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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.

Women's American ORT

Five years after the American chapter of the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) was founded in 1922, a women’s auxiliary group (WAO) was created. WAO aided displaced Europeans and focused on creating vocational schools across the world. In the later twentieth century, WAO expanded to help create medical services for students and provide recreational facilities, among other programs.

Nelly Wolffheim

Nelly Wolffheim spent her career developing and teaching a kindergarten curriculum based around Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic framework. She taught this curriculum, which encouraged children to express their sexual desires, to Jewish women teachers in Berlin. After escaping Germany for England in 1939, Wolffheim struggled to continue her research but began publishing her work again after the war.

Trude Weiss-Rosmarin

Trude Weiss-Rosmarin made great advances for women’s involvement in Jewish life through the schools she created and her editorship of the Jewish Spectator. A dynamic speaker backed by broad-ranging Jewish scholarship and a prodigious memory, she was a popular lecturer at synagogues and Jewish centers across the United States and a foremost critic of American Jewish life and institutions.

Rosa Zimmern Van Vort

Rosa Zimmern Van Vort was a member of Virginia’s first generation of trained nurses. She devoted her career to the training and education of nurses.

Turkey: Ottoman and Post Ottoman

The Jewish population of Turkey navigated far-reaching changes in the political, social, and geopolitical spheres in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, as the Ottoman Empire pursued reform and collapsed and the Turkish Republic that took its place imposed a process of “Turkification” on its residents. During this period, Jewish women partook in traditional customs relating to religion, family, and the home, while also accessing new opportunities in the public sphere through education and political engagement.

Sarah Thon

Sarah Thon was born in Lvov, Galicia. She married Yaakov Thon and they settled in Ottoman Palestine at the end of 1907. She became the representative of the Women’s Association for Cultural Work in Palestine and established five workshops for girls. She was also influential in the establishment of the girls’ farm at Kinneret and in the fight for Jewish women’s suffrage.

Anna Ticho

From the moment she arrived in the city in 1912 until the day she died in 1980, Anna Ticho lovingly portrayed Jerusalem in paint, pen and ink, charcoal, pastel, and pencil. Her works have been shown around Israel and abroad, and she has received numerous honorary titles and awards. She bequeathed her home, Ticho House, to the Israel Museum to be used as a site for exhibitions and cultural events.

Hasya Sukenik-Feinsod

Hasya Sukenik Feinsod served as director of the Hebrew Kindergarten Teachers College. In 1919 Feinsod was appointed by the Education Committee to serve as superintendent of kindergartens in Jerusalem. She headed the Association of Kindergarten Teachers, and she was the first and only female representative on the Education Committee.

Rahel Straus

Rahel Goitein Straus, a pioneering woman medical doctor trained in Germany, was a model “New Jewish Woman” of the early-20th century. Successfully combining a career as a physician with marriage and motherhood, she committed herself to Jewish and feminist causes and organizations throughout her life, while also embracing Zionist ideals.

Lina Solomonovna Stern (Shtern)

Lina Shtern, biochemist and physician, was the first woman professor at the University of Geneva and the first woman named to the Soviet Academy of Sciences. Born in Latvia, then part of the Russian Empire, she returned to the Soviet Union out of political idealism. A member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee during World War II, she was a victim of postwar repressions that targeted both scientists and Jews.

Bessie Cleveland Stern

Bessie Cleveland Stern is most recognized for her work as statistician for the Maryland Board of Education. She collected and interpreted data about the Maryland school system from 1921 through 1948, and school officials turned to her for information to support appropriations measures and proposed changes in state laws relating to the schools.

Dora Spiegel

Dora Spiegel served in many fields, including education, the organization of league sisterhoods, and publications stimulating women’s loyalty to the synagogue and the Jewish home. She helped found the Women’s Institute of Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, influencing the lives of countless Jewish women and children.

Soloveitchik, Rabbi Joseph Dov

Joseph Dov Soloveitchik shaped Jewish practice and public opinion through the era of second-wave feminism. Despite his sometimes progressive actions, Soloveitchik maintained that women and men had separate religious and familial roles. These positions from the leader of the Modern Orthodox community cemented resistance to Orthodox feminists’ demands to increase their participation in Jewish rituals.

Chava Slucka-Kesten

Chava Slucka-Kesten started teaching in Warsaw before World War II and continued her career through the war in Moscow. After the war she became an author and sustained her political involvement. Writing from the perspective of a politically engaged woman, Slucka-Kesten offers a unique glimpse into pre- and post-war Jewish life in Poland’s cities and villages, as well as into the early years of the State of Israel.


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