"A predominant cause of distress": gender, benevolence, and the Agunah in regional perspective.
In observant Jewish communities, finding a solution to the plight of the abandoned woman, or agunah--literally, "chained woman"--has challenged scholars, religious leaders, and activists for centuries. Historically, agunot have struggled to sustain their religious devotion, to navigate the challenges of diasporic identity, and to maintain their cultural and religious authenticity in the face of the larger world's assimilationist demands. According to traditional Jewish law, or halakhah, a married woman may not remarry unless she obtains a get--a rabbinically mediated and approved divorce--from her husband. Only a husband can grant his wife a get, and a woman whose husband disappears is left in a thorny predicament. (1) She may remarry civilly without a get, but Jewish law labels her an adulteress, and children resulting from the new marriage are considered mamzerim, bastards. The stigma of mamzerut is passed down through the generations, allowing mamzerim to marry only other mamzerim. Jewish law therefore designates all descendants of agunot as illegitimate and morally contaminated, yet a man who refuses to grant his wife a get is not subject to any similar penalty. (2)
Unable to remarry without an official get, the agunah's options are limited. Her predicament often descends into financial desperation, where religious observance and practical necessity appear at odds. Historically, agunot have tried to track down errant husbands and persuade them to provide a get, but this often proved difficult for women with limited means. Husbands sometimes moved out of state and changed their names to avoid responsibility for their estranged wives. Having exhausted efforts to locate her spouse, an agunah might have no choice but to remarry civilly, despite the stigma of mamzerut and the betrayal of her faith.
Many have noted that the laws governing deserted women ironically punish them for their religious devotion, while deserters might walk free and unencumbered. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a leader of contemporary efforts to provide justice and support to agunot, writes that "a vindictive husband, or one who is unconcerned with the requirements of Jewish law, can not only deny his wife a religious divorce if he so chooses, but can also--once he has obtained a secular divorce--remarry before a justice of the peace, [forcing] his halakhically concerned wife to languish as an agunah." (3) As a professor of Jewish culture, Naomi Seidman asserts that the laws pertaining to the agunah ensure that "men can easily disappear, leaving patriarchal law to guarantee their power," while their wives and children suffer in their absence. (4)
It is difficult to provide accurate data on the number of desertions that have taken place in a given time and space, since many women do not report their husbands' absence. Yet scholars have shown that episodes of wife desertion rise substantially during times of political turmoil, economic hardship, and mass migration. (5) Certainly, such was the case with the immigration of more than 2 million Eastern European Jews to the United States from 1881 to 1914. (6) Since it endangered the survival and acculturation of immigrant Jewish families in the New World, desertion soon became a "predominant cause of distress," in the words of one leader, a threat to communal Jewish acceptance and cultural continuity. (7) Some social reformers noted that desertion appeared more prevalent among Jews than other immigrant groups, and acculturated Jewish citizens therefore took the lead in founding a network of institutions designed to track down errant husbands and compel them to support their families. (8) Desertion signified Jewish men's refusal to observe the nation's masculine ideals, by which respectable men provided for their families' welfare and made it possible for their wives to remain, respectably, at home. In addition, abandoned wives and children burdened the public purse, and their dependency threatened the reputation of Jews as responsible citizens who took care of their own. (9)
Historian Anna Igra has traced the development of Jewish anti-desertion reform in the early twentieth century and its influence on the development of the U.S. welfare state. Her compelling study, based on the analysis of 300 case files from the National Desertion Bureau, illuminates the complex gender dynamics at the heart of Jewish efforts to reconcile what many perceive as a clash between Old World and New World values. Yet the bureau's location in New York, where Jews comprised closed to 25 percent of the population by the early twentieth century, provides us one view of the ways in which acculturated, benevolent Jews addressed the problem of "wives without husbands." (10) By comparing the predominantly northern history of anti-desertion efforts with records from the Hebrew Orphans Home in Atlanta, which served a five-state area in the Southeast, we may explore the ways in which regional differences influenced the character and tone of Jewish benevolent uplift.
In the Jim Crow South, the dilemma of desertion was further complicated by a gendered logic of race separation, where respectable white womanhood meant reliance on a male protector. Based on a belief in white racial purity that necessitated a rigid color line, a system of extralegal but state-sanctioned violence emerged in the late nineteenth century to protect white women from black men's putatively natural rapaciousness. (11) The South's predominantly agricultural economy and racialized distribution of labor also contributed to Jewish anxieties over desertion, not just as a transgression against the Jewish family, but also as a uniquely troubling crime against the region's gender ideals. Jewish men's failure to sustain their breadwinning responsibilities disrupted Jewish claims to white masculine privilege just as it brought into question the right of Jewish women to a space on the southern lady's protective pedestal. In the post-Reconstruction South, Jewish claims to white masculinity and white femininity could be fragile, and Jewish men's public transgressions against "respectable" breadwinning ideals were threatening to the hard-won respectability for which Jews had struggled for centuries.
The Sins of the Least of Us: The Command Performance of Jewish Benevolence
Not only was desertion a problem of misplaced dependency, in which women's rightfully private reliance on their husbands shifted into the public realm, but the stigma of Jewish non-compliance with the nation's prevailing gender norms threatened to undermine the Jewish reputation for communal charity and self-sufficiency. (12) The plight of the agunah at the turn of the twentieth century strained the capacity of the substantial array of Jewish benevolent associations. Prompted in large part by the perceived poverty and foreignness of immigrant co-religionists, established Jewish leaders constructed networks of private benevolent organizations from which poor Jews could receive help without imposing upon gentile institutions. In his speech at the 1856 dedication of the Jewish Widows and Orphans Home in New Orleans, prominent New Orleans attorney Benjamin Franklin Jonas said, "It has ever been the boast of the Jewish people, that they support their own poor ... Their reasons are partly founded in religious necessity, and partly in that pride of race and character which has supported them through so many ages of trial and vicissitude." (13)
Decades later, anti-desertion reformers pointed to a similar belief in a uniquely Jewish capacity for self-help to justify their support for abandoned women and children, even when non-Jewish agencies mandated against such generosity. (14) The prevailing logic among non-Jewish agencies reflected Social Darwinist beliefs in poverty-as-pathology and held that supporting an errant husband's wife and children only contributed to his recalcitrance. So went the reasoning: If public charity protected his family from starvation, a wayward husband had little incentive to shoulder his rightful burden. (15) While such punitive logic surfaced in debates among Jewish benevolent leaders, most believed that the welfare of abandoned Jewish wives and children could not be left to chance. While their characterizations of the agunah often exhibited suspicion more than sympathy, Jewish benevolent leaders and social workers could not allow the weakest among them to become charges to the public, gentile purse.
Acculturated Jews recognized that their continued social stability depended upon the larger society's acceptance of Jews as a group. In her 1914 letter to the president of the Hebrew Orphans Home in Atlanta, Mary Antin, immigrant advocate and author of The Promised Land (1912), emphasized the significance of benevolent outreach to communal Jewish success:
There is not a Jew in this country ... who is not affected in some degree by the triumphs or failures of Jewish public enterprises. The world is accustomed to judge us Jews in the lump. The sins of the least of us cover us all with shame; the merit of the greatest of us reflects credit on all of us ... You and your colleagues in the good work have added another span to the bridge by which I, a Jewish woman, shall cross the chasm between my highest ambitions and the world's interpretation of my life. (16)
Writing during the highly publicized Leo Frank case, in which a Texas-born Jewish bookkeeper stood trial for the murder and possible rape of a young white girl, Antin saw to the heart of the command performance that was Jewish benevolence. Viewed collectively by the non-Jewish world, regardless of their cultural heterogeneity, Jews would be judged "in the lump." Only through a carefully choreographed performance of "the good work" could Antin and others bring into line "the world's interpretation" of Jewish lives with the reality of their "highest ambitions." Their fate therefore rested upon their ability to ensure that the most vulnerable among them--the poorest women and children--did not go hungry or become dependent upon non-Jewish charities. In addition to upholding the tenets of gemilut hasadim--giving loving kindness--and tzedakah--justice for the poor--assimilated Jewish leaders saw their benevolent work as a necessary means of shielding the shame of Jewish poverty and recalcitrance from the public eye.
This impulse was amplified in the Jim Crow South, where a relatively smaller population of Jews made their home and the influx of Eastern European immigration coincided with what historian Rayford Logan termed the region's "nadir" of race relations. (17) During this time, from the end of Reconstruction through the mid-twentieth century, race violence in the form of lynching, riots, and persistent intimidation rose in response to the nation's political enfranchisement of African American men. While Jim Crow laws emerged to segregate and disfranchise black citizens, systematic violence escalated to create a culture of anxiety and fear among any who dared to transgress the color line. Jews remained unequivocally white on legal terrain. They were listed as such in the U.S. Census, classified as white in anti-miscegenation statutes, and allowed to occupy public spaces reserved for "Whites Only." Yet, a less clearly delineated cultural landscape brought this whiteness into question. Historian Eric Goldstein has illustrated how early twentieth-century characterizations of Jews reflect the "strategic" ways in which the white majority deployed the black-white binary. Jews might at one point be held up as exemplars of modern civilization and, at another, disparaged as a menace to society. (18) The title of a (1910) book by North Carolina minister Arthur Talmage Abernethy proclaimed The Jew a Negro: Being a Study of the Jewish Ancestry From an Impartial Standpoint, challenging the presumption of Jewish whiteness, as did populist leader Thomas Watson's viciously antisemitic portrayals of Leo Frank as a "Jew pervert" and a "lascivious simian." (19) While Jews had long been part of respectable southern society, many having established successful businesses and taken active part in local and state governments, collective Jewish claims to southern citizenship were no longer taken for granted when post-Reconstruction race panic collided with the arrival of new immigrants whose unfamiliar Old World customs underscored Jewish variation from the prevailing white ideals.
Jews themselves often articulated what they perceived as internal differences, using a regionally specific language of race. In 1926, just two years after the passage of the infamous Johnson-Reed Act, which curtailed immigration to a trickle, the Jewish Welfare Federation in New York commissioned economic historian Louis Hacker to study the impact of recent Sephardic migration on Jewish life in the city. Settling on a regional comparison to articulate the Sephardic immigrants' difference from the Ashkenazic majority in New York, Hacker asserted that Sephardic immigrants were "set apart from New York Jewry by religious, linguistic, and psychological differences that vitiate any attempts at mutual understanding." The new Sephardim were "almost as alien to their kinsmen as are the Negroes to the average white Southerner." (20) Hacker looked south for the racial epistemology to frame his assertions of Jewish authenticity, and his analogy derived its coherence from dominant understandings of the South as the location of an unequivocal system of racial bifurcation. While describing Sephardic particularity in the register of visible race difference, he equated New York's Ashkenazim with the privilege and civic entitlement of whiteness and at least the potential to access the rights and protections of citizenship. He concluded that New York's Sephardim, like southern blacks, were "alien" to the values of American independence and respectability, ultimately justifying their social marginality.
Perceptions of southern race difference influenced the ways in which Jews understood and managed their benevolent undertakings, and the vehemently defended color line in the former states of the Confederacy made desertion a uniquely troubling quandary. For the largely United States-born, acculturated Jews who led the anti-desertion movement, men who left their families committed numerous serious crimes against prevailing gender ideals. By leaving their families unprotected and dependent upon others, deserters publicly disrupted the discursive connections between Jewish manhood and American civilization. Not only did southern desertion stain the otherwise admirable record of Jewish citizenship and independence, it undermined Jewish men's adherence to the strictures of chivalry. By forcing their wives into the public workforce, to the detriment of their motherly duties, and by threatening their children's chances for success, deserting men jeopardized Jewish cultural authenticity and endurance. Perhaps more gravely, southern agunot and their children became vulnerable to the prevailing white supremacist discourse that framed the distinctive dangers of the South.
Eastern European gender ideals did not translate seamlessly to middleclass U.S. culture, where respectable married women were "guardians of home and family" rather than valued wage earners. (21) Historian Susan Glenn highlights how the ideal of "breadwinning partnerships" prevailed in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century shtetl, valorizing wives' paid work as a means of allowing husbands to study the Talmud. (22) Those practices and customs may have influenced Jewish deserters, who might have believed that their wives would survive without them, but assimilationist ideals commanded that immigrant Jews abide by unwritten codes of American production and consumption. Whereas traditional gender norms in Eastern Europe valorized men's unpaid intellectual pursuits, married men in the United States were expected to serve as their families' primary or sole breadwinners. (23) Those who repudiated their breadwinning responsibilities publicly rejected a vital principle of U.S. citizenship, and while women's paid labor had comprised an essential part of family survival in Eastern Europe, American gender, race, and class ideals confined the labor of white wives and mothers to the home. (24)
The spatial logic of gender--in which respectable, middle-class men participated in public activities and respectable, middle-class women served as private homemakers, mothers, and consumers--carried additional urgency in the Jim Crow South. Eastern European Jewish immigrants, many trained as small craftsmen, encountered difficulty finding remunerative work in the South's primarily agricultural economy, and the prevailing folklore of the "black beast rapist" reinforced the expectation that respectable white women would remain in private spaces under male protection. (25) Turn-of-the-century editorials in The American Jewess emphasized the need to prevent black men's attacks upon "defenseless white women of the South." (26) Based upon dominant assumptions of region, race, and gender, the author's call to action framed the South as the specific location of sexual danger for white women.
Although the strains of acculturation, poverty, and migration placed great pressure on Jewish immigrant families nationwide, prompting many men to leave, social work professionals often blamed "various forms of immorality," including drunkenness and extramarital dalliances. (27) Case records often echoed such punitive views of deserters as shiftless, ne'er do well, and worthless. (28) Such men posed a supreme threat to dominant ideals of manliness, and their failure to shoulder the sacred responsibility of protecting their wives and daughters placed the legitimacy of Jewish citizenship itself in jeopardy.
Ferlozn fun Man uhn Fater: Semipublic Desertion Narratives and the Yiddish Press
Abandoned women also became subject to public suspicion and scrutiny, which often suggested that they somehow deserved their plight. Some popular representations held that deserted women had failed to adapt to American ideals for wives and mothers or, on the other extreme, that they had overindulged in material consumption. Anthropologist Riv-Ellen Prell has explored how the Jewish press gave voice to general suspicions of immigrant Jewish women's deficiencies as wives and mothers. (29) A 1901 open letter "To Mothers in Israel" in the English section of the Yiddishes Tageblatt (Jewish Daily News), a newspaper that often voiced Orthodox religious views, suggested that wives caused their husbands' desertion. Characterizing desertion as a more menacing social threat than alcoholism, author Eva Stern urged women to look to themselves for the reasons behind desertion. She asked, "Does it ever occur to the.., mothers of families that they are not in the family alone for the children, but for the husband, too?" She described a hypothetical woman who "met her husband with frowsy hair, the same discolored dress on as when he left, and that peculiar, worn out expression on the face that shiftless, untidy women always have." (30) An essay entitled "Darwinism" painted a similarly unattractive portrait of the shrewish, uneducated immigrant mother whose habit of "monkeying" the consumption patterns of mainstream America threatened the harmony and financial stability of her home. (31) In their letters to "A Bintel Brief," a Yiddish advice column published in the socialist The Jewish Daily Forward, and in discussions with social workers, deserting men often cited economic desperation, particularly the impossibility of meeting their wives' aspiration to acquire the material trappings of a legitimately "middle class" social standing, as their reason for leaving. (32) Such critical portrayals of Jewish womanhood evinced anxiety about their roles as conduits of culture and religious authenticity to future generations of American Jews. A woman who failed to acculturate could hardly raise successful Jewish American citizens, nor could a woman who sacrificed her religious devotion for the seductive appeal of American consumer culture. The agunah posed an especially perplexing problem for the Jewish community: To what extent was her predicament a result of her own shortcomings, and how worthy was she of institutional support? Abandoned women thus occupied a morally liminal position on the scale of worthiness, far below that of the blameless widow and the innocent orphan, and their efforts to self-define to the wider public reflected their awareness of these pervasive suspicions. (33)
Before the creation of formal anti-desertion institutions, agunot found innovative ways to survive and to request help in locating their missing spouses. Women living in large northern cities took out ads in widely circulating Yiddish newspapers, such as the Forverts and the Yiddishes Tageblatt. Among the most prominent Americanizing instruments for East European Jewish immigrants, Yiddish newspapers offered an opportunity for agunot to describe their circumstances to a broad Jewish public and to urge errant spouses to return, to send financial support, or to file for a get. Yet their publication in Yiddish helped conceal a communal indignity from wider public scrutiny, ensuring that Jewish manhood did not become associated with abandonment in the non-Jewish public eye. Lee K. Frankel, chair of the National Conference of Jewish Charities' Committee on Desertion, judged the Jewish press to be remarkably effective in bringing deserters to justice. "No other class of people is so fortunately circumstanced as we" to have a widely circulating press, he noted. Such newspapers "reach[ed] a class of readers who would be most apt to come into contact with deserters." (34)
Yiddish desertion ads attracted the attention of Jews across the country, enlisting them in efforts to track down errant husbands and calling attention to the plight of agunot. They also provided abandoned women an opportunity to broadcast their predicament in ways that subtly contested less-than-sympathetic portrayals of agunot. Many employed a set of frequently used words to denote a language of abandonment, suggesting that they read the papers' "Personal" columns regularly and had learned a familiar vocabulary with which to describe themselves as a discreet category of social victim. Their letters contained references to their poverty and suffering in the wake of abandonment, often describing themselves and their children as plagued by hunger and poverty (hunger uhn arumkayt), and emphasizing their dependence for survival upon a male breadwinner. Key words like "ferlozn," meaning "to abandon," and "noite," for "hardship" or "suffering," appeared alongside references to themselves as agunot, "abandoned women." Most of the letters also included detailed physical descriptions of the lost men, including stature, age, hair color, countenance, and any distinguishing blemishes or scars, as well as national and familial origins, including all names and places of residence. Such close attention to physical and geographical details evinced a writer's sincerity in wishing to locate her missing spouse.
Many authors of Yiddish desertion letters appealed to the sanctity of Jewish motherhood and the virtue of the male breadwinner ideology by highlighting the impact of the father's abandonment upon his children. Bertha Wolfson wrote in 1902 in the Yiddishes Tageblatt that her husband, one year departed, had "tak[en] with him our oldest child, a boy 6 years old, Moses, also all the possessions and left me with two small children and we are dying from hunger ... From grief I no longer give chase after my oldest child." Wolfson reprimanded her husband both for leaving his family to starve and for taking with him a future wage-earner. Further, she told her Yiddish-reading audience a familiar morality tale in which an errant man's selfishness destabilized a Jewish American home. Abandoned women who publicly narrated their stories, like Wolfson, thus helped counteract negative representations of agunot while reinforcing the virtues of the nation's breadwinning ideals.
Although their letters emphasized their dependence on a male breadwinner, evidence suggests that agunot were self-supporting to a limited extent, even if letters seldom made reference to their own roles as paid workers. Their letters indicate that agunot did survive, in one case as long as eight years, before appealing to the Yiddish press. A March 1902 Yiddishes Tageblatt ad from Libba Jaffee described how her husband had abandoned her with six children more than four years prior. Her appeal to the "yidn rabim"--the "Jewish public"--urged others to help her locate such a man "ferlozn fun man uhn later," a man who had abandoned his duties as husband and father. One woman named Bear issued her Yiddishes Tageblatt plea for assistance eight years after her husband left, and two different women named Wolfson wrote after having lived for three and seven years, respectively, without the support of their husbands. Similarly, case records from the Hebrew Orphans Home in Atlanta confirm that women sought institutional help only when economic need forced them to do so. (35) Those who succeeded in finding adequate work or who obtained support from relatives avoided the stigma of charity and public disclosure for as long as they could.
In response to what appeared to be a growing need for anti-desertion reform, Jewish leaders created a department on desertion within New York's United Hebrew Charities in 1902. By 1904, the department had received more than 1,000 applications for relief from agunot all over the country. (36) The National Desertion Bureau was established in 1911 in New York City to help manage the growing number of appeals from abandoned women. In order to prevent desertion from becoming publically associated with Jewishness, the bureau's founders did not explicitly designate Jews as its beneficiaries. (37) The bureau did not provide financial assistance for agunot or their children, but it helped track down errant husbands and used the full extent of civil law to compel them to support their families. By restoring the families' male breadwinners, these reformers hoped to rebuild nuclear families headed by men, respectable according to the nation's dominant, middle-class standards.
Despite its efforts to track down deserters, the National Desertion Bureau experienced little success in permanently reuniting families or obtaining financial support for abandoned women and children. Further, evidence from letters to the Yiddish papers and benevolent society case files suggests that many agunot wished for a get, or heter--a
release-from their marriage, rather than their husband's return. Estranged from their husbands, many hoped that remarriage would provide the most reliable path out of poverty and into a happier life. (38)
Unable to either free themselves from their broken marriages or to find adequately remunerative work, many agunot appealed to benevolent institutions for aid. From 1900 to 1911, approximately 15 percent of the annual budget of Jewish charities was allocated to victims of desertion." The Hebrew Orphans Home in Atlanta required agunot to demonstrate their active pursuit of a get or a civil divorce before granting aid. Leaders believed that if they supported the children of a married woman, it would enable her husband's indolence. Women who held out hope for reconciliation with their husbands or who did not actively pursue a divorce were often sent to other charities that addressed welfare issues for whole families rather than for children. When efforts to reunite families failed, as they often did, institutions like the Hebrew Orphans' Home helped shoulder the burden of the abandoned family's survival.
The voices and experiences of southern agunot are less visible in the historical record, because most authors of personal desertion ads in the Yiddish papers lived in northern or mid-Atlantic cities, and southern Jewish communities did not publish such widely circulating Yiddish newspapers. Case files from southern benevolent agencies offer insight into the ways in which southern agunot struggled to survive in conditions of extreme poverty. Moreover, the records of southern benevolent institutions illuminate the ways in which Jews addressed desertion--and its attendant transgressions of gender ideals--in a region that prized strict racial segregation and white women's protection in the private home. Benevolent agencies' efforts to determine which agunot were "worthy" of institutional subsidies, allowing them to keep their children at home, and which ones were "not fit to care" for their own children, hinged on the mother's performance of refined femininity as well as her willingness to follow institutional mandates regarding her children's care.
Not Fit to Care: Aiding the Children of Less-Than-Worthy Agunot
Southern Jewish benevolent networks placed great emphasis on the protection and supervision of young women and girls. While all orphanages--Jewish and non-Jewish alike--paid close attention to the upbringing of "respectable" young ladies (for example, by providing training in domestic arts and carefully supervising their social activities) in the South this emphasis on respectable womanhood became especially important. Expectations for young white women to remain well supervised, even in their private homes, drew urgency from fictive characterizations of rapacious black men who prowled the streets in search of white women. (40) Mothers thought to be incapable of providing adequate supervision for their daughters, or worse, who were themselves considered morally tainted, often could not receive subsidies or retain care of their children. Daughters of "unworthy" agunot were thought to be in desperate need of rescue. Allowing them to wander the streets or to burden the public purse not only created a stain on the Jewish reputation for caring for "their own," but also represented an unpardonable violation of southern chivalry.
In 1914, several Jewish members of the Macon, Ga. community appealed to the Hebrew Orphans Home to take custody of four children whose father had absconded to North Carolina. The letters they wrote to the home superintendent reveal their concern that the children's mother, Margaret Goldfarb, was ill-equipped to raise her children, particularly her daughters, in a manner the community considered appropriate. Following dominant expectations for genteel understatement and discretion when it came to sensitive issues, such as the honor and respectability of Jewish women, three members of the community wrote to the home's Board of Directors. "The home environment of these children is not of the best," they explained, "[and] their common school education has been neglected." (41) A letter composed two weeks later by one of the same authors insisted that the "children are growing up wild." (42) In addition to the children's perceived lack of education, letters also hinted at Goldfarb's more sinister maternal failings, particularly her inability to keep an adequately vigilant watch over her daughters, whose moral development was of grave concern to the respectable members of the Macon Jewish community.
In the South, characterizations of abandoned women often reflected the popular iconography of agunot as slovenly, ignorant, and inept mothers--as women not to be trusted to raise children--sometimes with more explicit references to their defects as parents. A 1920 case of periodic desertion in Fitzgerald, Ga., a town approximately 200 miles south of Atlanta with a small Jewish population and no shul, illuminates how regional gender, race, and class assumptions influenced efforts to address desertion. Identifying himself as a leading citizen of the Jewish community, Dr. Harold Miller described both parents to the home's superintendent, Ralph Sonn, as "worthless" people "who live in the lowest nigger house." (43) His description of the family's home may have suggested their location in a predominantly black neighborhood as well as what he perceived to be the home's generally degraded appearance. According to Miller, this was not a neighborhood suitable for raising proper Jewish white citizens. He was especially outraged by what he described as this "half-witted" mother's habit of taking "the little girls along with her on her begging expeditions among black and white." (44) In Miller's opinion, the mother's public transgression of the color line threatened the children's well-being, as did her shameful begging forays into public space. His dismay that such "expeditions" took place "among black and white" suggests the fragility of Jewish race identity as that which balanced precariously on the color line. Historian Matthew Frye Jacobson notes that Jews, Italians, and other newly arrived immigrants compromised their white status through association with non-whites. (45) Such proximity to African Americans trained young Jewish girls to see themselves not as part of the racial elite, but rather as members of the racially debased masses. Perhaps more deplorable still, gentile "whites" who witnessed the Jewish mother's begging forays learned to perceive Jews as less-than-white.
Other cases involving agunot deemed unfit mothers illustrate that the home required children to be admitted as institutional residents, where they could be supervised and educated far away from their parents' deleterious influence. However, Miller's request for the home's support, and that of the Macon community's, violated formal institutional policy. While many Jewish orphanages in 1900 admitted "half-orphans," the children of indigent widows or widowers, most held strict stipulations against admitting children with two living and married parents. One deserted mother encountered a stern denial after seeking to admit her children to the Atlanta home in 1896. The home's leaders found her case compelling, but they decided that, "both parents being alive, we could not violate our rule, to admit same, unless she would get a divorce." (46)
The report suggests that the home encouraged agunot to file for civil divorces, ignoring the fact that many religiously observant Jewish immigrants would also require a get. Prior to the establishment of the National Desertion Bureau, abandoned Jewish women found few resources from which to obtain support, and the early twentieth-century South contained few rabbis who were qualified to grant an Orthodox get. After moving to Atlanta in 1910, Rabbi Tobias Geffen worked tirelessly to help southern agunot procure gitten from delinquent spouses. (47) Yet the effort to locate deserters remained difficult and costly, leaving many agunot and their children with few options. The agunot who applied to orphan homes for aid did so out of desperation to support their children and an inability to free themselves from their marriages.
Early twentieth-century discussions of home policy reflect benevolent leaders' judgment that desertion provided indolent men a way to unload family responsibilities onto the shoulders of other men. Noting "the increased immigration of our co-religionists," the Hebrew Orphans Homes' Committee on Indenture and Discharge "recommended that the laws relative to the admission of children be made more stringent," such as reclassifying desertion as a felony rather than a misdemeanor. It was their fear that "applications for admission where both parents are living" reflected fathers' tendency to "abscond" or to "leave [their] wife and children for the very purpose of placing the children in the Orphans' [sic] Home." (48) Imbedded in the home's justification was the suspicion that the "new" wave of immigrant co-religionists included many freeloaders who were prone to acts of extreme dishonesty in their efforts to obtain a handout. Deserting men not only committed the serious crime of leaving their families without support; they also threatened the Jewish benevolent infrastructure by contributing to its already excessive financial burden. The committee concluded with the suggestion that "there should be a positive law not to admit children where both parents are living." (49)
Although he was adamant about criminally prosecuting deserters, Superintendent Sonn could not leave abandoned women and children to suffer: "I have advocated the subsidizing of the widowed, and even more so the abandoned, mother, in order to keep the family intact. While the suggestion was adopted in principle, it failed of execution." (50) Referring to the fairly novel practice of providing monthly subsidies to needy Jewish mothers, a practice gradually gaining legitimacy as institutional care came under increasing disapproval, Sonn noted the importance of keeping Jewish children with their mothers wherever possible. Yet the home's managers did not find all needy mothers to be capable of raising proper Jewish citizens, and it was on this point that the home's early efforts to subsidize agunot may have "failed of execution."
In spite of what appeared to be a strict policy, from the home's founding in 1889 until 1920, approximately 13 percent of its inmates were children whose fathers had deserted them. This figure included the three youngest Goldfarb children, who were admitted to the home during the summer of 1914. (51) Their mother's initial failure to secure a divorce was a source of concern to the institution, because of the prevailing belief that aiding the dependents of an errant husband only encouraged his irresponsibility. Further, Goldfarb herself transgressed the ideals of maternal merit by insisting that her children be sent to the home rather than remain with her and receive a subsidy. In the home's reckoning, a good mother was one who resisted parting with her children, and Goldfarb was eager to have her children institutionalized so that she could continue to work in a retail store.
Members of the Macon community played a significant part in persuading the home to accept the Goldfarb children into institutional custody. After the Home initially suggested a monthly subsidy to keep the children at home, Morris Harris, an agent for the American Central Insurance Company and an affiliate of the home, promptly replied that "It would be a serious mistake to adopt the subsidy plan with these children." (52) Having familiarized himself with the case and investigated the family, Harris urged, "[W]e Macon people realize that the sooner the children are placed in charge of the Home just so much better will be their condition." (53) Even Goldfarb's brother, Jonathan Stearn, insisted that his sister was "not fit to care for [her children]." (54) In response to these appeals, the home agreed to accept the three youngest children--two girls, ages 11 and 8, and their 5 year-old brother.
The factors that made Goldfarb's homemaking skills and mothering style inimical to her children's successful upbringing are not explicitly detailed in the case file, and correspondence from neighbors and relatives contains coded and evasive language intended to shield the family's potentially disgraceful circumstances. Voicing their concerns about the children's education and religious training, Jewish members of the Macon community expressed skepticism of Goldfarb's ability to raise respectable young ladies. Stearn was especially concerned that his nieces "would positively not have the proper environment that they should have and more especially being girls." (55) He believed the girls would suffer in particularly insidious ways, and he did not feel comfortable disclosing full details in the letter but preferred to do so face-to-face: "If I could see you in person I could be more explicit which I hope to see you anyhow in about 2.0 days." Referencing Harris's support for the children's institutionalization, Steam asserted, "[H]e cannot be as explicit as I would like to if I was to see you in person." (56)
While we do not have specific details of what Steam and Harris believed were Goldfarb's particular parenting defects, the language in Stearn's letters suggests that something more distressing than neglect and poverty was at stake. Certainly, a grudge against his sister may have influenced Stearn's judgment, but he and Harris both advocated for the end result that Goldfarb herself wanted: her children's institutionalization. The alternative--to allow Mrs. Goldfarb's daughters to live with little supervision and minimal access to the education that would shape them into respectable Jewish American ladies--was unthinkable.
It was not until the spring of 1918, after having moved to Jacksonville, Fla., that Goldfarb requested her three children's return. Her older son, 17 years old, was living with her and working, and her older daughter, Bessie, then 16, was preparing to graduate from the home's manual training school as a certified stenographer. Goldfarb requested the return of all three children and enlisted Hyman S. Jacobs, a home affiliate in Jacksonville, to write on her behalf. In his letter to Sonn, Jacobs expressed skepticism about the children's release. He explained, "The only reason the mother wants the other two children to come with Bessie is that she is afraid that the others will be lonesome when the older sister will be away from them. Mrs. Goldfarb practically admits that she will be in no position to take care of the children as she is employed as a saleslady." (57) While Goldfarb's affection and concern for her children's happiness motivated her request, this was not enough to validate her merit as a responsible caregiver.
Jacobs was primarily concerned about the fate of Goldfarb's younger daughter, and he advised Sonn to keep both younger children at the home. He explained, "I understand that the girl is about 12 years old, and there certainly should be someone in authority to look after her during the day, and not be allowed to play around in the streets without any supervision." (58) Goldfarb's 12-year-old daughter was Jacobs's chief concern, rather than her 9-year-old son. Jacobs confided to Sonn, "Personally, I believe it will do the children more harm than good to [live here] without the proper supervision of an older person during the daytime." (59) Sonn agreed that the younger children should remain in the home and alluded to more sensitive issues at stake in his reasoning. He wrote, "The reserve which I am maintaining must be mysterious to you. I'll be glad to clear up the situation when I see you." (60) While these letters did not provide specific details about Mrs. Goldfarb's parental inadequacies, their concerns about the 12-year-old daughter's supervision remained central to their decision not to allow the two younger children to return to their mother.
Bessie Goldfarb graduated the following fall and was released to her mother, but only with the authorization of Goldfarb's brother. Stearn remained hesitant to offer his endorsement, explaining that his sister "has been after me for the last six weeks to write to you in reference to letting Bessie go and live with her ... [and] I have held off as long as I could trying to put it off as long as possible." Although his was not a ringing endorsement, he confirmed that "some life there will be alright [sic] for Bessie." (61) This tepid vote of confidence satisfied the home, and Bessie was sent to Jacksonville in late November.
The younger two Goldfarb children remained in the home's care until the summer of 1921, when their mother remarried and successfully petitioned for the children's release. The home sent two affiliates to "investigate the conditions of the ... family, and advise us, whether in your judgment it were proper to relinquish our charges to them." (62) The affiliates reported that, although her new husband was not Jewish, "he [promised] he would treat the children well and would allow [his wife] to raise the children as Jews." Further, he was "earning a good salary" and their "house is nicely furnished and in a good neighborhood." Perhaps more crucially, the affiliates described Goldfarb as "a woman of culture" who was capable of providing a proper home for her children. (63)
It is not clear whether she obtained a get from her former spouse, but her marriage to a non-Jewish man suggests that she was willing to set aside her religious observance for the practical necessity of economic stability and the chance to be reunited with her children. Since her desertion more than six years prior, Goldfarb had struggled to earn a living and to regain custody of her children, but her status as a worthy mother remained under suspicion until she was married to a successful breadwinner. More important to the home than her new husband's faith, or Goldfarb's success in obtaining a halakhically legitimate divorce, was her husband's ability to provide for his family so that she could remain home with the children. In the home's eyes, she was finally in a position to raise proper, well-supervised children protected in a "nicely furnished" home.
Morally and Physically Fit: Subsidizing the Worthy Agunah
Agunot often seemed less worthy of aid than were widows, and established social work standards generally advocated against aiding abandoned women, but the Hebrew Orphans Home nevertheless provided for many abandoned mothers and children who were unable to obtain help elsewhere. The type and amount of its aid depended on the mother's perceived ability to raise her children in a way the institution considered appropriate. In order for the home to judge an agunah "worthy" of remaining with her children and receiving an institutional subsidy, she had to demonstrate her desire to keep her children with her at all costs, even if it meant forgoing paid employment that might offer a modicum of self-sufficiency. Mothers, like Margaret Goldfarb, who worked while their children stayed at home unsupervised, were judged to be selfish, placing their children's needs beneath their own.
In contrast to Mrs. Goldfarb, who was originally judged "not fit to care" for her children until she remarried a dependable breadwinner and moved to a "nice neighborhood," other cases reveal the institution's standards for judging an agunah worthy of caring for her own children. Libby Spiegel, an abandoned mother of three, wrote to Ralph Sonn in January 1917 to obtain a subsidy from the Hebrew Orphans Home. Like agunot who wrote letters to the Yiddish newspapers, she represented herself as a woman of integrity whose primary concern was her children. Spiegel described in detail her husband's abusiveness, alcoholism, and tendency to "lead a fast and disaffected life." (64) Her moving depiction of her husband's harsh treatment and "fast" lifestyle echoed many Jewish reformers' characterizations of recalcitrant men and strengthened the legitimacy of her request for aid. Further, knowledge of her husband's abuse and immorality may have deterred the institution from urging that she reconcile with her husband. Spiegel's poignant self-portrayal as a mother "do[ing] all in [her] power to keep [her children] together" struck a sympathetic chord, as the home granted her a six-month subsidy of $15 per week, which allowed her children to remain with her rather than being placed in the institution or foster care. (65)
The home's priorities in aiding worthy agunot are also illuminated in a Petersburg, Va. case where Naomi Lowenstein applied for two daughters' admission to the home in June 1924. Later correspondence reveals the home's effort to keep children with their mother as long as she was judged "morally and physically" capable of raising them. The case opened several months after Lowenstein's husband deserted the family, which included seven daughters from infancy to 13 years old. After failed efforts to locate Mr. Lowenstein, the home agreed to support the family. The means of support--whether through monthly subsidy, institutionalization, or foster care--were yet to be determined.
A letter from Mary Hardy of the Family Service League of Petersburg reveals that non-Jewish organizations also became involved in efforts to support Lowenstein. Hardy wrote to Strauss, "[F]or nearly a year the Jewish People of this city have been supporting the Lowenstein family. The man deserted and although every effort has been made to locate him no one knows where he is at present." Hardy implored the home to accept the Lowenstein children into custody: "The Jewish people here have done everything in their power for this family but they feel that they cannot keep this up indefinitely. If you could arrange to take three of the little girls I think that Mrs. Lowenstein would be able to get along on the help she now receives. (66) Strauss' immediate response to Hardy suggests that he took gentile social workers' concerns seriously, particularly when it came to the welfare of poor Jewish women and children living at a remote distance from Atlanta in towns with a meager Jewish infrastructure. Needy Jewish families required careful professional supervision, which necessitated the institution's cultivation of friendly relations with non-Jewish social workers. Evidence in the case files reveals that the home often relied on gentile social workers' professional expertise to determine which mothers were worthy of home subsidies and which children would be better served by institutionalization or placement with foster parents. (67)
Strauss' response to Hardy's letter also provides a window onto the home's shifting policies for children whose fathers had absconded. He discussed the home's efforts to avoid "breaking up families" by "helping families to keep their children in their own homes." (68) While he might consider a gentile social worker's opinion of the family's general level of need, Strauss required a trusted Jewish affiliate of the home to investigate the children's home life, their behavior and moral fitness, and more importantly, to determine whether Lowenstein was "a worthwhile mother, morally and physically, [and able] to handle her children." (69) In early November, Strauss wrote to Mrs. V.H. Nussbaum, wife of Justice Nussbaum of Norfolk, Va., to enlist her help in determining whether the children should be institutionalized or subsidized. Strauss wrote to Nussbaum, "There seems to be no good reason why the mother should not keep her children and care for them, if we supply part of the means and permit the Jewish people of Petersburg to supply the rest." (70)
Strauss also inquired whether "anyone of the children [is] unfit to mingle with other children well trained and morally fit, in our house, or is there a risk of tainting our present set of children morally by contact with the Lowenstein children (This is asked because of vague stories of misconduct which have reached us)[?]" (71) Even if institutionalization was the best option for the Lowensteins, Strauss had to protect the home's current inmates from the pernicious influence of children whose "moral fitness" was in question. Just as children with contagious diseases, such as diphtheria and tuberculosis, were denied entry into the home so that they would not threaten the health of the other children, delinquency and "misconduct," especially in girls, was seen as a social contagion that would infect the other children under the home's care. While Strauss did not elaborate on the specific kinds of misconduct, other case files suggest that the home was deeply suspicious of girls who exhibited signs of "sophistication," such as smoking, wearing make-up, or engaging in unsupervised socializing with boys. Before considering the Lowenstein children for admission, Strauss had to ensure that their presence would not undermine the home's efforts to inculcate its young charges with values of respectability and good citizenship.
Nussbaum responded that Lowenstein "is thoroughly fit and capable of raising [her daughters] morally and physically but not financially." (72) The case file does not indicate how much support the Lowenstein family received or for how long, but it shows that the home decided not to separate the children from their mother. They judged her a "worthy" mother of seven girls who was capable of raising her daughters to be proper ladies. If offered financial support, Lowenstein would remain home with her children rather than venture out to work. More importantly, home affiliates and community members did not find a reason to question either the respectability of her neighborhood or her "moral fitness" as a mother. Although we have a limited view of how they determined a mother's moral fitness, the concerns that surfaced in the Goldfarb case did not appear to be at issue here.
By the time Lowenstein's case came to the home's attention, late nineteenth-century standards of child welfare had shifted from the institution to the private home as the optimal space for a child's socialization. Yet, even the worthiest mother became subject to the institution's careful scrutiny. Even as they worked to ensure that agunot and their children did not starve or become public charges, benevolent workers and their local affiliates continued to express concern about the agunah's respectability and feminine worth. Southern agunot were subject to particularly rigorous investigations to determine if they were the optimal caregivers for their children, and the supervision of daughters was especially critical. In Goldfarb's case, the Jewish citizens of both Macon and Jacksonville deemed her to be neither a proper role model nor an able supervisor of young ladies until she was legally remarried and living in what they judged to be a "nice neighborhood." Goldfarb's transformation from "not fit to care" for her children to a "woman of culture" took place in spite of her interfaith marriage.
Although the home claimed to follow a strict policy against supporting the children of abandoned mothers, cases like those of the Goldfarbs, Speigels, and Lowensteins were not unusual. While many felt that supporting a deserted woman and her children enabled her husband's idleness, Jewish benevolent agencies, like the Hebrew Orphans Home in Atlanta, demonstrated alternative understandings of dependency. The Hebrew Orphans Home's distribution of support within its five state region suggests that suspicions regarding abandoned women's inherent "unworthiness" and concerns about enabling errant fathers often gave way to child-protection ideals grounded in two interrelated vital necessities: that of shrouding from the public eye the crimes of a few atypically shiftless Jewish men, and the equally pressing need to ensure that the children of poor coreligionists were brought up to be respectable citizens. Considered precariously dependent in a region where white women required the chivalrous protection of white men, agunot could not be left to the mercy of the gentile public purse, where the shame of their abandonment might bring into question the ability of Jews to "take care of their own."
Please note that names have been changed to preserve the confidentiality of the home's case files.
(1.) For recent efforts to address the agunah problem, see Rabbi Adam Mintz, "A Courageous Proposal: The First Heter Agunah in America," JOFA Journal, VI, 4, 2007, 14-15; and Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, "The Tragedy of the Agunah--a Proposed Solution," in JOFA Journal, Summer 2005 / Tammuz 5765, 13-14.
(2.) Sylvia Barack Fishman, A Breath of Life: Feminism in the American Jewish Community, (New York: The Free Press, 1993): 35; Honey Rackman, "Getting a Get," from Jack Nusan Porter, ed., Women in Chains: A Sourcebook on the Agunah, (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1995), 220. Fishman notes the irony that children of unmarried Jewish women are considered legitimate Jews, with all the rights of other Jewish children. On mamzerut, see Moshe Chigier, "Ruminations Over the Agunah Problem," in Jack Nusan Porter, ed., Women in Chains: A Sourcebook on the Agunah, (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1995).
(3.) Shlomo Riskin, "A Modern Orthodox Perspective," in Jack Nusan Porter, ed., Women in Chains, 188.
(4.) Naomi Seidman, "Theorizing Jewish Patriarchy in extremis" from Judaism Since Gender, Laura Levitt and Miriam Peskowitz, eds. (New York: Routledge, 1997), 45.
(5.) Gur Alroey, Bread to Eat and Clothes to Wear: Letters from Jewish Migrants in the Early Twentieth Century (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011), 63-78. Mark Baker, "The Voice of the Deserted Woman, 1867-1870," Jewish Social Studies 2 (Autumn 1995), 98-123.
(6.) Alroey, 69.
(7.) Judge Julian W. Mack, May 1906, opening address to the National Conference of Jewish Charities (New York: Press of Stettiner Bros., 1907) 29.
(8.) Reena Sigman Friedman, "'Send Me my Husband Who Is in New York City': Husband Desertion in the American Jewish Community, 1900-1926." Jewish Social Studies 44 (Winter 1982): I. Explanations for what appeared to be higher rates of desertion among Jewish immigrants have varied. Some assert that Jewish husbands' tendency to emigrate ahead of their families created an imbalance in the cultural assimilation levels of Jewish husbands and wives, often causing men to perceive their wives as backward and unappealing. See, for example, Ari Lloyd Fridkis, "Desertion in the American Jewish Immigrant Family: The Work of the National Desertion Bureau in Cooperation with the Industrial Removal Office," American Jewish History (December 1981), 287.
(9.) Anna Rachel Igra, Wives Without Husbands: Marriage, Desertion, and Welfare in New York, 1900-1935 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006); and Igra, "Male Providerhood and the Public Purse: Anti-Desertion Reform in the Progressive Era" in The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, Victoria de Grazia and Ellen Furlough, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
(10.) See Igra, (2006).
(11.) George Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: the Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (New York: Harper Row, 1971) Chapter 9; Grace Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940 (New York: Vintage Books, 1998); Robyn Wiegman, American Anatomies: Theorizing Race and Gender, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995) 92-94; Jacqueline Dowd Hall, "The Mind That Burns in Each Body': Women, Rape and Racial Violence," in A. Snitow, C. Stansell, and S. Thompson (eds.) Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality (New York: Monthly Review, 1983).
(12.) Igra, (2006), 9.
(13.) New Orleans Home for Jewish Widows and Orphans, 1856 Minutes, 12, microfilm, American Jewish Archives, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Ohio.
(14.) Igra (2006), 30-31.
(15.) See Nancy Frasier and Linda Gordon's "A Genealogy of Dependency: Tracing a Keyword of the U.S. Welfare State," Signs, Vol. 19, No. 7. (Winter 1994) for a thorough discussion of the emergence of dependency-as-pathology in the industrializing nation.
(16.) Mary Antin to Simon Wolf, 1914. Hebrew Orphans Home annual report, Series I, Container 2, 19-20, Hebrew Orphans Home case files, Ida Pearle and Joseph Cuba Archives., The William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum, Atlanta, Ga. (hereafter referred to as "the Pearle and Cuba Archives").
(17.) Rayford Logan, The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901 (Dial Press, 1954).
(18.) Eric L. Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton University Press, 2006) 41-50.
(19.) Leonard Rogoff, "Is the Jew White?: The Racial Place of the Southern Jew," American Jewish History 85, No. 3 (Fall 1997), 195; George Bornstein, The Colors of Zion: Blacks, Jews, and Irish from 1845-1945 (published by the author, 2011) 45-46. Tom Watson described Frank as a "Jew Pervert" on several occasions in Watson's Magazine, for example, on the cover of the September, 1915 (21:5) issue, published weeks after Frank's death. See also The Jeffersonian, April 23, 1914 (11:17), 9. For a detailed analysis of the black beast rapist, see Fredrickson, (1971).
(20.) Louis M. Hacker, "The Communal Life of the Sephardic Jews on New York City," Jewish Social Service Quarterly, 3.2 (1926).
(21.) Riv-Ellen Prell, Fighting to Become Americans: Jews, Gender, and the Anxiety of Assimilation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 7.
(22.) Susan Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY 1990), 12. Glenn also notes that this ideal was not always a reality, for most men engaged in paid labor in order to support their families.
(23.) For examples of this clash between Old World and American conceptualizations of men's proper place in the relation of family production and consumption, see Anzia Yezierska's portrayal of the father in The Bread Givers (New York: Doubleday, 1925). On the relationship between breadwinning and masculinity, see Mary H. Blewett, "Manhood and the Market: The Politics of Gender and Class Among the Textile Workers of Fall River, Massachusetts, 1870-1880," in Ava Baron, ed., Work Engendered: Toward a New History of American Labor (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 92-113.
(24.) An exception to this ideal existed in the mobilization of women's labor during World War I and especially during World War II, where government-generated propaganda celebrated the heroic contributions of a white "Rosie the Riveter" to the war effort. As the war ended, so did the legitimacy of white wives' and mothers' public labor.
(25.) Fredrickson, 256-282.
(26.) "Editorial," American Jewess (August 1897): 238.
(27.) Morris Waldman, 1902 paper cited in Lee K. Frankel's 1906 address to the National Council of Jewish Charities, 48.
(28.) See, for example, Mrs. D. E. Levy's (1909) letter to Rabbi David Marx, Folder 6, Container 7, Hebrew Orphans Home Subsidy files, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(29.) See Prell (1999).
(30.) Eva L. Stern, "To Mothers in Israel," the Tageblatt, February 27, 1901.
(31.) The Observer, "Darwinism," the Tageblatt, July 3, 1901.
(32.) See, for example, a letter to the Tageblatt by Louie Millensohn; and a 1910 letter to "A Bintel Brief" from "Thirty-seven inmates of Blackwell's Island Prison workhouse," cited in Igra, (1996), 188.
(33.) Igra, (2006), 2.
(34.) Frankel, May 1906 address to the National Council of Jewish Charities, 56. Also see Baker (1995) on the reach of the Yiddish press.
(35.) Anna Igra shows that only 7.8 percent of agunot sought help from the bureau one week or less after their husbands left. See Igra, (2006), 66.
(36.) Fridkis, 289.
(37.) Igra, (1996), 190.
(38.) On the limited efficacy of anti-desertion work, see Igra (2006), 36-38; 96-97.
(39.) Friedman, I.
(40.) Hall (1983) describes how the fiction of black men's lust for white women emerged as a means both to justify racial violence and to reinforce patriarchal power in the New South.
(41.) Morris Harris and Jacob Hirsch to the Hebrew Orphans Home Board of Directors, June 22, 1914, Container 22, Folder 20, Hebrew Orphans Home Subsidy files, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(42.) Morris Harris to Ralph A. Sonn, July 1, 1914, Container 22, Folder 20, Hebrew Orphans Home Subsidy files, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(43.) Harold Miller to Ralph A. Sonn, June 13, 1920, Hebrew Orphans Home Subsidy files, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(44.) Ibid, July 22, 1920.
(45.) Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).
(46.) September 6, 1896, Hebrew Orphans Home minutes, 256, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(47.) Rabbi Tobias Geffen, 1870-1970, "the dean of Orthodox Jewish rabbis in the South," was one of very few rabbis in the region who could grant a halakhically legitimate get during the early twentieth century. See Lev Tuviah: On the Life and Work of Rabbi Tobias Geffen, ed. Joel Ziff (Newton, Mass.: Rabbi Tobias Geffen Memorial Fund, 1988).
(48.) Chairman D. Kaufman's 1905 report of the Committee of Indenture and Discharge, Hebrew Orphans Home Annual Reports, 28, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(49.) Ibid, 29.
(50.) Ralph A. Sonn's 1905 annual report, Hebrew Orphans Home Annual Reports, 33, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(51.) The elder brother was over the age limit and so remained with his mother.
(52.) Morris Harris to Ralph A. Sonn, July 1, 1914, Container 22, Folder 20, Hebrew Orphans Home Subsidy files, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(54.) Ibid, Jonathan Steam to Ralph A. Sonn, June 1, 1915.
(57.) Ibid, Hyman S. Jacobs to Ralph A. Sonn, May 8, 1918.
(60.) Ibid, Ralph A. Sonn to Hyman S. Jacobs, May 9, 1918.
(61.) Ibid, Jonathan Stearn to Ralph A. Sonn, October 7. 1918.
(62.) Ibid, Ralph A. Sonn to Marcus Endel and Louis Fendig, June 21, 1921.
(63.) Ibid, Marcus Endel to Ralph A. Sonn, July 5, 1921.
(64.) Libby Spiegel to Ralph A. Sonn, January 3, 1917, Container 5, Folder 21, Hebrew Orphans Home Subsidy files, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(66.) Mary Hardy to Feist M. Strauss, October 23, 1924, Container 7, Folder 38, Hebrew Orphans Home Subsidy files, Pearle and Cuba Archives.
(67.) The home's collaborations with non-Jewish social workers were a necessary adaptation in remote regions with small Jewish communities, like Petersburg. Such towns were ill-equipped to supervise and manage needy families, and the home was unable to provide more than one or two home visits per year.
(68.) Feist M. Strauss to Mary Hardy, October 27, 1924.
(69.) Ibid, Feist M. Strauss to V. H. Nussbaum, Nov 13, 1924.
(71.) Ibid. The case file contains no further reference to the allegations of misconduct or their origin.
(72.) Ibid, V.H. Nussbaum to Feist M. Strauss, Nov 17, 1924.
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|Publication:||American Jewish History|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2013|
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