Forty-four percent of the approximately two million Jewish immigrants who arrived in the United States between 1886 and 1914 were women. Although these women were more politically active and autonomous than other immigrant women, dire economic circumstances constricted their lives. The hopes these immigrant women harbored for themselves were often transferred to the younger generation.
Doña Gracia Nasi was the embodiment of passionate solidarity among exiles. As a young woman she inherited her husband’s fortune, and fled from Lisbon to Venice to Ferrara, where her family lived openly as Jews for the first time. In Constantinople, she assumed a role of leadership in the Sephardi world of the Ottoman Empire.
Clara Lemlich Shavelson pushed union leaders to recognize the importance of women in the labor movement and sparked the famous Uprising of the 20,000 garment workers strike in 1909. She continued her activism throughout her life, organizing around women’s suffrage and leading food boycotts and rent strikes.