National Council of Jewish Women holds first national convention
The National Council of Jewish Women held its first national convention at Tuxedo Hall in New York City between November 15 and November 19, 1896. Founded at the conclusion of the Jewish Women’s Congress held at Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition in November 1893, the National Council of Jewish Women was the first national open-membership organization for American Jewish women.
Addressed by the leaders of the nation’s leading women’s organizations and numerous prominent rabbis, it was clear that the Council was helping to establish the legitimacy of Jewish women’s presence on a public stage. The convention received extensive coverage in the New York Times and other papers.
With the NCJW's creation in 1893, local sections around the country began focusing on diverse activities ranging from Bible study to education for children to active philanthropy in the interest of immigrant women and children. Representatives at the first convention summarized these achievements, established a clear institutional structure, and sought to offer guidance to local sections.
Conflict emerged during the 1896 convention in relation to the Jewish character of the Council. Hannah Solomon of Chicago presided over the meetings, but some members objected to her advocacy of Sunday as the Jewish Sabbath. Solomon memorably responded “I consecrate every day in the week.” As the New York Times reported, “Pandemonium reigned for five minutes, and then Mrs. Solomon was re-elected.”
In its first few decades, NCJW transcended religious divisions by focusing especially on aid to newly arrived Jewish immigrants. In sections across the country, NCJW provided an early training ground for Jewish women leaders and a forum for Jewish women’s concerns within and outside the Jewish community.
To learn more about the National Council of Jewish Women, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
Sources: Faith Rogow, Gone to Another Meeting: The National Council of Jewish Women, 1893-1993 (Tuscaloosa, 1993); Jewish Women in America, An Historical Encyclopedia, p. 1283; New York Times, November 20, 1896; Hannah Solomon exhibit: jwa.org/womenofvalor/solomon.