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Television in the United States

Jewish women have had a long-standing, complex, often fraught relation to American television. They have had to battle a male-dominated production system and sexist stereotypes, but also have seen significant advances, in front of and behind the screen, resulting from the cable and streaming revolutions and third-wave feminist activism.  

Theater in the United States

For over a hundred years, Jewish women have been involved in the American theater as writers, actors, directors, designers and producers. The vitality of the Yiddish theater, the splendor of Broadway, the rich tapestry of the regional theater, and everything in between, all owe a debt to the Jewish women who have given of their talents, their energy, their drive, and their dreams.

Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein was an American modernist writer, an international celebrity, and an artistic iconoclast. With her companion Alice B. Toklas, she lived in Paris for most of her life. An impressive modern art collection hung on the walls of their home. Besides poetry and plays, Stein wrote innovative fiction, essays on writing and art, and two memoirs, The Biography of Alice B. Toklas and Everybody’s Autobiography, that chronicled her life, career, and famous friends.

Bella Spewack

Bella Spewack, in collaboration with her husband Sam, is known for writing some of the most memorable works of musical theater history, including Leave It to Me (1938) and Kiss Me Kate (1948). The Spewacks also wrote screenplays for several 1940s Hollywood hits, such as Weekend at the Waldorf. The couple contributed to many Jewish organizations and founded the Spewack Sports Club for the Handicapped in Ramat Gan, Israel.

Jo Sinclair

Jo Sinclair was an American-Jewish novelist whose works explored the repercussions of oppression in many forms: self-denial and self-destruction, antisemitism and Jewish self-hatred, repression of women’s sexual energy and sexual orientation, racism and the internalization of prejudice, poverty, and other forms of marginalization. Her work looked to self-knowledge as a means of emerging from one’s internalized ghetto.

Joan Micklin Silver

Award-winning director and screenwriter Joan Micklin Silver, born in 1935 in Omaha, Nebraska, wrote and directed the 1975 barrier-breaking independent film Hester Street, which sparked an interest in the lives of immigrant Jews. She also directed Crossing Delancey (1988), five other feature films, and several films for television.

Joan Rivers

In revues, nightclub acts, concert halls, and on television, Joan Rivers popularized and perfected a genre of comedy that challenged reigning social conventions. After breaking into Chicago’s comedy scene in 1961 at Second City, Rivers became known for her comedic routines, books, and the talk show for which she won an Emmy for in 1990.

Cecilia Razovsky

Cecilia Razovsky was a remarkably active woman who spent her life striving to assist immigrants in adapting to life in the United States and other countries. Razovsky found countless ways to help Jewish refugees in particular, from writing plays and pamphlets to running committees and organizations for immigrant aid.

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand was a Russian-American Jewish author and philosopher. Her most famous novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957), promote her philosophy of ethics called “Objectivism.”

Marge Piercy

Novelist and poet Marge Piercy's life and life’s work reflect her deep engagement with political activism, feminism, and Judaism. In genres including fiction, poetry, liturgy, memoir, and essays, Piercy’s work brings together spirituality, creativity, memory, sensuality, and political engagement.

Bertha Pappenheim

Bertha Pappenheim was the founder of the Jewish feminist movement in Germany. In 1904, she founded the League of Jewish Women. Pappenheim believed that male-led Jewish social service societies underestimated the value of women’s work and insisted on a woman’s movement that was equal to and entirely independent of men’s organizations.

Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick is a Jewish-American writer, novelist, essayist, and playwright. Her creative, authentic, and intelligent stories, including “The Shawl” (1989) and “The Puttermesser Papers” (1997), have made her one of the greatest fiction writers and literary critics alive.

Annie Nathan Meyer

Annie Nathan Meyer promoted women’s higher education and founded Barnard College, New York’s first liberal arts college for women. She also chronicled women’s work, dramatized women’s status in plays, novels, and short stories, and raised funds for Jewish and black students to attend Barnard.

Lillian Hellman

Controversial both during and after her life, Lillian Hellman was one of the leading women of letters of mid-century America and a pioneer woman playwright. Hellman displayed courage not only in writing powerful plays like The Children’s Hour but also in her public refusal to name colleagues to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Miriam Shomer Zunser

Miriam Shomer Zunser, journalist, playwright, and artist, was an important promoter of Jewish culture in America during the period before World War II. Born in Odessa in 1882, Zunser left a strong legacy in the Yiddish literary world and in the world of Jewish activism and organization.

Shelley Winters

Shelley Winters (1920-2006) was a movie, television, and stage actor. She won two Academy awards, an Emmy, and a Lifetime Achievement Award, and published a two-volume autobiography.

Bertha Wiernik

Writer and translator Bertha Wiernik is remembered by her many adaptations of Yiddish literature and dramatic works. Working closely with charitable societies throughout her career, Wiernik helped spread Jewish literature throughout New York City in the early 20th century.

Wendy Wasserstein

In 1989, Wendy Wasserstein won the Pulitzer Prize for The Heidi Chronicles and was the first woman playwright to win a Tony Award. After graduating from the MFA program at the Yale School of Drama, in which she was the only woman, Wasserstein wrote countless dramas, three musicals, various comedy skits for television, and a series of essays published in the New Yorker, Esquire, and Harper’s Bazaar.

Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark was a Scottish-Jewish novelist, short story writer, literary critic, poet, editor, and essayist. While many critics marginalize Spark as a “Catholic writer,” it is clear that the wit, intelligence and subversiveness of her fiction are driven not by an unchanging morality but by a radical singularity.

Dora Shulner

Dora Shulner was a Yiddish writer who vividly evoked for her readers life in the Pale of Settlement before, during, and after the Russian Revolution and Civil War. She candidly portrayed women in their most intimate relationships with men, revealing the complexity of their disappointments and aspirations.

Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein

Yiddish writer Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein was born in Belarus in 1899 and emigrated to Calgary, Canada, with her family in 1911. Her poetry devoted to her pregnancy and childbirth were considered groundbreaking, along with other themes in her work, including grief, marriage, sexuality, and widowhood.

Rose Shoshana

Rose Shoshana began her acting career in the Yiddish theater world, playing Manke in Got fun Nekome in 1908. She went on to perform across Europe, America, and Asia. When she arrived in New York in 1946, she began a career as a novelist, writer, translator, and journalist at the Forverts.

Viola Brothers Shore

Viola Brothers Shore was an accomplished writer, poet, and screenwriter during the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to writing for numerous publications, she wrote silent movie titles and original stories for many films and won awards for her may mystery stories.

Yente Serdatsky

Proud, independent, enterprising, and contentious, Yente Serdatsky exemplifies the enormous difficulties experienced by Yiddish women writers in achieving recognition. Serdatsky published stories, one-act plays, and dramatic sketches in various Yiddish periodicals, and focussed on the narratives of immigrant women like herself.

Nathalie Sarraute

Writer and lawyer Nathalie Sarraute was an innovative figure in post-World War II French literature. No longer allowed to practice law during the German occupation of France, she posed as the governess of her three daughters to hide her Jewish identity. Sarraute’s many novels and plays are characterized by an “inwardness” and an unusual lack of characters, names, and plot.


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