Women of Valor


Paradoxical Positions

Ray Frank, 1861 - 1948

Although Frank spoke out forcefully in favor of greater involvement in the Jewish community, she was far from a straightforward proponent of women's rights. Her opinions on such issues as suffrage and the employment of women were complex, and she often espoused views that would today be considered decidedly conservative.

Frank claimed often to be "a stout opponent of what is commonly called 'Women's Rights.'" In the 1890s, she spoke against women's suffrage, asserting that women's influence on their male relatives already brought them a say in the political process and that they lacked the education and experience necessary to use the vote wisely. And although she supported herself until she married and advocated careers for single women, she believed married women should not work outside the home.

Even on the issue that affected her most personally, the ordination of women as rabbis, Frank was highly ambivalent. At times she asserted that women had both the right and the ability to become rabbis, arguing at the Jewish Women's Congress that "All in all, [women] have in the past earned the right to the pulpit.... [A woman] may be ordained rabbi or be the president of a congregation—she is entirely able to fill both offices." But at other times she put forth a far more traditional viewpoint: "I do not even aspire to the office of rabbi, because being a woman I could never be one; that is thoroughly masculine."

While Frank's independence of action might seem incompatible with some of her traditional ideas, in fact the combination was not unusual in her day. Caught between Victorian conceptions of women's spheres and new ideas about women's roles circulating in American society, the late nineteenth century saw many people freely mixing "progressive" and "conservative" opinions. Opposition to the suffrage movement was not uncommon, even among those who championed women's rights in other spheres. Frank's contradictory positions might also have served a strategic purpose. Whether consciously or unconsciously, her adoption of some traditional views likely allowed her to be more daring in other area. Had she pushed only for radical changes, the Jewish community might well have ignored her instead of embracing her.

  1. Quote about opposition to "Women's Rights' from "Newspaper work for women," The Spokesman, September 23, 1890.
  2. Quote beginning "All in all..." from Ray Frank, "Woman in the Synagogue," in Papers of the Jewish Women's Congress (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1894), 61-62.
  3. Quote beginning "I do not even aspire..." from "A Latter-Day Deborah," San Francisco Examiner, November 12, 1893.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Ray Frank - Paradoxical Positions." (Viewed on April 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/frank/paradoxical-positions>.