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.
Jewish American women have played a central role in the American labor movement since the beginning of the twentieth century. As women, they brought to trade unions their sensibilities about the organizing process and encouraged labor to support government regulation to protect women in the workforce. As Jews who emerged from a left-wing cultural tradition, they nurtured a commitment to social justice, which would develop into what is often called “social unionism.” From their position as an ethnic and religious minority, as well as from their position as women, they helped to shape the direction of the mainstream labor movement.
Born in Stolp, Pomerania on August 21, 1865, poet and translator Hedwig Lachmann was the eldest of the six children of Isaak Lachmann (1838–1900) and Wilhelmine, née Wohlgemuth (1841–1917). In April 1873 the family settled in Hürben/Krumbach, where her father, a passionate collector of liturgical music, became cantor and teacher of religion. Hedwig Lachmann attended the girls’ high school in Krumbach and, thanks to her great gift for languages, passed the language teaching examination in Augsburg when she was only fifteen years old. In 1882 she took up her first post as governess in England and then went on to Dresden and, in 1887, to Budapest. From 1889 she lived in Berlin, where she cared for a sick uncle and a deaf aunt in addition to working as a governess.
Ladino-speaking Jews, descendants of the Iberian Jewish exiles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, began to emigrate from the Ottoman Empire (Turkey and the Balkans) to the United States in the 1880s. By 1924, thirty thousand had settled in the United States, with the largest concentration (approximately twenty thousand by the early 1920s) in the city of New York. By the 1930s, the American Judeo-Spanish press estimated the total Ladino-speaking population nationally at roughly fifty thousand. Sephardic historian Joseph Papo has written that in 1916 approximately 10 percent of the twenty thousand Sephardim of New York were women. (This figure seems low, particularly given Jewish immigration statistics indicating that women comprised forty percent of Levantine newcomers in 1913.
The Judeo-Spanish theater traces its origins to Turkey and the lands of the Balkans, where women participated as actors, directors, and playwrights. In the Old Country, female Ladino playwrights were sometimes prolific, though uncommon. Spanish scholar Elena Romero has identified three of these dramatists active in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Elda Moriano of Salonika, Roza Moïse Gabay of Constantinople, and especially Laura (Bohoreta) Papo of Sarajevo, who wrote numerous dramas and comedies enlivened with romansas (traditional Judeo-Spanish ballads) and dances. Mirroring their sisters in the Orient, women in the United States were also active in the Ladino theater as both performers and dramatists. The American Judeo-Spanish press, which appeared almost exclusively in New York from 1910 to 1948, is perhaps the best source for documenting the role of women in the Ladino theater. The press is a rich source for both announcements of upcoming performances and critical reviews, often providing the names of individual actors, a description of their roles, and a commentary on the quality of their performances. While most of these reports were positive, reviewers exhibited little hesitancy in openly criticizing poor acting. Generally, drama groups readily cast females in their productions, although occasionally female roles were interpreted by male actors.
As founding director and chair of the board of trustees, Phyllis Lambert was largely responsible for creating the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal (CCA), said to be the world’s leading architectural museum and study center. A native Montrealer, Lambert was one of four children of Saidye (Rosner) Bronfman and Samuel Bronfman (1891–1971), the man chiefly responsible for creating Seagram’s, once the world’s largest liquor distiller and distributor. Their fabulous wealth combined with a strong commitment to the Jewish community to propel the Bronfmans to preeminence in the worlds of commerce and Jewish affairs. Lambert’s two brothers, Charles (b. 1931) and Edgar (b. 1929), followed their father in both areas of endeavor; her sister, Minda (de Guinsbourg) (1925–1985), took on a traditional woman’s role by marrying into a Jewish family that had entered the ranks of Europe’s aristocracy. Already as a young woman, however, Lambert was determined to strike out on her own path.
Hannah Judith (Annie Edith) Landau was born on March 20, 1873, in London, where her father, Marcus Israel (Mordecai, 1837–1913), worked as a clerk for the Jewish community. Annie’s mother, Chaja Kohn (b. Bavaria, Germany 1853–d. 1923), was his second wife. He had five children by his first marriage and during the forty years of his marriage to Chaja a further thirteen were born. Of these, Annie was the eldest. Her parents were of the opinion that girls should receive as fine an education as boys, but there was no sufficiently good school for religious girls in London. Thus, at the recommendation of her mother’s uncle, Moses Weisknopf, she was sent to the Orthodox Samson Raphael Hirsch School in Frankfurt am Main, where her teacher was Mendel Hirsch (1833–1900), the son of Samson Raphael (1808–1888). Returning to London, she studied at Greystoke College, a teacher training institution. After completing her studies there in 1892, she took up a teaching position at the Jews Free School, which she held until 1898.
Sara Landau was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 4, 1890, to Morris (Fred) and Frieda (Shapiro) Landau, who had married in Poland before coming to America in the early 1880s. Sara was the first surviving child of the Landaus, who later had two other daughters, Minnie and Mathilda. She spent part of her early life in Louisiana, graduating from high school in Crowley in 1906, attending Southwest Industrial Institute in Lafayette, and teaching business courses for several years. Around 1914, she and her family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where her father operated a boys’ clothing factory until the Depression of the 1930s.
For over forty years the Ann Landers advice column helped lovelorn teens, confused parents, couples on the brink of divorce, grieving widows and a myriad of others who were in need of counsel. Translated into over twenty languages, Esther Pauline Friedman Lederer, known professionally as Ann Landers, reached millions of readers with her clear, witty and sometimes sarcastic column.
Ruth (Schlossberg) Landes, a social and cultural anthropologist, was born in New York City in 1908 to Joseph and Anna (Grossman) Schlossberg. Her father had emigrated from Russia to the United States as an adolescent. A self-educated man, he was the cofounder and long-term secretary-general of the union of Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. Her mother was born in Ukraine, educated in Berlin, and immigrated to New York City as a young adult.
At the beginning of the 1920s, Bertha Landsman, who was the only registered nurse in Palestine, established community nursing in Israel. She possessed knowledge, initiative and managerial skills, which she used as a public health nurse and in social work. She worked with Jewish, Christian and Muslim women, persuading them to abandon folk superstition in favor of “correct knowledge and information,” and also taught nursing to local women students, which was no less a challenge.
A disciplined nurse who put her own safety at risk time and again for others, Rae Landy helped Hadassah establish the first nursing service in Israel and then served as a military nurse in the US Armed Services.
A committed anarchist by age fifteen, Lucy Fox Robins Lang participated actively in the labor and free speech movements of early twentieth-century America. She directed regional and national committees in support of persecuted anarchists, antiwar activists, and labor organizers, while earning her livelihood as a printer, waitress, vegetarian restaurant owner, and real estate broker. Eventually, she moved into the mainstream of the labor movement, becoming an adviser to and confidante of Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Although her focus shifted, the impulse behind Lang’s work remained constant.
In Pearl Lang’s socialist, working-class family, music, theater, and poetry were integral to the daily routine. Her father played piano, her mother wrote poetry, and both actively participated in Chicago’s Jewish cultural societies. Yiddish was the first language in the household. Pearl would be powerfully influenced not only by her family’s Jewish heritage but also by the cultural riches of Chicago. She learned English with her mother at night school and at Hibbard Elementary School, which offered classes integrating art, literature, history, and geography. Not surprisingly, her own interest in artistic activities began early.
Anna Langfus’s novels all deal with the experience of war, destruction and loss after the Holocaust, weaving autobiographical material with fiction. Le Sel et le Soufre (Salt and Suffering, Prix Charles Veillon, 1960) retraces the war years in Poland, the destruction of the Lublin ghetto and the eradication of the protagonists’ comfortable middle-class family. The Jewish community’s early denials of impending doom, the German atrocities, as well as the participation of Jewish officials in the deportation of their own community are all narrated by Maria, an overprotected young woman, who early on flees into her own forms of denial: sleep, dreams, illness and reckless roamings in the city’s streets.
Sherry Lee Heimann (Lansing) was born in Chicago on July 31, 1944. Her father, a real-estate agent, died of a heart attack when she was nine years old, leaving a thirty-two-year-old wife and two daughters, of whom Sherry was the elder by four and a half years. His widow declined the offer of his colleagues to help her by running his business and insisted on carrying it on by herself. This provided an excellent example of female independence for Sherry, who frequently accompanied her mother on her business rounds. Lansing graduated from Northwestern University and worked as a schoolteacher, model and actress (1970, in the films Loving and Rio Lobo). She joined MGM studios in 1973 and quickly moved up the corporate ladder.
One of Israel’s best-known contemporary writers of fiction, drama and poetry, Shulamit Lapid was born in Tel Aviv in 1934. Her father, David Giladi (b. 1909), was one of the founders of the daily Ma’ariv newspaper. She studied Middle Eastern studies and English literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1956 to 1957, but did not complete a degree. She is married to journalist Joseph (Tommy) Lapid (b. 1931), who from 1999 to 2005 was a member of Knesset (Israeli legislature).
Professor Ruth Lapidoth is a major expert in international law. As a young woman, she decided to specialize in this field, seeing it as a path towards dialogue and a means to solve the Arab-Israel conflict. She hoped that international law could prevent wars and promote peace. Lapidoth’s father, Dr. Oscar Asher Eschelbacher, was born and raised in Germany, where he studied dentistry. Her mother, Dr. Selma Sarah née Roer, was also a dentist. In 1925 their older daughter Chana was born, followed by Ruth five years later, in 1930. The family left Germany and immigrated to Palestine in 1938.
Ruth Meckler, a piano prodigy from Michigan, became Ruth Laredo when she married violinist Jaime Laredo. A petite woman, she yielded to no one in the strength of her playing and her dedication to the instrument. “Ruth Laredo is about as big as a hummingbird. Her hands sometimes appear to hover over the keys, a blur to the eyes if not the ears. ... But what hummingbird ever packed such power?” wrote Donal Henahan in the New York Times.
“I was born in Thebes, Egypt although I came into the world in Elberfeld in the Rhineland.” This is how Else Lasker-Schüler characterized her background, indicating the separation between imagination and reality, artistic and bourgeois existence that marked her life. To speak for her she created the persona of Jussuf, Prince of Thebes, her alter ego who appears in her writings and drawings and with whose name she often signed her letters. This figure has an important Jewish component. Her Egyptian Jussuf is in fact the biblical Joseph with whom Else Lasker-Schüler identified already as a child. He is Joseph the dreamer and poet, ridiculed by his brothers, betrayed and sold.
Estée Lauder’s name connotes beauty and healthy skin through her profitable cosmetics lines: Estée Lauder, Clinique, Aramis, Lauder for Men and Prescriptives. An astute businesswoman, she made a fortune manufacturing, marketing and distributing cosmetics to women around the world.
Linda Lavin was born on October 15, 1937, in Portland, Maine, to David J. Lavin, owner of a flourishing furniture business, and Lucille (Potter) Lavin, a singer and local radio show host. The Lavins were active participants in the local Jewish community. In 1959, Lavin received her B.A. in theater arts from the College of William and Mary. After struggling to “make it” in Broadway musicals, she became frustrated with the vapid female roles. She switched to drama and was acclaimed for her work in Little Murders, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and Broadway Bound, which won a Tony Award.
The socio-economic status of a profession determines the significance of women’s integration into the profession. The integration of women into professions is not always an indication of socio-economic flourishing. When a profession is undervalued and underpaid, the integration of women may represent exploitation rather than success. In contrast, the legal profession in Israel is sought after and elitist. Women have been prominent partners in the legal profession for some time and their successful integration reflects socio-economic success in a wider frame of social reference.
The situation of the Jewish community in the United States is shaped fundamentally by the condition of political equality. This legal status is shared with all other citizens and is assumed as an essential baseline. Where there are violations of that status—when an individual otherwise of full legal capacity is treated as a member of a subordinated racial or religious group, and when group membership defines rights and duties—we discuss the problem under the heading “discrimination.”
Even more than medicine and other male-dominated professions, law was a notoriously difficult field for women to break into in Germany and Austria. Since women lawyers were admitted to German bar examinations only in 1922, they had very limited opportunities to establish themselves in legal careers before the Nazi era. Therefore, although a disproportionately high percentage of women law students in Germany and Austria were Jews, very few Jewish women actually practiced law. According to official census data, fifteen Jewish women made up forty percent of the women lawyers in Prussia in 1925 and thirty-two Jewish women comprised thirteen percent of all women lawyers in Germany in 1933.
“Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” proclaims the “Mother of Exiles” in Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus.” Her best-known contribution to mainstream American literature and culture, the poem has contributed to the belief that America means opportunity and freedom for Jews, as well as for other “huddled masses.” Through this celebration of the “other,” Lazarus conveyed her deepest loyalty to the best of both America and Judaism.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on February 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/content/L>.