Another Emma "Makes Trouble"

Pregnant women take note: There’s something about the name “Emma” that turns a girl into a prizefighter swinging her fists for human––often specifically women’s––rights, or, as we like to say here at the Jewish Women's Archive, a “troublemaker” in the best sense of the word.

For starters, think Statue of Liberty poet and immigrant advocate Emma Lazarus, one of JWA’s “Women of Valor,” and feminist/anarchist Emma Goldman. In fact some critics have even labeled Jane Austen’s Emma a “feminist novel.” 

And now there’s Emma Axelrod.

This Emma is one of a trio of New Jersey teenagers who, after learning that it’s been 20 years since a woman (Carole Simpson) moderated a U.S. presidential debate, decided to stop complaining and do something about it.

The Montclair High School students used the Web to post petitions to the Commission on Presidential Debates and the Democratic and Republican National Committees.

In less than a week, they had gathered 100,000 signatures as their campaign went viral. “We are so proud to have helped educate Americans on this issue,” Emma said. “And are extremely happy that women and girls watching the debates this year will see a potential role model up on the stage moderating.”

Not so fast. The Commission on Presidential Debates was unresponsive. Undeterred, the girls travelled to Washington to drop boxes of signers’ comments and a flash-drive with 180,000 signatures. They were told the Commission does not accept packages and were summarily turned away at the door.

“I think that (the Commission) didn’t take us seriously because we’re three high school girls,” Emma told a reporter.

Now the girls can savor the sweet taste of victory: yesterday, it was announced that CNN anchor and Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley will moderate one of the presidential debates.

But the Commission reaction has had an impact. “Not being taken seriously as a girl by the Commission and not being taken seriously as a feminist by my country makes me want to get involved, even more than I did before,” Emma said.

And especially since her name is Emma, it’s likely she will do just that. Of course, we don’t know what if any influence earlier Emmas may have had on this young activist. But we do know we know at least one other strong Jewish woman has.

Her immigrant grandmother.

“I found out that in the 70s, (she) was on the front lines protesting for the ERA to be passed” Axelrod said. And, she added, knowing that her otherwise quiet grandmother “got that fired up about feminism makes me realize how important this issue is to be addressed. Seeing the way she felt about that is an inspiration for me every day.”

President Emma Axelrod. It has kind of a nice ring to it, don’t you think?


We bet there are lots of other Emmas with attitude. We would love to know who they are and share their stories with others.  Please use comments below.


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How to cite this page

Raub, Deborah Fineblum. "Another Emma "Makes Trouble"." 14 August 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 19, 2024) <>.