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Jewesses with Attitude

TIME will tell: The most powerful Jewesses of the past century

The venerable TIME Magazine, known in part for its "top" lists – everything from the best inventions to the best TV shows – just published a new list of particular interest. As its name indicates, "The 25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century" lists 25 powerhouse women from the U.S. and beyond, including three Jewish dynamos - four, if you count Madonna (though I'm never sure whether I should!). Here, an overview of the Jewesses who made TIME’s cut:

• Cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, real name Josephine Esther Mentzer, launched her now-famous makeup line in the ‘40s. When she died at age 97, she left behind both a corporate and philanthropic legacy, not to mention a great many appreciative women who use her makeup and skincare products, well, religiously!

• To see the name of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir on this list should come as no surprise - she was, after all, one of the world’s preeminent Zionists. Once called “the only man” in Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s cabinet – not a compliment, she was quick to point out! – Meir is remembered by history as nothing less than a mover, a shaker, a history-maker and one of the most accomplished women in the world.

Founding feminist Gloria Steinem is a jack (Jill?) of all trades: a respected author and journalist, she founded New York and Ms. magazines and once went undercover at Playboy. But she’s more commonly known as one of the most famous voices of the women’s rights movement, a persuasive and potent force for social change.

• As the reigning queen of pop and of one-name moniker recognition, Madonna is no stranger to controversy – surely you haven’t forgotten that kiss with Ms. Spears? But her involvement in Judaism has been just as contentious. She began practicing Kabbalah in the late ‘90s and has said of the uproar it caused, “It would be less controversial if I joined the Nazi Party.”

Interestingly, TIME’s list also includes a few women who have a different kind of Jewish history. Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead is credited, for better or worse (though mostly the latter), with creating the “Jewish mother stereotype.” Prominent literary figure Virginia Woolf married a Jewish man but has been criticized by many for her repeated portrayal of Jews as repulsive and impure in her writings. And Margaret Sanger, who founded the American birth control movement, is often accused of being a racist, anti-Semite and eugenicist (a claim that Planned Parenthood, which she founded, staunchly refutes).

In all, it’s safe to say that though TIME’s list of powerful women includes just a few Jewish names, it includes a great wealth of Jewish history. What do you think? Who else would you include on a list of powerful women of the past century – Jewish or otherwise?

Kate Bigam is a freelance writer and social media maven living in suburban Ohio.

How to cite this page

Bigam, Kate. "TIME will tell: The most powerful Jewesses of the past century." 7 December 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 1, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/time-will-tell>.

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