Sophie A. Udin
1896 – 1960
An intelligent, determined, career woman, Sophie A. Udin was a feminist leader and activist who sought equality between the sexes, including equal pay for equal work and equal representation for women. Channeling her campaign for autoemancipation for all women and support of working women in Palestine through Pioneer Women, she used her organizational, public relations, speaking, writing, and librarian skills to build the organization and the Zionist movement in America and to aid Israel.
Born on August 31, 1896, in Zhinkov, Ukraine, Udin emigrated as a young girl with her socialist parents to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the early age of fourteen, she became active in the American branch of the Poale Zion movement, which combined socialism, Zionism, and the struggle against assimilation. Upon graduation from Pittsburgh Central High School in 1913, she moved to New York, enrolling in the Library School of the New York Public Library. She received her certification in 1914, a B.S. in education at Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1928, and an M.L.S. from Columbia University School of Library Science in 1929.
Udin chose library science because it was one of the few vocational professions open to women. She served on the staff of the New York Public Library system from 1914 to 1929, specializing in foreign collections. Meanwhile, on March 13, 1918, she helped organize the American Magen David Adom and served as its first national secretary from 1918 to 1919.
Taking a leave from the New York Public Library in 1921 and 1925 to 1927, she went to Palestine where she joined the fledgling Jewish National and University Library. At the library, she convinced the director, Dr. Hugo Bergmann, to keep the library open for longer reading hours, replace the German cataloging system with the Dewey decimal system and Anglo-American cataloging, and adopt American-style library education for the staff. While living in Jerusalem, she became involved in clandestine work for the Hagana.
Udin married Pinhas Ginguld, a Poale Zion officer and head of the network of secular Yiddish Folk Schools and Teacher’s Seminary, in New York in 1922. Their son, Yehuda (Ginguld) Paz, was born in New York City on September 27, 1930. Their daughter, Marcia Ginguld Ford, was born in New York City on December 18, 1933. Both reside in Israel with their families.
In 1924, Udin raised funds from America to produce the first Kiryat Sefer, the bibliography of Jewish and Hebrew publications of the National Library in Jerusalem.
Responding to a letter from her friend Rahel Yanait Ben-Zvi, who asked her to help raise money for a well to water trees at a tree nursery near Jerusalem, she founded, with the assistance of six wives of Poale Zion members, the Women’s Organization for the Pioneer Women of Palestine (also known as Pioneer Women, subsequently Na’amat U.S.A.), incorporating it in December 1925.
Udin established and directed the Zionist Archives and Library in New York, where she collected documentation of the Zionist movement and edited important reference materials such as the four-volume The Palestine Year Book annual (1945–1949) and the three-volume Palestine and Zionism (1947–1948). In 1948, she published the important bibliographical listing “A List of References Leading to the Establishment of the Jewish State of Israel” in The Journal of Educational Sociology.
Udin made aliyah in 1949 when she was appointed by David Ben-Gurion to set up and direct the Israel State Archives, now the National Archives. She directed the classification and listing of archival material that had already been collected. In an effort to ease the absorption of American immigrants to Israel, she helped establish the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel (AACI) in 1951.
Sophie A. Udin died in Jerusalem on April 24, 1960.
“A List of References Leading to the Establishment of the State of Israel.” Journal of Educational Sociology 22 (November 1948): 239–247; Palestine and Zionism, editor (1947–1948); The Palestine Year Book, editor (1945–1949).
AJYB 62:453; Keren, Thea. Sophie Udin: Portrait of a Pioneer (1984); Levitats, Tamar Schultz. “In Memoriam: Sophie Udin.” Pioneer Women (May–June 1960): 12–13; Obituary. NYTimes, April 28, 1960, 35:4; Sokoloff, Judith. “Na’amat U.S.A. Through the Decades.” Na’amat Woman (September–October 1995): 17–21; WWIAJ (1938).