JWA News Release: Mar 1, 2002

Women's History Month Spotlight Shines On JWA's 'Women of Valor'

Jewish Women's Archive Distributes Poster Series, Educational Materials to Schools, Libraries, Synagogues, in Advance of March Observance

BOSTON, MA—They helped shape modern American politics and culture, but their stories are usually given short shrift in general history books. That's what unites the three women recently named Women of Valor by the Boston-based Jewish Women's Archive—modern dancer and choreographer Anna Sokolow, radical activist Emma Goldman, and social and political reformer Gertrude Weil. But during Women's History Month this March, the organization is working to make sure these three Jewish trailblazers get their due.

Women of Valor is an educational outreach program designed to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of Jewish women. Each year, JWA produces and distributes posters and resource guides featuring three noteworthy Jewish women to thousands of educational and religious institutions across North America. In addition, the organization posts online exhibits about the women on its award-winning website at jwa.org. The Women of Valor program has recognized 18 women in all, including politician Bella Abzug; athlete Bobbie Rosenfeld; anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff; philanthropist Rebecca Gratz; poet and writer Emma Lazarus; actress Molly Picon; activist and jurist Justine Wise Polier; National Council of Jewish Women founder Hannah G. Solomon; and activist and organizer Lillian D. Wald. Last year's honorees were entrepreneur and philanthropist "Madame" Beatrice Alexander, Nobel Prize-winning pharmaceutical researcher Gertrude Elion and itinerant preacher Ray Frank.

"These three women are more than just important historical figures," says JWA Executive Director Gail Twersky Reimer. "They were trailblazers, each in their own areas. They're women whose determination to overcome barriers and whose courage to fight for what they believed in are the very definition of conviction. Truly these were women of valor and, this Women's History Month, we intend to see to it that their stories are told."

In recent years, the poster series has been a wellspring for a variety of community events:

  • In Tom's River, New Jersey, a synagogue's sisterhood honored Jewish women of the past and present with a Women of Valor theatre production. The program was designed for the younger population of the synagogue. Included in the play were the Women of Valor poster series, and short synopses of the lives of the women being recognized.
  • Temple Beth Am in Rochester, New York, created a Mother/Daughter Grandmother/Granddaughter luncheon to celebrate the Women of Valor 2000.
  • An educator and an artist led a dozen Atlanta-area women through a four-session course, in which the women studied the lives of JWA's Women of Valor and also worked to recognize their own women of valor. The class culminated in the creation of "memory boxes" honoring women who had made an indelible mark on the participants.
  • In Manchester, New Hampshire, community activist Sarah Denmark projected the images of the three Women of Valor 2000 through large windows of the Federation/JCC building, which stands on a major boulevard. The images created intense curiosity and the Federation phones rang off the hook with people asking for more information on these women.

Background material on this year's Women of Valor is attached. JWA's Women of Valor web exhibit is at jwa.org/womenofvalor. The poster series may be viewed online at jwa.org/shop.

The mission of the Jewish Women's Archive is to uncover, chronicle and transmit the rich legacy of Jewish women and their contributions to our families and our communities, to our people and our world. JWA uses traditional methods and emerging technologies to accomplish this mission. The JWA website, which hosts a unique "Virtual Archive" of information on Jewish women, is at jwa.org.

JWA's 2002 Women of Valor

Born in 1910 in Hartford, Connecticut, Anna Sokolow became a preeminent figure in modern dance, as both a performer and a choreographer. An innovative dancer and choreographer, Sokolow - the child of Russian immigrants - grew up in New York. She attended the Henry Street Settlement House, began performing at the Neighborhood Playhouse, and studied with many of the foundational figures of modern dance, including Martha Graham. In her choreography, Sokolow explored many of the social, political and human conflicts of her time. She created many works with Jewish subjects and themes, including Songs of a Semite, based on poems by Emma Lazarus, and Dreams, a groundbreaking work inspired by the Holocaust. Sokolow worked extensively in Mexico, where she became known as "the founder of Mexican modern dance," and in Israel. A versatile choreographer, Sokolow worked in a variety of formats including drama, opera, and musicals. She provided original choreography for the 1967 off-Broadway production of "Hair." She died on March 29, 2000, at the age of 90.

Emma Goldman dedicated herself to the creation of a radically new social order, rooted in absolute freedom. Born in 1869 in Kovno, Lithuania, she immigrated to the United States at the age of 16. Emerging from a Jewish tradition that championed the pursuit of universal justice unconfined by national boundaries, she became a passionate advocate of free speech, women's independence, birth control and workers' rights. Her fiery oratory and writings led to several prison sentences - for speaking at a demonstration of unemployed workers, for lecturing and distributing material on birth control, and for speaking out in opposition to the draft during World War I. Deported to the newly formed Soviet Union in 1919, Goldman quickly became disillusioned with what she regarded as a betrayal of communist ideals, and she spent the rest of her life searching for a new political "home." In the 1930s, she spoke out about the dangers of Nazism and fascism. Through imprisonment and exile, Goldman never compromised her unwavering commitment to her anarchist ideals and her belief that workers should "become daring enough to demand [their] rights." She died in Canada in 1940 at the age of 70 and is buried in Chicago.

Motivated by her passion for justice and equality, Gertrude Weil stood courageously at the forefront of a wide range of causes, from women's suffrage, to labor reform, to civil rights. Weil drew upon Jewish teachings to argue that "justice, mercy, [and] goodness" must be "practiced in our daily lives." Born in 1879 in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Weil helped establish the Goldsboro Equal Suffrage League, served as president of the North Carolina Equal Suffrage League, and founded and became first president of the North Carolina League of Women Voters. Through her extensive social service work and her tenure during the Depression as director of Federal Public Relief Work for Goldsboro, Weil became increasingly involved in efforts to improve the lives of North Carolina's African-American population. In 1932, she joined the state Commission on Interracial Cooperation, serving on it and its successor organization for more than 25 years. She belonged as well to the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, and in 1963, she organized a Bi-Racial Council for the City of Goldsboro. Like many extraordinary Jewish women across the country, Weil helped to make her community into a vital and meaningful home for all its inhabitants. She died in 1971, leaving behind an enduring record of commitment to social progress.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA News Release: Mar 1, 2002." (Viewed on May 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/news/2002/release030102>.


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