their role, Toll finds the informal social network created by women to be the very essence of defining a community; indeed, until women form an organization in a locale, it can only be called a settlement. The organizations were established to meet traditional religious needs, later serving as proving grounds for civic activism and professional training. Makes novel use of census tract information as well as organizational reports and minutes and oral histories.
Turpin, Sophie. Dakota Diaspora: Memoirs of a Jewish Homesteader. Berkeley, Calif. : Alternative Press, 1984. Reprint ed: Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, , c1984.
Memoir of turn-of-the-century life in “Nordokota” and the struggle to survive and maintain a Jewish life there.
Uffen, Ellen Serlen. Strands of the Cable: The Place of the Past in Jewish American Women’s Writing. New York: P. Lang, 1992. 193 p.
A chronological presentation of selected Jewish women writers beginning with the immigrant generation (Antin, Stern and Yezierska), followed by Tess Slesinger and Beatrice Bisno in the 1930s, Jo Sinclair as representative of 1940s and 1950s, Zelda Popkin and Marge Piercy who started writing in the 1960s, and Cynthia Ozick for her work beginning in the 1970s. A concluding chapter covers contemporary writers. The characters turn to the past for understanding of their place in the present. All are concerned with Jewish identity and the double-edged sword that is assimilation. Unlike male writers and their characters who seek to shed Jewish identity, women writers search for new ways to be Jewish in the New World.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Daughters of the Covenant: Portraits of Six Jewish Women. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983. 192 p.
Biographies of Americans Emma Goldman, Rebecca Gratz, Emma Lazarus, Henrietta Szold, and Lillian D. Wald and British writer Amy Levy that focus on their personal qualities, relationships to Judaism, and public accomplishments.
Weatherford, Doris. Foreign and Female: Immigrant Women in America, 1840-1930. New York: Schocken, 1986. 288 p.
Although no separate chapter is devoted to Jewish women immigrants. this text draws on many diaries, letters, and memoirs of Jewish women. It is a good introduction to the common problems encountered by immigrant women of all backgrounds, but is less helpful on considering the influence of ethnicity on the solutions adopted.
Weinberg, Sidney Stahl. The World of Our Mothers: The Lives of Jewish Immigrant Women. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988. 325 p.
Offers a redress to Irving Howe’s World of Our Fathers (1976) in which “immigrant Jews” means males and the treatment of women is generally patronizing. This work concentrates on the day-to-day lives of Jewish women who immigrated to New York before 1925. Based on interviews with forty-six such women and augmented by reference to other memoirs, oral interviews, and secondary sources, Stahl builds a collective, chronological history out of the personal stories. Reverence for education and the burden of breadwinner role foisted on oldest daughters are two themes that emerge. While not as sweeping as the Howe book, it demonstrates how the values carried from Europe interacted with conditions in America for women.
Wenger, Beth. New York Jews and the Great Depression: Uncertain Promise. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996. 369 p.
Includes documentation of the financial contribution Jewish women made through earnings and careful management of the family budget during a difficult era. Wenger’s “Budgets, Boycotts, and Babies: Jewish Women and the Great Depression,” in American Jewish Women’s History: A Reader, Ed. Pamela S. Nadell: 185-200 (New York: New York University Press, 2003) draws on material in this book.
Zaborowska, Magdalena. How We Found America: Reading Gender Through Eastern European Immigrant Narratives. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995. 359 p.
Compares the experiences of Jewish immigrants (Mary Antin, Elizabeth Stern, Anzia Yezierska, and Eva Hoffman) to each other and to non-Jewish immigrant writers (Maria Kuncewicz, Vladimir Nabokov, and herself). Explores the conflicts in gender expectations in the Old World and New and the complex identities of transplanted writers.