Fanny Fligelman Brin
1884 – 1961
Although named as one of the ten most influential clubwomen in America in 1934, Fanny Fligelman Brin saw no paradox between her national stature and her husband’s expectation that she be present when he came home for his noontime meal. In this melding of civic and domestic responsibilities, Brin is emblematic of her generation of American clubwomen. A riveting public speaker, masterful politician, skilled organizer, and administrator, Brin, who served two terms as president of the National Council Of Jewish Women (NCJW), 1932 to 1938, is best remembered for her work on behalf of world peace during the interwar years.
She was born in 1884 in Berlad, Romania, and emigrated with her mother and stepsister three months later. Her father, John, had a yeshiva education; her mother, Tony Friedman, had some background in French. The family settled in Minneapolis, where another daughter and three sons were born. John eked out a living in a jewelry and watch repair business. Tony, the practical one, encouraged her daughters’ educational aspirations, and both attended college.
Fanny was an award-winning debater, and after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Minnesota in 1906, taught in country and city schools. She married Arthur Brin, a prosperous glass manufacturer, in 1913. He was an active member of many Jewish fraternal and service organizations. The Brins had three children: Rachel (b. 1915), Howard (b. 1919), and Charles (b. 1923). They lived most of their married life in an upper-class neighborhood in Minneapolis. With the help of a cook and an upstairs maid, Fanny started her career of unpaid public service.
She was invited to join a variety of exclusive cultural clubs, apparently experiencing no antisemitism. Her interest in peace issues is evident in her work within and outside of the NCJW. In 1921, she directed world disarmament activities in Minneapolis. Three years later, she was both president of the Minneapolis Section of the NCJW and chair of its national subcommittee on peace. Her efforts on this subcommittee continued when she became national president (1932–1938), resulting in the organization spending more time on peace issues than social service.
Through NCJW peace work, she became involved with the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War (NCCCW), founded in 1926 by Carrie Chapman Catt. Brin served on the executive board of the NCCCW for fifteen years. She effectively mobilized Minneapolis public opinion for the Kellogg-Briand Pact and, in 1931, for world disarmament. In 1944, she called together thirty-six Minneapolis women’s groups to form the Women’s UN Rally, a focal point of United Nations Week activities. She also helped found the World Affairs Council and Center at the University of Minnesota. The capstone of her peace career was being chosen alternate consultant on the United States delegation to the United Nations conference in San Francisco in 1945. A few years later Parkinson’s disease disabled her, and she died on September 4, 1961.
Brin was a latecomer to Zionism, and she drew upon Judaism for humanistic rather than ritualistic themes. A daughter of her era, she felt that privileged women could educate and persuade society of the linkage between democracy and peace.
AJYB 64:492; Brin, Fanny Fligelman. Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul; Brin, Ruth. “She Heard Another Drummer: The Life of Fanny Brin and Its Implications for the Sociology of Religion.” Master’s thesis, University of Minnesota (1972); Obituary. NYTimes, September 7, 1961, 35:1; Stuhler, Barbara. “Fanny Brin: Woman of Peace.” In Women of Minnesota: Selected Bibliographic Essays, edited by Barbara Stuhler and Gretchen Kreuter (1977); UJE; WWIAJ (1926, 1938); WWWIA 7.