This Week in History


Pioneers convene in St. Louis, forming early Jewish women's literary society

January 25, 1879
Sonneschein, Rosa - still image [media]
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An ardent Zionist and advocate for an expanded role for women in the synagogue and religious community, Rosa Sonneschein founded and edited The American Jewess, which, though short-lived, gave her a forum for those views.

Institution: The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, OH, and the State Historical Society, MO.

The Pioneers, a St. Louis literary club for Jewish women, met for the first time on January 25, 1879. Founded by Rosa Sonneschein, who was married to the local Reform rabbi, the club was modeled after similar Christian women's clubs and was devoted to general literary subjects rather than specifically Jewish literature.

Sonneschein, who in 1895 would found The American Jewess, the first English periodical for Jewish women, had been an active participant in German cultural life in St. Louis. She hoped the Pioneers would expand the intellectual horizons of the city’s Jewish women. In its early years, the Pioneers, which claimed to be the nation's first literary society for Jewish women, devoted themselves chiefly to "entertainments," which included some general discussions of literature and the issues of the day.

The Pioneers society was an early example of a Jewish women’s group that existed for a purpose outside of charity or mutual aid. By the 1890s, Jewish women across the United States were taking the potential for their collective efforts more seriously. Evidence for this can be seen in the creation of the National Council of Jewish Women (1893) and the publication of Sonneschein's The American Jewess (1895). In this atmosphere, the Pioneers directed themselves toward more serious and systematic study. In 1895, for example, they devoted themselves to a rigorous course on the vicissitudes of Jewish history.

To learn more about Rosa Sonneschein, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: "The American Jewess", Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia; The American Jewess Project; The American Jewess on Liberation and Freedom, Go & Learn: Primary Documents and Lesson Plans; This Week in History for April 1, 1895, "The American Jewess begins publication"; "The American Jewess" on Twitter and The Women's Pages Then and Now on Jewesses with Attitude.

Source:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1289-1291;; The American Jewess, August 1895: cgi/t/text/ pageviewer-idx? c=amjewess;cc=amjewess; q1=pioneers; op2=and; op3=and; rgn=pages; idno=TAJ1895.0001.005; didno=TAJ1895.0001.005; view=image; seq=00000030.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Pioneers convene in St. Louis, forming early Jewish women's literary society." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <>.