Timeline: 1654 to 2004

Marking Jewish women's experience in North America

A group of Jews, "23 souls, big as well as little," arrive in New Amsterdam. Records suggest that the majority of the adults may have been female.

Disguised as a young man, Esther Brandeau becomes the first Jew to arrive in New France (later Canada). Revealed as a woman and Jew, she was eventually deported back to France.

A visitor to New York's Shearith Israel synagogue observes that the congregation's women, "of whom some were very pretty, stood up in the gallery like a hen coop."

A new synagogue in Newport, R.I. introduces an American pattern of synagogue design, removing the opaque barriers that marked the women's galleries of most European synagogues.

Opening of Mordecai Female Academy in Warrenton, N.C. Run largely by sisters Rachel and Ellen Mordecai, it is the first nonsectarian school created and led by American Jews.

The Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded by Rebecca Gratz and other Philadelphia Jewish women, provides food, fuel, and clothing to poor Jews. It is the first American non-synagogal Jewish charity.

Publication of Fancy's Sketch Book by Penina Moïse of Charleston, S.C. It is the first published book of verse by an American Jew.

Polish-born suffragist and abolitionist Ernestine Rose begins fight for a married women's property act in New York State. Rose would later address many of the early Women's Rights Conventions.

Led by Rebecca Gratz, a group of Philadelphia Jewish women found the Hebrew Sunday School Society. This first Jewish Sunday School provides a model for would-be female educators throughout the country.

Simha C. Peixotto of Philadelphia publishes Elementary Introduction to the Scriptures, for the Use of Children.

Publication of The Spirit of Judaism by English writer Grace Aguilar. Aguilar's Jewish treatises oriented toward women were widely read by American Jews. She dies in 1847 at age 31.

Founding of the Independent Order of True Sisters [pdf] in New York, a mutual aid lodge for Jewish women. With branches in a number of cities, it becomes the first national Jewish women's organization.

New York's Temple Emanu-El acquires a church building with family pews as its new synagogue, prominently introducing mixed seating of men and women as a pattern for American synagogue design.

Rosanna Dyer Osterman of Galveston, Tex. bequests $250,000 to Jewish and secular charities across the country. Osterman tended to wounded Union and Confederate soldiers in her home during the Civil War.

Jewish Orphan Asylum opens in Cleveland. The institution was sponsored by the all-male B'nai B'rith, but Jewish women throughout the Midwest and South raised tens of thousands of dollars to make it possible.

Creation of the Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society of Montreal, the first Jewish women's organization in Canada.

Emma Lazarus composes the poem "The New Colossus" to raise money to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. In 1903, a plaque engraved with the poem is placed within the statue's pedestal.

Sisterhoods of personal service are founded by a number of New York City synagogues to address the needs of a growing Jewish immigrant population.

Annie Nathan Meyer's advocacy and solicitation lead to the opening of Barnard College, a women's college affiliated with Columbia University, in New York City.

Speaking on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in Spokane, Wash., Ray Frank begins her career as an itinerant Jewish preacher, advancing the question of Jewish women's religious participation and leadership.

A Jewish Women's Congress is convened at Chicago's Columbian Exposition, leading to the creation of the National Council of Jewish Women, the first open-membership national Jewish women's organization.

The Emanu-El Sisterhood for Personal Service is founded in San Francisco and opens a settlement house for Eastern European immigrants.

Publication of the American Jewess, edited by Rosa Sonneschein, the first English language periodical for American Jewish women. Published in Chicago and New York, it lasts until 1899.

Publication of From Plotzk to Boston by young immigrant Mary Antin. Antin's popular The Promised Land (1912) would be one of the first and most significant immigrant narratives written in English.

Immigrant Jewish women in New York, Boston, and Chicago stage sometimes violent boycotts of kosher meat shops to protest increases in the price of meat.

Henrietta Szold is allowed to attend courses taken by rabbinical candidates at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, but must promise that she will not seek ordination.

The National Council of Jewish Women in Fort Worth, Tex. founds an "Americanization School" for new immigrants. It remains open until 1973.

The Uprising of the 20,000, a mass strike mainly by young female garment workers (65% Jewish) in New York City revitalizes and transforms the labor movement by addressing the needs of women workers.

Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City kills 146 mainly young and Jewish female factory workers and leads to the introduction of numerous reforms regulating industrial working conditions.

Hadassah, a Zionist organization for women, is founded in New York City through the leadership of Henrietta Szold. It becomes the most influential mass membership Zionist organization in North America.

Founding convention of the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (now Women of Reform Judaism) is held in Cincinnati, attended by 156 delegates from 52 congregations.

Women's League for Conservative Judaism is founded under the leadership of Mathilde Schechter to coordinate women's work within Conservative synagogues.

Radical anarchist orator Emma Goldman, called by some "the most dangerous woman in America," is deported to the Soviet Union as an alien radical.

19th amendment to the United States Constitution grants women the right to vote. Labor activist Rose Schneiderman runs for the U.S. Senate on the New York State Labor Party ticket.

The Reform movement's rabbis vote to allow, in principle, the ordination of women rabbis. The governing board of the movement's rabbinical school, Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, does not concur.

Judith Kaplan (Eisenstein), daughter of Reconstructionist movement founder Mordecai Kaplan, celebrates the first American Bat Mitzvah.

Florence Prag Kahn of San Francisco becomes the first Jewish woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, replacing her deceased husband. She is reelected five times.

Edna Ferber becomes the first Jew to receive a Pulitzer Prize for So Big.

Pioneer Women (now Na'amat) is founded as an independent women's organization within the North American Labor Zionist movement.

"The Rise of the Goldbergs," written by its star Molly Berg, premieres as a national radio broadcast. Hugely popular, "The Goldbergs" continues to air on radio and TV until 1955.

Activist Léa Roback helps to organize a strike of 5,000 Montreal garment workers, one of the first union struggles for women in Quebec.

Hadassah Levinthal (Lyons) is granted a Master of Hebrew Letters degree, instead of ordination, after completing the rabbinical curriculum at New York's Jewish Institute of Religion.

Upon the death of her husband, Paula Ackerman is asked to become the religious leader of the Reform congregation in Meridian, Miss., where he had been the rabbi. She serves until 1953.

Ethel Rosenberg is executed, along with her husband Julius, as a Soviet spy. Controversy continues to surround the question of her guilt.

The American Jewish community celebrates its 300th anniversary with the theme "Man's Opportunities and Responsibilities Under Freedom." Little attention is given to women's historical roles.

Stern College for Women is created as a branch of Yeshiva University in New York City.

The rabbis of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly decide that women may be allowed to offer blessings (aliyot) on the Torah.

Publication of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan sparks the modern feminist movement.

The National Organization for Women is founded by, among others, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller, Shulamith Firestone, and Naomi Weinstein.

Bella Abzug is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Manhattan on an anti-war, pro-feminist platform. She serves three terms.

One of the earliest women's haggadahs is created in Portland, Oreg. By the mid-1970s, numerous women's seders are held across the United States.

Ezrat Nashim, a study group, is created by young feminists in New York City. In 1972, they confront the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly with demands for ending Judaism's gender bias.

Sally Priesand is ordained as a rabbi by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, becoming the first woman ever ordained by a rabbinical seminary.

The first National Jewish Women's Conference is held in New York, attended by over 400 women.

Lilith, the Jewish feminist magazine, begins publication.

Rosalyn Yalow becomes the first American-born woman to win a Nobel Prize in science for her work developing a technique that detects the presence and level of particular hormones and enzymes.

The Drisha Institute for Jewish Education is founded in New York City to offer women access to advanced study of traditional Jewish texts.

The faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary votes to accept women as candidates for ordination. In 1985, Amy Eilberg becomes the first woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi.

Madeleine M. Kunin, a Swiss-born immigrant whose family fled the Holocaust when she was a child, is elected governor of Vermont, becoming the first Jewish woman governor in the United States.

Shoshana Cardin of Baltimore becomes the first woman president of the national Council of Jewish Federations.

An amendment to Canada's Divorce Act is passed banning anyone from preventing the religious remarriage of a divorced spouse, the result of united action by Canada's Jewish women's organizations.

Californians Dianne Feinstein, former mayor of San Francisco, and Barbara Boxer, a member of the House of Representatives, are elected to the U.S. Senate. They become the first Jewish women senators, the first female senators from California, and the first two women to ever represent any state at the same time in the Senate.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton.

Ma'yan: The Jewish Women's Project is founded in New York City.

Judith Rodin is named president of the University of Pennsylvania, the first woman president of an Ivy League institution.

The Jewish Women's Archive is founded in Boston as the first organization dedicated to uncovering, chronicling, and transmitting the rich history of North American Jewish women.

More than 700 people attend the First International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy, chaired by Blu Greenberg and held in New York City.

Linda Lingle becomes the first Jewish and first female governor of the State of Hawai'i. She is the second Jewish woman governor in the U.S., following Madeleine Kunin.

Americans seeking a truly inclusive narrative of the past celebrate the 350th anniversary of communal Jewish life in North America.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Timeline: 1654 to 2004." (Viewed on December 5, 2023) <https://jwa.org/350years/timeline>.


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