Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women's Activism, 1890-1940

NYU Press  2013

 

American Jewish women have long been respected for the meaningful contributions they have made to progressive causes, and now history scholar Melissa Klapper tells the colorful story of their social and political activism spanning the decades from 1890 to 1940.

A professor of history at Rowan University in New Jersey, Klapper had previously written extensively about Jewish women and girls, tracing their history as immigrants and telling their coming-of-age stories. In Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace, she turns her attention to the major movements in the U.S. – women’s suffrage, birth control, and the push for peace – and examines the role of Jewish women in each. To write this book, she searched dozens of archives and hundreds of published primary-source materials, succeeding in painting a vivid picture of Jewish women’s public engagement with the issues of the day. Both middle-class and working-class women are portrayed here, often seen joining with their non-Jewish sisters to push forward their activist agendas.

Carefully footnoted and with an extensive bibliography, this book will educate and enlighten readers looking for a detailed disquisition on a thought-provoking topic. In the first half of the twentieth century, while the American Jewish community was in the period of its greatest consolidation, American Jewish women were working to achieve their goals by bringing a feminine – and feminist – awareness to the major issues of the day. They did so by initiating press coverage, forming organizations, and establishing women as active participants in major causes, and in so doing created a model for contemporary women to follow.

The book succeeds on three levels: as a study of preeminent social movements, an investigation of modern Jewish history, and an examination of the role of women in modern times. Its consistently well-researched facts are analyzed into a set of cogent conclusions about the primacy of Jewish women in both social and political causes, and it is eminently readable.

Without sentiment but with a keen eye and a sharp pen, Klapper manages to illuminate the diverse hearts and minds of the many women who, by managing to reconcile their multiple identities as women, Jews, and Americans, succeeded in giving shape to the movements that shaped America. Bibliography, index, notes.

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