The Encyclopedia features over 1,700 biographies, 300 thematic essays, and 1,400 photographs and illustrations on a wide range of Jewish women through the centuries -- from Gertrude Berg to Gertrude Stein; Hannah Greenebaum Solomon to Hannah Arendt; the Biblical Ruth to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The history of Jewish women in the American labor movement tends to focus on those whose careers unfolded in the needle trades. Such was not the case with Lillian Herstein, who was a teacher and a nationally known labor leader. Ethel Lillian Herstein, the youngest of six children, was born on April 12, 1886, in Chicago. Her parents, Wolf and Cipe Belle, emigrated from Vilkovishk, Lithuania, shortly after the U.S. Civil War, not only for economic reasons but because of Wolf’s admiration for Abraham Lincoln and his ideals.
Henriette Herz was already in her fifties when the opportunity arose to fulfill her life’s dream: She traveled to Italy, where she spent almost two years together with her two close friends Dorothea Schlegel and Caroline von Humboldt (1766–1829; wife of Wilhelm). There, far away from Germany, where she had converted from Judaism to Protestantism prior to her departure, she began to write an autobiography. In the early nineteenth century no other German Jewish woman tried to preserve her life in this way.
Judith Herzberg has created an extensive body of work during the more than thirty years that she has been active. She has written poems, essays, plays, film scripts and television dramas, and has many translations and adaptations to her name. Judith Herzberg made her debut as a poet at the beginning of the sixties. During the seventies she began to write for the stage, stimulated by the Institute for Theater Research of Nederland.
Bertha Beitman Herzog was an active participant in local and national women’s associations in Cleveland, Ohio. From 1928 to 1930, Herzog served as the first woman president of the Jewish Welfare Federation (later the Jewish Community Federation) in Cleveland and received the Charles Eisenmann Award for outstanding community service in 1941. She helped create several local organizations for Jewish women, including the Cooperative League of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Cleveland (later the Cleveland Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations), which she chaired in 1926. Herzog presided over the local Council of Jewish Women (CJW), later the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Cleveland Section, from 1920 to 1924, and served as women’s cochair for the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
A feminist sociologist and gerontologist whose leadership, scholarship, teaching, service and mentoring were a model for many women, Beth Bowman Hess was born on September 13, 1928, in Buffalo, N.Y., the daughter of Yetta Lurie Bowman, who died in 2005 at the age of 103, and Albert Bowman. Her mother was a 1923 graduate of Ohio State University. Beth Bowman grew up in Buffalo and graduated from Radcliffe College with a B.A. in 1950. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from Rutgers University in 1971. She was Professor of Sociology at the County College of Morris from 1969 to 1997. While she had no illusions about the status of this position in the elitist hierarchy of academia, she valued her students and the opportunities to combine her teaching with her family life.
One of the most potent symbols representing the spirit of war-torn Britain during World War II must be the series of concerts at London’s National Gallery which continued throughout the war. Within a month of hostilities being declared, the National Gallery was closed and its paintings safely stored outside the capital. Cinemas, theaters and concert halls were all dark; Myra Hess, by then an established concert pianist, was concerned about the effect of this cultural blackout on the lives of Londoners. Towards the end of September 1939, she approached the Director of the Gallery, Kenneth Clark, with the idea of mounting lunchtime classical concerts. Clark shared her concerns and swiftly obtained government approval for the scheme. On Tuesday, October 10, the first lunchtime concert was staged; a resounding success, it was the first of an uninterrupted succession that continued for six and a half years until April 10, 1946, 1,698 concerts later.
In the years between 1914 and 1933 numerous significant personalities in art, culture, politics, society and sport met in the photographic portraiture studio of Nini and Carry Hess. With their technical and aesthetic brilliance, the sisters were among the leading photographers in Germany of the time. In the 1920s their photographs essentially stamped the image of Woman. Their long collaboration with the Städtischen Bühnen Frankfurt (Frankfurt city theaters) resulted in the portraits of numerous actors, both in the roles they played and in their own person. These included Albert Bassermann (1867–1952), Elisabeth Bergner, Carl Ebert (1887–1980), Heinrich George (1893–1946), Paul Graetz (1890–1938), Gerda Müller (1895–1951), Leontine Sagan (1889–1974); the composers Paul Hindemith (1885–1963) and Leos Janacek (1854–1928), and the authors Thomas Mann (1875–1955), Fritz von Unruh (1885–1970) and Carl Zuckmayer (1896–1977).
Eva Hesse is recognized as one of the most innovative and potent artists to emerge in New York in the fertile 1960s. She created new sculptural forms in such eccentric materials as latex and fiberglass, and has become known for giving minimal art organic, emotional, and kinetic aspects. Her material and formal inventions, with their sensuous and emotional extremes, were balanced by an active verbal intelligence that won her the respect of the art community—as her warmth and wry humor won her many friends.
Botanist Chaia Clara Heyn was born on June 13, 1924, in Cluj (Transylvania), Romania, to Paul-Pinchas (1889–1948) and Sima (née Grünfeld, 1895–1990) Blau, who also had a son, Jehoshua. Theirs was an affluent Jewish family. Paul Blau had a doctorate in international relations and worked as a journalist and businessman, while Sima was a homemaker. In 1931 the family moved to Baden, Austria, relocating to Vienna in 1937. One year later, in response to the Anschluss, the Blaus immigrated to Mandatory Palestine.
The academy and Judaism share a tender core of values. At both their roots lies a passion for knowledge—the love of learning, the necessity for debate and discussion, an appreciation for the challenge of scholarship. This would suggest no mystery in the number of Jews in universities. However, it is women’s space in these intellectual settings—historically unwelcomed by the academy and unsupported by Jewish scholarly institutions—that poses the wonder.
Many more Jewish men than Jewish women received a higher education in Central Europe before the Nazi era, but once Swiss, and later Austrian and German, universities began admitting women, the proportion of Jewish women among the female student population remained at least twice as high as the proportion of Jewish men among male students.
Etty Hillesum grew up in Deventer, a small city in the east of the Netherlands. There she attended the local gymnasium, of which her father, Dr. L. Hillesum, was the director and where he also taught classical languages. Her mother, Rebecca Bernstein, was born in Russia but fled to the Netherlands because of a pogrom. Hillesum and her two brothers, Mischa and Jaap, were unusually gifted. Mischa was a pianist who performed Beethoven in public at the age of six and held the promise of being one of the greatest piano players in Europe. Jaap finished the Gymnasium in less than the normal six years and became a physician after discovering some new vitamins when he was seventeen. When Hillesum was eighteen she moved to Amsterdam, where she initially took her first degree in law and then enrolled in the faculty of Slavonic Languages to study Russian. All three were promising young people whose lives were cut short simply because they were Jews.
Bas Sheva Abramowitz (“Bessie” was created by an Ellis Island immigration officer) was born on May 15, 1889, in Linoveh, a village near Grodno in Russia. She was one of ten children born to Emanuel Abramowitz, a commission agent, and Sarah Rabinowitz. In 1905, Bessie, who spoke only Yiddish and some Russian, joined an older cousin in immigrating to America. Most 1905 immigrants fled czarist oppression and anti-Jewish violence, but Bessie reported that her aim in leaving home was to escape the services of the local marriage broker.
Gertrude Himmelfarb has dedicated her long and noted career as a historian of ideas to the study of nineteenth-century Britain, an intellectual commitment that has been guided by a profound identification with the moral atmosphere of the Victorian era. Since earning her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1950, Himmelfarb has maintained that the Victorian experience offers unique insights and lessons, immediate and even imperative, for the problems that haunt the modern world. In the 1950s, it was the specter of totalitarianism; in the 1990s, the plight of American inner cities.
No lucky star reigned over Jenny Hirsch’s youth. Born in Zerbst, Anhalt on November 25, 1829, she was the daughter of a poor Jewish peddler. Her mother died when Jenny was only eight years old. Together with her two siblings she grew up in her father’s household, whose basic needs were cared for by her aged grandmother. At the ducal girls’ school in her home town she received an excellent education from the ages of seven to fifteen. This served as the basis for continued self-education in later years. But as a Jew she had to endure antisemitic hostility. In time she overcame these difficulties, only to encounter family opposition to her love of books and her early literary efforts, which they rejected as an inappropriate luxury.
Nurit Hirsch (Rosenfeld) is one of the most prolific and varied songwriters of contemporary Israeli song. Born in Tel Aviv in 1942 to Hillel and Leah Hirsch, she graduated from the Rubin Academy of Music, where she studied piano with Alexander Buch, composition with Mordechai Seter and Yeheskiel Braun (both Israel Prize laureates) and jazz with Professor Zvi Keren. She also studied orchestration with Noam Sharif and conducting with Laslo Roth. She continued her studies at UCLA, where she took courses in music for films, contemporary music and electronic music. In New York she studied composition with Norman Dello Joio.
Physiologist, physician and teacher, Rahel Hirsch was the granddaughter of Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888), the founder and spiritual leader of neo-Orthodoxy and one of the major rabbinical figures of the nineteenth century. Born in Frankfurt am Main on September 15, 1870, one of the eleven children of Dr. Mendel Hirsch, Rahel grew up in a cultured, Jewishly knowledgeable family. Her father, who was the principal of the Jewish community’s Realschule and a leading figure in the strictly Orthodox Jewish community, ensured that she receive good schooling by sending her to a girls’ school in her native city. Since women were not yet admitted to German universities, Rahel went to the teachers’ seminary in Wiesbaden, where she received her teaching certificate in May 1889. For want of any alternative, she taught until 1898, but since she longed to be a physician she went to Zürich, where women had been admitted to medical school since 1840. However, when German universities followed suit, she returned, studying first in Leipzig and later, from November 1900, in Strassburg. Here she passed the state examination in July 1903, wrote her dissertation on the impact of glucose and was immediately licensed as a physician.
Too old, lacking an appropriate educational background, of unsuitable family background, a member of the Social-Democrat Party and—worst of all—a woman, Dorothea Hirschfeld, a Jew without any legal training, nevertheless succeeded in entering the civil service at the age of forty-three. In 1919 she was the only woman among twenty candidates recommended for a position at the newly founded Reich Ministry of Employment and, a year later, the only one appointed as ministerial adviser.
Not prepared to compromise her ideals by accepting work that did not meet her ideological approval, Gertrude Hirschler rejected the offer of a well-recognized publisher, who submitted a book by an Israeli leftist writer to her for translation. True to her principles, she removed her name from The Hirsch Siddur that she had translated, due to changes to the finished product that did not meet her standards. A brilliant perfectionist, Hirschler’s literary contributions as a translator, editor, and writer are highly regarded in the areas of Jewish history, accounts of the Holocaust, religious literature, and Zionism.
Marilyn Hirch studied art history used her experience to teach and serve in India. She brought her knowledge as an art historian and Jewish scholar to her thoughtful illustration and writing of children’s books, including the beloved K’tonton series.
In 1920, with the beginning of the British mandate following World War I, a new workers’ organization, Histadrut ha-Ovdim ha-Clalit (the General Federation of Workers), was formed by the Jewish workers who immigrated to Mandatory Palestine. The Histadrut comprised men and women workers, both wage-earners and homemaker wives of Histadrut members. The Histadrut did not restrict its spectrum of activity, nor did it limit its scope of membership. Indeed, its charter declared that every working man and woman over the age of eighteen who lived by his or her own earnings and concurred with the policies of the Histadrut was eligible for membership.
Though the Hebrew Women’s Organization was founded in Palestine only in 1920, a great deal of women’s activism preceded it by several years, both on kibbutzim and in cities and settlements. The years after World War I and the Balfour Declaration, which followed the British takeover of Palestine from the Turks, were the beginning of a new era in the building up of Palestine. The Zionists felt in their bones that two thousand years of exile were coming to an end, and in this thrilling atmosphere set to work to build the national homeland.
American Jewish women have been prominent within the historical profession. Indeed, many have been on the cutting edge of historical scholarship since the 1960s. In particular, Jewish women were at the forefront of developments within social history and in the creation of women’s history. While women generally, and Jewish women in particular, rarely made careers as historians in the first half of the twentieth century, Jewish women represented a significant proportion of academic historians both in American and European history as discrimination against Jews and prejudice against women lessened in the decades after World War II. Perhaps because of their sensitivity to the situation of powerless groups, most of them focused their attention not on traditional power elites but rather on those social groups traditionally ignored by academic historians: ordinary people, workers, peasants, minority groups, Jews, and especially women. They helped create, and were influenced by, new trends in historical scholarship that favored the study of such groups.
Laura Z. Hobson was passionate about many things: people, ideas, word puzzles, politics, her family, her daily bicycle rides through Central Park that she began at age sixty-seven, and, most of all, her writing. The author of nine novels, two children’s books, numerous short stories, and articles, she also wrote promotions for Time and Life magazines and edited the Double Crostics puzzles in the Saturday Review for twenty-seven years. Before she became a full-time novelist with the 1947 publication of Gentleman’s Agreement, she had been a successful writer of advertising copy.
Anna Weiner Hochfelder, daughter of Herman and Henrietta (LaFrantz) Weiner, was born in Lask, Poland, on May 1, 1883, and came to the United States in 1885. She had at least three sisters and one brother. Educated in New York public schools, she earned a B.A. from Hunter College (1903) and an LL.B. (1908) and J.D. (1915) from New York University.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on February 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/content/H>.