Irma May

During the economic devastation of the 1920s, Irma May reported on anti–Semitism throughout Eastern Europe and raised massive funds to help Jews overseas. In the interwar period, Jews were often blamed for the Depression in Europe and faced blacklisting, starvation, and outright violence. Shortly after May immigrated to the US in 1920, her fiancé, Bernard Cantor, was killed while doing relief work in the Ukraine. Devastated by the loss, May took up his work, speaking at Columbia later that year on anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish academics throughout Eastern Europe. As a result, Columbia created a fundraising committee to send aid abroad. May then became the United Jewish Campaign’s special commissioner for Eastern Europe, travelling throughout the region to report directly on the crisis. On her return to America, she spoke eloquently at fundraisers about what she had seen, and in 1926 raised an initial pledge of $3.7 million for a $6 million campaign in less than two weeks. While she disappeared from public record during the American Great Depression, May’s work over a decade helped avert disaster for Jewish communities throughout Europe.


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Date of Birth



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Jewish Women's Archive. "Irma May." (Viewed on March 3, 2021) <>.


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