Content type

Torah Study

Although the obligation of Torah study is one of the most important Jewish commandments, women have long been exempted, or even excluded, from it. Over time, scholars mitigated women’s exclusion by rendering it inapplicable to all content, to all women, or both. Regardless of halakhic rulings, some women have studied Torah in all time periods.

Teaching Profession in the United States

Jewish women in the United States became professional teachers to an extent unprecedently in Jewish history. Through Jewish educational organizations, Jewish schools, and public schools, female Jewish teachers have played an important role in shaping the North American teaching profession.

Helen Tamiris

Helen Tamiris was a leader in forming American modern dance. An acclaimed choreographer and director, she used dance to comment on the social issues of her day, including racism, poverty, and war.

Edith Rosenwald Stern

Edith Rosewald Stern used her family’s wealth for her community’s good. In New Orleans, she helped fund schools to offer her children and their peers a progressive education. Stern also fought to clean up voting rights in the city, organizing voter registration, auditing voter rolls, and bringing voting machines into high schools to educate future voters.

Stern College for Women

Founded in 1954, Stern College for Women of Yeshiva University is the longest-standing college in America for women under Jewish auspices. It has attracted young women from both Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish homes interested both in secular university training and high-level Jewish studies. 

Pauline Perlmutter Steinem

Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, like her granddaughter Gloria Steinem, was an ardent activist for women’s rights, especially suffrage. She was also involved in Jewish activism, serving many local Jewish organizations and devoting a considerable amount of her income to send Jews to Israel just before World War II began.

Barbara Miller Solomon

Barbara Miller Solomon was not only an educator but a pioneer in the field of women's history. Named the first female dean of Harvard College in 1970, she laid the groundwork for the formal establishment women’s studies there. Her scholarship on the history of immigration and women's history remains influential today.

Settlement Houses in the United States

Founded beginning in the 1880s in impoverished urban neighborhoods, settlement houses provided recreation, education, and medical and social service programs, primarily for immigrants. Jewish women played significant roles as benefactors, organizers, administrators of, and participants in these institutions.

Felice Nierenberg Schwartz

Recognizing the hurdles that can stop women from achieving, Felice Nierenberg Schwartz founded Catalyst, an organization to help women with children enter the workforce, created a national network of resource centers and programs to enable women to work part time, and advocated for working mothers in her widely published writing.

Science in Israel

In Israel, awareness has grown recently that only through proactive effort can gender equality in scientific fields can be realized. Thorough investigations of inequalities have taken place, and actions are being taken to catalyze policy and systematic action to further women in science and technology.

Sarah Schenirer

Sarah Schenirer, a divorced dressmaker who lived in Krakow, Poland, was the founder of Bais Yaakov, a network of schools for Orthodox girls. By the time she died in 1935, the school she founded in 1917 had grown to hundreds of schools in Poland and beyond.

Alice Salomon

Alice Salomon was an educator, feminist, economist, and international activist who was one of the pioneers of the emerging field of professional social work in Germany in the early 20th century. In 1925 she was among the founders of the German Academy for Women’s Social and Educational Work, and she later served as the first president of the International Committee of Schools of Social Work.

Salonika: Female Education at the end of the Nineteenth Century

Salonika was a vibrant center of Sephardic Jewish life in the Ottoman Empire, at some points even boasting a majority Jewish population. The Alliance Israélite Universelle, a French Jewish educational program, was established to westernize, or in their words “regenerate,” Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish communities. The Alliance established dedicated girls’ schools to give young Jewish women a secular education.

Mattie Rotenberg

The first woman and the first Jew to be granted a doctorate in physics at the University of Toronto, Mattie Rotenberg also founded Toronto’s first Jewish day school in 1929 to educate her five children. She went on to embark upon a successful second career in journalism.

Nacha Rivkin

Orthodox Jewish education for women in America began with the work of Nacha Rivkin, a founder of Shulamith School for Girls, the first girls’ yeshiva in the United States. A courageous and proficient “doer,” Rivkin broke out of the mold of the passive, religious homemaker in her commitment to action. Through her music and artwork, she expanded the range of career possibilities for Orthodox women of her time.

Julia Richman

A polarizing and important social reformer, Julia Richman sought to better manage the massive influx of immigrants in New York by Americanizing the new arrivals as quickly as possible, particularly through intense training in English. An educator who eventually became district superintendent of the Lower East Side schools in 1903, she created playgrounds, improved school lunches, and enforced health examinations for students.

Justine Wise Polier

As the first woman judge appointed in New York, Justine Wise Polier focused on helping the most vulnerable population: children. From the bench, Polier helped reform both foster care and the school system, ensuring that minority children had access to services. She also worked an informal second shift, volunteering for important causes ranging from prison reform to trying to evacuate Jewish children from Europe during the Holocaust.

Orthodox Judaism in the United States

Orthodox views on the roles women may play in their communities’ religious, educational, and social life have reflected the range of attitudes that religious group has harbored toward American society. Generally, those Orthodox Jews who have resisted American culture have not countenanced the active participation of women within the synagogue. For other Orthodox Jews, the opening of synagogue life to greater women’s participation, within what they see as the expansive boundaries of halakhah, is but another dimension of their accommodating approach to their encounter with America. 

Rosa Mordecai

In the 1850s, Rosa Mordecai attended the famed Sunday school that her great-aunt Rebecca Gratz had created, which was the first to offer American Jewish children an education on Jewish history and religion in English. As an adult, Mordecai and two of her sisters created a private school for girls in Philadelphia, which they ran for forty years.

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.

Frances Horwich

Frances Horwich was loved by parents and children alike for her educational television show, Ding Dong School, which taught millions of children how to finger paint, grow plants, and do craft projects with household objects such as pipe cleaners and paper plates. She ended up writing 27 Ding Dong School books and two books for parents, as well as winning several awards over her career.

Hunter College

Hunter College of the City University of New York was founded as a public, tuition-free secondary and teacher-training school for women that admitted students solely on the basis of academic merit, at a time when many institutions of higher education were implementing policies of selective admissions designed specifically to deflect disadvantaged students.

Bessie Abramowitz Hillman

Bessie Abramowitz devoted her life to unions, organizing her first strike at fifteen, announcing her engagement on a picket line, and continuing her efforts for workers’ rights until her death. She remained active in union activities until her death in New York City, on December 23, 1970, at age eighty-one.

Melissa Hayden

Melissa Hayden showed unparalleled versatility and range in her ballet dancing during a successful career that spanned decades. Dancing in both the American Ballet Theater and New York City Ballet, Hayden thrilled her audiences with consistently excellent performances in a career that spanned four decades.

Working Women's Education in the United States

Although young immigrant Jewish women had always been especially motivated to become educated public-school students, the workers’ education movement in the 1910s and 1920s tried to teach workers specifically about social activism. Organizations such as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union created summer schools at colleges to educate women workers about trade unionism.


Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women.

donate now

Get JWA in your inbox

Read the latest from JWA from your inbox.

sign up now