The American Jewess Project
Introduction: The American Jewess
Published between April 1895 and August 1899, The American Jewess was the first English-language publication directed to American Jewish women. Part of the emergence of new public identities for Jewish women, The American Jewess offered an evocative range of features that included demands for synagogue membership for women; health, household and fashion tips; early expressions of American Zionism; short fiction; and reflections on the propriety of women riding bicycles.
The American Jewess represented the changing aspirations of America's prosperous and acculturated Jewish women. The magazine's title reflected an emerging belief that this group constituted a new entity in Jewish life: women who did not experience the religious and national aspects of their identity as in conflict with each other. Thoroughly American and thoroughly Jewish, the "American Jewess" felt fully at home in her overlapping worlds of American and Jewish culture. The American Jewess magazine set out to explore the challenges and possibilities inherent in this new identity. At its height, the magazine claimed a circulation of 31,000.
In the first issue of The American Jewess, its editor, Rosa Sonneschein, observed that, "Not what has happened, but what is recorded makes history." By giving voice to the aspirations, hopes, and fears of Americanizing Jewish women at the end of the 19th century, Sonneschein ensured that their experience could become part of early 21st century understandings of both American history and American Jewish history.
Published mostly as a monthly, 46 issues of The American Jewess appeared over a period of four and a half years. The only issue missing from this online collection is volume 5, issue 3 (June, 1897) — it appears that this issue existed but is not extant in any known collection of The American Jewess. There does not appear to have been an October 1898 issue, but issues were published in November and December of 1898, and January of 1899. In May 1899, after a hiatus of 3 months, the publishers announced that henceforth the magazine would run as a quarterly. The next and last issue of The American Jewess appeared in August 1899.
A list of the specific volumes and issues that appear in this digital collection, along with the libraries that lent the original copies for reproduction is found below under "Volume List and Sources."
Rosa Sonneschein, who created, oversaw, and edited volumes 1-7 of The American Jewess, came to the United States from Hungary in the 1860s. After more than twenty years in St. Louis where her husband was a rabbi, Sonneschein left her husband and moved to Chicago where she was able to attend the Jewish Women's Congress held at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. As she later wrote, "then and there we conceived the impression that the time had come to establish a literary organ for The American Jewess, an organ which shall connect the sisters dwelling throughout ... this blessed country, concentrate the work of scattered charitable institutions, and bring them to the notice of the various communities as an imposing and powerful unit."
Sonneschein was the first American Jewish woman to offer a strong and consistent critique of gender inequities in worship and synagogue leadership. She demanded that Jewish women "thirsting for the word of God" be allowed to "drink directly from the fountain of Religion." Her written contributions to The American Jewess are also noteworthy for their relatively early advocacy of Zionism by an American Jew.
Deflected by setbacks in both business and health, Sonneschein yielded control to an unidentified group of publishers in the summer of 1898. However, despite the new publishers' assertion that the magazine would benefit from no longer depending on one individual, and Sonneschein's continued contributions as a correspondent, the publication suffered from the loss of Sonneschein's editorial vision and energy. Trying to attune the magazine to topics of general interest to women, the new publishers were unable to revive the magazine's financial fortunes.
The digitization of The American Jewess represents an extension of the Jewish Women's Archive's (JWA's) efforts to provide users with online access to primary sources in American Jewish women's history. JWA sought to identify an archival collection or published resource that, when posted online, would have the greatest impact in affording expanded access to a significant primary source in Jewish women's history. In consultation with its Academic Advisory Council, JWA chose The American Jewess as a uniquely promising resource in terms of the benefit that online searchable access would afford to a wide variety of scholars and students in American, Jewish, and women's history.
The 1890s brought forth the first sustained discussion by Jewish women about the roles and possibilities for women in American Jewish communities. Sources for this discussion are limited to a few published volumes of conference proceedings and scattered newspaper discussions. The American Jewess was unique in offering such a rich concentration of different female and male perspectives on these issues in a discussion drawn out over 4 ½ years. Given the general limited access that most students have to nineteenth-century American Jewish primary sources and the very small number of resources that contain any written expression by nineteenth-century American Jewish women, the availability of the full text of The American Jewess will grant unprecedented access to a rich source on nineteenth-century Jewish women to a broad audience. Moreover, users will find that The American Jewess affords insight on a wide range of issues that affected the Jewish and general community of this period, ranging from approaches to fashion, healthcare, and leisure, to broad understandings of cultural and racial evolution.
Previous access to The American Jewess has been limited. No one existing library collection comes close to containing a full run of the magazine; an existing microfilm, created by the American Jewish Periodical Center at the Klau Library in Cincinnati, is available in only a limited number of libraries and falls far below current standards for reproduction.
Planning and Preparation
The Jewish Women's Archive is pleased to offer this digitized searchable version of The American Jewess. Financial support was obtained from donors to a fund initiated by Ellen-Deane Cummins in memory of her mother, Faith Breslaw Cummins, and the Jewish Fund for Cultural Preservation, a project of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
A survey was conducted of existing collections of The American Jewess in U.S. libraries. Most of the issues were located in the collections of the Klau Library at the Hebrew Union College ? Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, the Brandeis University Libraries, and the Library of Congress. Each library generously agreed to make their issues available for the purposes of digital reproduction. The Jewish Women's Archive filled in remaining gaps in the run of the magazine by purchasing bound issues of the first six volumes that were being de-accessioned by the Kansas City Public Library.
Because the issues assembled come from a variety of sources where they were preserved in different formats, there is some variation in the issues as they are presented here. Many of the issues held by the Klau Library of HUC-JIR were preserved in their original format, including back and front covers and all of the original advertising pages. Most of the other extant copies, at Klau and elsewhere, were preserved in bound volumes often with advertising content missing or bound at the back of the volume, and some with cover pages removed as well. The issues that were chosen for digital reproduction were the most complete version that was available of each issue.
Although it might have been possible to recreate the order of the original pages in each issue, there was enough variation from issue to issue, that it was thought best to reproduce them digitally as they were initially preserved. Thus, in some cases, the issues appear in their full forms, others are missing ad copy, others are also reproduced without their front and back covers. Volume 1, number 6, which comes from the Library of Congress, reproduces the ad copy contained in all the issues in volume 1.
Digitizing and Delivery
Digital reproductions and preservation-level microfilms of The American Jewess were created by OCLC Preservation Resources, in accordance with specifications developed by the University of Michigan's Digital Library Production Service.
Copies of The American Jewess were sent to Preservation Resources by the Jewish Women's Archive, the Brandeis University Libraries, Klau Library of Hebrew Union College?Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, and the Library of Congress (via interlibrary loan). Pages were scanned using a planetary scanner (Zeutschel 7000 A) with 7500-pixel array. Text pages were captured at 600 dpi and saved as 1 bit, G4 compressed TIFF files. Pages with illustrations or line drawings were captured at 400 dpi 8-bit; pages with color were captured at 400 dpi 24-bit. Both grayscale and color images were saved as uncompressed TIFF files. Bound volumes of The American Jewess owned by the Klau Library were disbound for the purpose of scanning; issues from the Brandeis, JWA, and Library of Congress collections were not disbound. Metadata and quality control was provided by JWA.
Once JWA completed its quality control work with Preservation Resources, digital image files were delivered to the participating libraries on CDRs. In addition, each library was provided with archival quality microfilm of the full The American Jewess collection.
The digitized text was converted and encoded by the University of Michigan Digital Library Production Service. Bill Hall, OCR operator, Christie Stephenson, head of Digital Conversion Services, and Christina Powell, Coordinator of Encoded Text Services shepherded the project and processed the content at Michigan. Machine-readable text was produced by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) using Prime Recognition. This text was left uncorrected ("dirty OCR") and minimally encoded with the Making of America (MOA) SGML Document Type Definition (DTD) used at the University of Michigan for MOA texts. This DTD is conformant with the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). Texts were encoded according to the recommendations for Level 1 in the TEI In Libraries Guidelines.
The final digitized searchable text of The American Jewess is being hosted on the University of Michigan's Making of America digital library website.
Volume List and Sources
The magazine appeared in eight volumes of differing composition, as follows:
Vol. 1 (April 1895 — September 1895): 1-6
Vol. 2 (October 1895 — September 1896): 1-12
No Volume 3 was published.
Vol. 4 (October 1896 — March 1897): 1-6
Vol. 5 (April 1897 — September 1897): 1-6.
Note: No copy of volume 5, issue 3 (June 1897) has been located.
Vol. 6 (October 1897 — February 1898): 1-6
Vol. 7 (April 1898 — August 1898): 1-4
Note: July-August 1898 was published as a double issue.
Vol. 8 (September 1898): 5
Note: Apparently because of misnumbering, this issue is identified as volume 8, number 5; Volume 8 thus included only one issue.
Vol. 9 (November 1898 — August 1890): 1-5
Note: There was no October 1898 issue. Issues were published monthly from November 1898 to January 1899, then two quarterly issues, May 1899 and August 1899, were published.
The institutions supplying copies for digitization were:
Brandeis University Libraries:
Jewish Women's Archive:
Vol. 2:2, 2:9, 2:11-12
Vol. 5:1-2, 5:4-6
Note: Issue 2:12 is a combination of Jewish Women's Archive and Klau Library material.
Klau Library, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion:
Vol. 2:1, 2:3-8, 2:10, 2:12
Vol. 4:1-4, 4:6
Vol. 6:1, 6:4-6
Vol. 7:2, 7:4
Vol. 8 :5
Vol. 9:2, 9:4-5
Note: Issue 2:12 is a combination of Jewish Women's Archive and Klau Library material.
Library of Congress:
Vol. 7:1, 7:3
Riding the Wheel of Health
Riding the Wheel of Health: The American Jewess's Progressive Perspective on Women's Bicycling is a paper by Rachel Salston, based in large part on her research using The American Jewess. The Jewish Women's Archive is interested in other papers written based on research using JWA resources. If you have written such a paper, please contact us for information about including your paper on our website.
Follow The American Jewess on Twitter
Read snippets from The American Jewess with links to pages of the magazine on Twitter. Check it all out at twitter.com/americanjewess.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "The American Jewess Project." (Viewed on January 26, 2021) <https://jwa.org/research/americanjewess>.