The Belle of the (political) party
On June 16, 2009, the National Jewish Democratic Council, a political advocacy group based in Washington, DC, is awarding its first "Belle Moskowitz" award to Ann F. Lewis, Hillary Clinton's Communications Director during her recent presidential campaign. As one of Moskowitz's seven grandchildren, but more particularly as a historian who wrote her biography, I was thrilled to find this out. By establishing this award, the Council is honoring a long and unsung tradition in women's political activism.
Most people think women have only recently been involved in political parties. In fact, women, including Jewish women, have been avid party workers for many generations. Because they rarely held public office, however, their places in history have not always been assured. As one of those women, Belle Moskowitz could easily have been forgotten. The NJDC is helping to keep alive her memory, along with those of other women who worked behind the scenes for political goals.
The choice of Ann Lewis to receive the first award is especially appropriate. Belle Moskowitz essentially "invented" Ann's field of expertise. Before Belle became deeply involved in party politics in the 1920s, once an election campaign ended, party workers usually just packed up and went home. Belle was convinced that this was a mistake,and so she persuaded New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, whose political ambitions she supported, to let her set up an office that would publicize Democratic Party positions in between campaigns. Although Moskowitz never wore the same titles as Ann Lewis wore, such as "Campaign Manager," or "Communications Director," they actually did the same work.
Few of Moskowitz's grandchildren knew Belle. She died too young (at age 55) for us to connect personally with her, except through what others said or wrote about her, and that wasn't much. Her work for progressive, Jewish, and women's causes continues to inspire us, and I am proud to have played a role in preserving her memory.
If you're interested in reading more about Moskowitz, see the following links: An abridged essay about the research and writing of my biography of Moskowitz (the full essay can be accessed through the Google books website); my biographical essay on her, which appears in Jewish Women: An Historical Encyclopedia; my biography, BelleMoskowitz: Feminine Politics and the Exercise of Power in the Age of Alfred E. Smith (now available through the University Press of New England).