Rachel Calof’s memoir of life as a mail-order bride in Devils Lake, North Dakota vividly depicts the hardships of life as a western pioneer through the unique lens of a Jewish woman’s experience. Orphaned and without a dowry, Rachel Bella Khan became a mail order bride for Abraham Calof, joining him on his journey in 1894 from New York to a small Jewish settlement in North Dakota where his parents and siblings had already settled. The couple became homesteaders, and Calof struggled to keep kosher, raise nine children, and share cramped quarters with her in-laws and innumerable farm animals through the brutal Dakota winters. Calof and her husband earned the recognition of Presidents Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson for establishing a school system in their local district. In 1917 the family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. Calof began writing her memoir in Yiddish in 1936 but was unable to find a publisher. Twenty years after her death, her family typed and translated the memoir into English and donated it to the American Jewish Archives; it was published at last in 1995 as Rachel Calof’s Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains. In 2015 Leslie Steinweiss won Best Musical at the United Solo Festival for her one-woman show based on Calof’s memoir.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Rachel Calof." (Viewed on June 21, 2021) <https://jwa.org/people/calof-rachel>.