Jewish Women's Congress
Ray Frank, 1861 - 1948
When Hannah Greenebaum Solomon and her colleagues began to organize the 1893 Jewish Women's Congress, held in conjunction with the Chicago World's Fair, their eye fell naturally on Frank. With the Congress being the first occasion on which Jewish women gathered in large numbers specifically as Jewish women, the organizers knew they would be representing Jewish womanhood to both the Jewish community and society as a whole. They assembled a group of nationally-known figures who could speak effectively on a broad range of subjects of historical and contemporary relevance to Jewish women. As a delegate, Frank took her place among the most illustrious women in American Jewry.
Appropriately, Frank acted as the Congress's spiritual leader, delivering the opening prayer and the final benediction. In her paper "Woman in the Synagogue," she presented a subtle but effective argument in favor of Jewish women's emancipation. While praising highly Jewish women's traditional roles as wives and mothers, she also emphasized women from Jewish history whose activities went beyond the norm. By stressing that learned women in leadership roles have always been part of the Jewish experience, Frank both validated her own actions and hoped to inspire her listeners to greater study and involvement. "Women of the nineteenth century!" she cried. "These are but a few names from among the many on the old grave stones, testifying to the splendid work done for the synagogue by women, at a time when obstacles made up their lives....
But enough has been given to disprove all doubts as to the Jewish woman's capability in religious matters, both as pupil and instructor...."
The Jewish Women's Congress and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) that emerged from it were part of a much broader transformation in American Jewish women's roles that occurred in the 1890s. Frank was strongly committed to the NCJW, a national body to facilitate Jewish women's education and activity. After working to establish a branch in Oakland in the 1890s, she remained involved with her local branch for the rest of her life.
- Quote is from Ray Frank, "Woman in the Synagogue," Papers of the Jewish Women's Congress (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1894), 61.
- Information about the Jewish Women's Congress is from Pamela S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination 1889-1985 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998); Linda Gordon Kuzmack, Woman's Cause: The Jewish Woman's Movement in England and the United States 1881-1933 (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1990).