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A History of Jewish Women in America from Colonial Times to the Present By Hasia R. Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly (462 Pages)Publisher: Perseus Books, 2002
Ever since Peter Stuyvesant in 1654 grudgingly admitted a band of twenty-three refugee Jews to colonial New Amsterdam, Jewish women have played a pivotal role in building the culture of the United States and in shaping the history of American Judaism. From salons in Federal Philadelphia to gold rush boarding houses, from frontier homesteads to Progressive-era settlement houses to 1970s protest marches, American Jewish women used their distinctive sense of self and community to fashion families, livelihoods and religious practices that fit both American opportunities and ancient Jewish values.
In this lively and moving account, the first-ever social history of America's Jewish women, Hasia R. Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly chronicle fifteen generations of women who were mothers, wives and daughters - as well as earners, organizers and entrepreneurs. These women built families, communities, businesses and institutions across the continent, while also asserting their claim to a role in the life of the synagogue. Drawing on long-neglected public records, private diaries, memoirs and letters, the authors overturn the widespread notions that Jewish life began at Ellis Island, that it happened only in New York, and that women played a secondary role in American Judaism and Jewish communities.
In place of such stereotypes as the Jewish Mother, the reader meets flesh-and-blood characters: Emma Lazarus, Mrs. Wyatt Earp, Bess Myerson, Betty Friedan and many lesser-known figures such as Frances Jacobs, who rallied Denver to conquer tuberculosis in the late 19th century; Clara Lemlich, who sparked and led one of the landmark strikes of the American labor movement, Lena Bryant, who liberated American women from the constraints of Victorian pregnancy; and Sadie American, who fought to protect immigrant women from the very real threat of white slavery. From Rycke Nounes, who stood up for her rights in colonial New Amsterdam, to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who won rights for all American women, this is a chronicle of determination, grit, sacrifice and accomplishment. Far more than a gallery of affecting individual portraits, it is the epic panorama of an ancient people building a new life in a new land of freedom. A celebration of struggle and achievement, Her Works Praise Her tells the story of how this vital community forged new ways of being Jewish and profound ideas of what it means to be a woman.
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