The Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women

Features thousands of biographic and thematic essays on Jewish women around the world. Learn more

Rita Schwerner

b. 1942

by JWA Staff
Our work to expand the Encyclopedia is ongoing. We are providing this brief biography for Rita Schwerner until we are able to commission a full entry.

When her husband was murdered during Freedom Summer in 1964 in Mississippi, Rita Levant Schwerner Bender used the ensuing media attention to focus the public’s awareness on the importance of civil rights. Bender and her first husband, Michael Schwerner, shared a passion for the civil rights movement and moved to Mississippi in 1964 to register black voters. During training for Freedom Summer, Michael Schwerner and two other volunteers, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, were murdered by the KKK. In a statement, Bender, widowed at 22, pointed out that the media attention was due entirely to the fact that her husband and Andrew Goodman were white, calling out the fact that murders of African Americans that regularly went unremarked throughout the South. Just months later, she participated in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention, protesting the lack of representation for black voters. She graduated from Rutgers School of Law in 1968 and worked with the ACLU for several years before opening a family law practice specializing in adoption and assisted reproduction. As of 2017, she works to provide legal aid for indigent populations.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Rita Schwerner." (Viewed on December 6, 2023) <>.


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