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Paula Ackerman

After the death of her rabbi husband, Paula Ackerman took over leadership of their congregation with the enthusiastic support of her community. Ackerman loved learning from an early age and convinced her father to let her study Hebrew alongside her brothers. She was valedictorian of her high school and earned a college scholarship, but when her father insisted her childhood dream of becoming a doctor was unladylike, she gave up both the dream and the scholarship. Instead, she taught high school and led the synagogue choir, where she met her future husband, Dr. William Ackerman, the newly hired rabbi. When they moved to a new congregation in Meridian, Mississippi, Ackerman taught in the religious school and led services when her husband was ill. After his death in 1950, the congregation asked her to take over as leader of the synagogue, requesting special permission from the Reform movement and insisting they would have no other. For the next three years, Ackerman was the first woman to serve as religious leader of a mainstream American congregation, helping to pave the way for the ordination of women rabbis twenty years later.

Paula Ackerman
Full image

Paula Ackerman, reading from a religious text.

When Paula Ackerman's husband, William Ackerman, died in 1950, his congregation, the Reform Temple Beth Israel of Meridian, Mississippi, requested that she succeed him. Thus, Paula Ackerman became the first female spiritual leader of a mainstream Jewish congregation in the United States.

Institution:The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati, OH.

Date of Birth
December 7, 1893
Place of Birth
Pensacola, Florida
Date of Death
January 12, 1989

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Paula Ackerman." (Viewed on February 19, 2019) <>.


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