Women of Valor
Through posters and a variety of primary source documents Women of Valor recognizes and highlights the lives and accomplishments of sixteen trailblazing Jewish women, each of whom had the courage and conviction to overcome the social, cultural, and religious barriers she faced in creating a more just and equitable world.
"Madame" Beatrice Alexander knew how to dream big. Born into a world in which many women worked but few achieved prominence in business, she built her own company virtually singlehandedly. Raised amidst teeming poverty, she amassed a significant fortune. From the obscurity of an immigrant neighborhood, she became one of the foremost female entrepreneurs of the twentieth century.
Gertrude Elion's accomplishments over the course of her long career as a chemist were tremendous. Among the many drugs she developed were the first chemotherapy for childhood leukemia, the immunosuppressant that made organ transplantation possible, the first effective anti-viral medication, and treatments for lupus, hepatitis, arthritis, gout, and other diseases.
Ray Frank's position in American Jewry was truly a novel one. In 1890, she became the first Jewish woman to preach formally from a pulpit in the United States, inaugurating a career as "the Girl Rabbi of the Golden West" that would help to blaze new paths for women in Judaism. Virtually overnight, Frank became a sensation in the Jewish world, and she would remain so for nearly a decade.
Emma Goldman dedicated her life to the creation of a radically new social order. Convinced that the political and economic organization of modern society was fundamentally unjust, she embraced anarchism for the vision it offered of liberty, harmony and true social justice. For decades, she struggled tirelessly against widespread inequality, repression and exploitation.
As the founder and secretary of Philadelphia's earliest women's philanthropic organizations, Rebecca Gratz helped define a new identity for American women. She devoted her adult life to providing relief for Philadelphia's underprivileged women and children and securing religious, moral and material sustenance for all of Philadelphia's Jews.
One of the first successful Jewish American authors, Lazarus was part of the late nineteenth century New York literary elite and was recognized in her day as an important American poet. In her later years, she wrote bold, powerful poetry and essays protesting the rise of antisemitism and arguing for Russian immigrants' rights. She called on Jews to unite and create a homeland in Palestine before the title Zionist had even been coined.
Myerhoff was a renowned scholar, heading the University of Southern California's anthropology department in Los Angeles where she lived and raised her family. A creative and extremely popular professor, she urged her students to use the tools of anthropology to question and better understand their own lives and the lives of others. But Myerhoff's influence also reached far beyond academia, and she touched a broad audience with her books and films.
For over seventy years, Molly Picon, star of Yiddish theater and film, delighted audiences with her comic song and dance performances. Picon performed on stage and in Yiddish and Hollywood films for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences around the world. Her engaging persona and powerful performances helped keep Yiddish culture alive by bringing it out of the shtetl and into mainstream American culture.
An outspoken activist and a "fighting judge," Justine Wise Polier was the first woman Justice in New York. For 38 years she used her position on the Family Court bench to fight for the rights of the poor and disempowered. She strove to implement juvenile justice law as treatment, not punishment, making her court the center of a community network that encompassed psychiatric services, economic aid, teachers, placement agencies, and families.
During the workday, Canadian Olympic medalist Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld was a stenographer in a Toronto chocolate factory. It was only on evenings and weekends that she had time to resume her role as the "world's best girl athlete." On any given day she could be seen winning softball games before crowds of thousands, breaking national and international track records or leading an ice hockey or basketball team to a league championship.
Anna Sokolow was a dancer and choreographer of uncompromising integrity. Believing strongly that dance could be more than mere entertainment, she explored the most pressing issues of her day—from the Great Depression, to the Holocaust, to the alienated youth of the 1960s—and challenged her audiences to think deeply about themselves and their society.
Hannah Greenebaum Solomon dared to go out into the world and establish the first national association of Jewish women. A superb organizer, Solomon emphasized unity, and orchestrated agreements among Jewish, gentile, and government groups on local, national, and international levels.
Henrietta Szold enlisted generations of American Jewish women in the practical work of supporting Jewish settlement in Palestine and Israel. As an essayist, translator, and editor, she became one of the few women to play a foundational role in creating a meaningful American Jewish culture.
Lillian D. Wald was a practical idealist who worked to create a more just society. Her goal was to ensure that women and children, immigrants and the poor, and members of all ethnic and religious groups would realize America's promise of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Gertrude Weil's passion for equality and justice shaped the course of her long life. Inspired by Jewish teachings that "justice, mercy, [and] goodness were not to be held in a vacuum, but practiced in our daily lives," Weil stood courageously at the forefront of a wide range of progressive and often controversial causes, including women's suffrage, labor reform and civil rights. She worked tirelessly to extend political, economic and social opportunities to those long denied them.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor." (Viewed on January 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/womenofvalor>.