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Libraries

Historians in the United States

American Jewish women have been prominent within the historical profession. Indeed, many have been on the cutting edge of historical scholarship since the 1960s. In particular, Jewish women were at the forefront of developments within social history and in the creation of women’s history. While women generally, and Jewish women in particular, rarely made careers as historians in the first half of the twentieth century, Jewish women represented a significant proportion of academic historians both in American and European history as discrimination against Jews and prejudice against women lessened in the decades after World War II. Perhaps because of their sensitivity to the situation of powerless groups, most of them focused their attention not on traditional power elites but rather on those social groups traditionally ignored by academic historians: ordinary people, workers, peasants, minority groups, Jews, and especially women. They helped create, and were influenced by, new trends in historical scholarship that favored the study of such groups.

Dorothea Hirschfeld

Too old, lacking an appropriate educational background, of unsuitable family background, a member of the Social-Democrat Party and—worst of all—a woman, Dorothea Hirschfeld, a Jew without any legal training, nevertheless succeeded in entering the civil service at the age of forty-three. In 1919 she was the only woman among twenty candidates recommended for a position at the newly founded Reich Ministry of Employment and, a year later, the only one appointed as ministerial adviser.

Rahel Hirsch

Physiologist, physician and teacher, Rahel Hirsch was the granddaughter of Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808–1888), the founder and spiritual leader of neo-Orthodoxy and one of the major rabbinical figures of the nineteenth century. Born in Frankfurt am Main on September 15, 1870, one of the eleven children of Dr. Mendel Hirsch, Rahel grew up in a cultured, Jewishly knowledgeable family. Her father, who was the principal of the Jewish community’s Realschule and a leading figure in the strictly Orthodox Jewish community, ensured that she receive good schooling by sending her to a girls’ school in her native city. Since women were not yet admitted to German universities, Rahel went to the teachers’ seminary in Wiesbaden, where she received her teaching certificate in May 1889. For want of any alternative, she taught until 1898, but since she longed to be a physician she went to Zürich, where women had been admitted to medical school since 1840. However, when German universities followed suit, she returned, studying first in Leipzig and later, from November 1900, in Strassburg. Here she passed the state examination in July 1903, wrote her dissertation on the impact of glucose and was immediately licensed as a physician.

Esther Herlitz

A staunch Zionist and dedicated volunteer, born in Berlin on October 9, 1921, Esther Herlitz inherited many of her admirable traits from her beloved “Yekke” parents. Her father, Georg Herlitz (1885–1968), was born in Oppeln, a small town in Upper Silesia, into a totally assimilated Jewish family and received a typical Prussian education. However, since his parents could not afford to send him to university, he registered—with the help of the local rabbi—at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, a center for the scientific study of Judaism and a rabbinical seminary. Here the liberal Jewish administration awarded him a stipend and here, also, both his studies and the Zionist movement introduced him to a new world. Returning home, he led the first [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:377]Passover[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:391]seder[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] ever held in the history of the family and when he resumed studies, this time at the University of Berlin, he became an ardent Zionist activist. On completing his studies in 1919, he refused to become a rabbi and instead founded the Central Zionist Archive. When the Zionist Federation, which was interested in influencing the local Jewish community, asked him to infiltrate the city’s large 3,500-member Reform synagogue, Herlitz and his friends took on the role of wardens and replaced the rabbi with one who was a Zionist. His wife, Irma (née Herzka, 1888–1970), who came from a traditional home in Moravia and whose father was a melamed (teacher) of little children, hated what she perceived as the empty ceremonial of the Reform Jews, but Esther herself came to love it.

Hebrew Teachers Colleges in the United States

During the early waves of immigration to the United States, Sephardi and German Jews established full-time schools in large population centers. Rabbis, clergy and predominantly European-trained male teachers provided religious instruction in private-school settings, often sponsored by and housed in synagogues.

Fanny Goldstein

Librarian, social activist, and founder of National Jewish Book Week, Fanny Goldstein helped institutionalize national pride in ethnic and immigrant backgrounds through her work in libraries and settlement houses, and in her lectures and writing.

Ruth Gay

With a few strokes of her pen, Ruth Glazer (later Gay) painted a vivid portrait of the culture of second-generation Jews in New York. As a free-lance writer and editor for over fifty years, she has explored the Jewish experience of both America and Germany.

Jennie Maas Flexner

Jennie Maas Flexner was the New York Public Library’s original readers’ adviser, an innovator in the use of public libraries for adult education, especially for minorities, immigrants, and refugees during the unsettled years of the Depression and World War II.

Natalie Zemon Davis

Natalie Zemon Davis is a leading European historian, a pioneer in feminist studies, and one of the first women to assume a senior position in academic life. In 1987, when she served as president of the American Historical Association, the largest professional organization of historians in the United States, she became only the second woman ever to hold that post. Davis’s work has enriched historical understanding by challenging the boundaries of scholarly inquiry and broadening the scope of the historical profession.

Carrie Dreyfuss Davidson

Founder and longtime editor in chief of Outlook magazine, Carrie Dreyfuss Davidson, born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 12, 1879, exemplified the often competing paradigms of Jewish homemaker and accomplished writer and community leader. Introduced to many in American Jewish society as the wife of renowned professor Israel Davidson of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, this gifted woman eventually founded and fostered an array of significant organizations and publications.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Libraries." (Viewed on December 14, 2017) <https://jwa.org/topics/libraries>.

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