Jewesses for Suffrage
On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting any citizen to be denied the right to vote based on sex was ratified. Today, 91 years later, we take a look back at the Jewish women who dedicated their lives to women's suffrage in America and around the world. This is by no means a comprehensive list; so many Jewish women fought for suffrage, this is merely a sample of the stories we know.
How many more stories have yet to be told?
- Gertrude Weil helped found the Goldsboro Equal Suffrage Association in 1914 and served as its first president. By 1917, she was an officer in the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League, becoming president in 1919. On the issue she said: "Women breathed the same air, got the same education; it was ridiculous, spending so much energy and elocution on something rightfully theirs."
- The Jewish League for Woman Suffrage (JLWS) was the only Jewish women’s organization in England—and the world—devoted exclusively to obtaining both national and Jewish suffrage for women.
- Henrietta "Netta" Franklin served as president of the British National Union of Women Suffrage Societies in 1916 and 1917. She was one of a small but powerful group of Jewish women who participated in the British suffrage movement, and among an even smaller group who achieved distinction in that area. Anglo-Jewish suffragists like Franklin felt their acceptance into the controversial movement “proved” their status as Englishwomen.
- Mary Belle Grossman's involvement in Cleveland’s suffrage movement launched her public career as a political activist. She later served as a judge, leading the Cleveland Press
in 1947 to describe her as a “militant feminist [who] has been bad news to wife beaters, gamblers, and persons charged with morals offenses.”
- Rosika Schwimmer was a leader in the international pacifist and feminist movements, was recruited by leaders of the American suffrage movement and the president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance to speak and organize in the campaign for women's suffrage in in America.
- Belle Winestine was selected by members of the State Headquarters for Woman Suffrage in Wisconsin as the student representative to address a joint session of the state legislature. In 1914, she returned home to help launch the women's suffrage movement in Montana. She later became Jeannette Rankin’s legislative assistant.
- Maud Nathan, born into a distinguished old New York Sephardic family, worked tirelessly for women's suffrage - an issue that caused a rift in her relations with her family.
- Anita Pollitzer demonstrated her commitment to woman suffrage in 1917 by being arrested as a Silent Sentinel picketing the Woodrow Wilson White House. In August 1920, Pollitzer used her considerable charm to convince legislator Harry T. Burn of Tennessee to cast the deciding vote for the amendment.
- Rosa Manus was a leading Dutch feminists before World War II. She was active in the Dutch branch of the International Women's Suffrage Alliance (IWSA). In 1935 she was the driving force behind the establishment in Amsterdam of the International Archives for the Women’s Movement (IAV), the aim of which was to promote the knowledge and scientific study of the women’s movement and to be a center for collecting and preserving the cultural heritage of women.
- Rosalie Whitney joined the Brooklyn Woman’s Suffrage Party in 1917 and was the New York congressional chair in the Woman’s Federal Equality Association and a speaker for the National American Woman Suffrage Association at the House of Representatives suffrage amendment hearing in 1918.
- Bertha Solomon was one of the first women’s rights activists in South Africa. After years of active campaigning for voting rights for women, the South African Suffrage Movement achieved a partial victory with the passage of the Women’s Suffrage Act of 1930. Disappointment lay in the fact that the Act enfranchised only white and not colored women. This Act marked Bertha Solomon’s entry into active political life.
- The building of an egalitarian Jewish society in pre-state Israel was a keystone of the Zionist plan in general and of its socialist component in particular. learn more about suffrage in early Palestine in Jewish Women: A Comprehenshive Historical Encyclopedia.
Of course, not all "Jewesses with attitude" supported women's suffrage...
Emma Goldman, who was opposed on principle to all forms of government, saw little value in fighting for the right to participate in a system she found inherently oppressive. "Needless to say," she wrote, "I am not opposed to woman suffrage on the conventional ground that she is not equal to it. I see neither physical, psychological, nor mental reasons why woman should not have the equal right to vote with man. But that can not possibly blind me to the absurd notion that woman will accomplish that wherein man has failed."
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "Jewesses for Suffrage." 18 August 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 7, 2022) <https://jwa.org/blog/jewesses-for-suffrage>.