Socialist ideology, traditional rhetoric: images of women in American Yiddish socialist dailies, 1918-1922.
At the end of World War I, by which time Jewish immigration to the United States had begun its decline, there were five Yiddish dailies in the United States. Each attempted in its own way to deal with all aspects of Jewish immigrant life: politics, culture, social and economic activities, and even family matters. They aspired to help create the profile of the American Jew and to shape the image of Jewish immigrant society. Three important figures in the American Yiddish world--the poet Jacob Glatstein, the journalist and critic Shmuel Niger, and the journalist and editor Hillel Rogof--eloquently (though somewhat nostalgically) recalled these aims in the opening essay to a book marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Yiddish press in the United States: "The Yiddish newspaper gave the immigrant a face. It made him a socialist, a Zionist, or a supporter of diaspora nationalism. But generally it made him a proud American Jew.... The newspaper in Yiddish was the stock market of ideas and of ideals. It shaped Jewish life." (4) Thus, an examination of how the Yiddish press discussed Jewish women, the ways in which it tried to appeal to them and to mold their image, will reveal how it viewed their place and their roles in eastern European Jewish immigrant society in the United States and will also tell us much about their status in that society. In the following pages, I will examine the image of immigrant women in the Yiddish socialist dailies in the United States as they were depicted in four different arenas: the public sphere, the workplace, the world of writing, and the family.
The dailies I will discuss are the two socialist newspapers: Di tsayt, published from August 1920 to April 1922 by the Labor Zionist movement, Poalei Zion; and the much more successful Forverts (Jewish Daily Forward), founded in 1897, which was the most important Yiddish newspaper in the United States and also the most widely circulated foreign-language newspaper in the country. (5) I have chosen to discuss these dailies both because their editors and writers exerted a strong influence on the Jewish public scene, adhering to progressive, liberal views and using the papers to achieve public and political aims, and because, unlike the other Yiddish dailies, they had special pages for women. Since it is impossible to draw a full comparison between these two papers because of Di tsayt's short life, the bulk of material presented is drawn from the Forverts with relevant insights from Di tsayt.
Since they published regular women's pages dealing with a range of issues beyond simple housekeeping and health matters, both socialist dailies viewed the status of Jewish women in the spirit of the progressive ideologies they represented. Yet, the content of the women's pages, and especially their rhetoric, also had a great deal in common with the view of women's status and role prevalent in what was still a rather conservative eastern European Jewish immigrant society." In order to explain this, I shall argue that although the Yiddish press used traditional images of Jewish women as mothers and housewives, its portrayal of them was, in reality, far more complex. My claim is that Yiddish newspapers in the United States, especially the Forverts, regarded eastern European Jewish immigrant women as filling highly important and sophisticated roles in Jewish society. Women were presented as people whose task it was to contribute to modernization and to the advancement of immigrant life in the United States, while at the same time safeguarding traditional values. They were expected to do all this through their functions as women, wives, and mothers, with the help of the materials, ideas, and messages that the newspaper provided.
The period under discussion here is 1918 to 1922, from the end of World War I to the closure of Di tsayt, when the Yiddish press had almost reached its peak in circulation. (7) Eastern European Jewish immigrants had established a significant presence in the United States dating back forty years, and the processes of politicization and the shaping of social structures were well advanced. Although officially the gates of the United States were still open to immigrants, mass immigration had declined dramatically on the eve of the war. By this time, Jewish immigrant society, its self-images and patterns of thought, including those regarding the roles of Jewish women, had already coalesced into a recognizable form.
The Jewish Woman and the Public Sphere
Women, and all the more Jewish women, were prominently represented in the Yiddish socialist dailies. Public struggles waged by women, or in which women played a leading role, were frequently given broad, sympathetic coverage on the news pages. (8) Stories about women on the stage were printed in the theater sections, and the Forvert's well-known feature, "A bintel brief" (a bundle of letters), in which readers wrote in with their questions and problems, often reflected the concerns of a broad, diverse feminine world. However, in addition to writing about women in relation to current events and including letters from female readers, these two papers also devoted regular weekly pages to a serious, fundamental discussion of the world of women in its various aspects--the private and the familial, the public and the economic as well as the psychological and the spiritual. Di tsayt's women's page, which carried the title "In der froyen velt: hoyz virtshaft un mode nayes" ("In the world of women: the household and fashion news"), was printed every Saturday during its first year and later appeared alternately with the page on children's literature. The women's page of the Forverts, titled "Froyen interesn: faktn un meynungen vegn dem leben under lage fun der froy" ("The woman's interests: facts and opinions about the life and lot of the woman"), was a regular feature from the time the paper first began to appear. It soon became recognized as the most important women's page among the Yiddish dailies and was a model for other dailies that were founded later (the veteran dailies Yidishes tageblat and Morgen zshurnal did not publish women's pages). The women's page of the Forverts had a regular structure, which hardly changed over the years. Each week it included a section, "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt" ("Notes from the world of women"), which dealt mainly with women in the public and political spheres. It sometimes included historical sketches about Jewish heroines in the Middle Ages, or about those who participated in the French Revolution who, in addition to waging public struggles, also had to cope with men who objected to their activities. (9) In 1920, it was joined by a section called "Tshikave zakhen vegn froyen" ("Curious matters about women"). In addition to these two regular columns, the women's page also included a sprinkling of articles, some of them popular and others more scholarly, on subjects connected with family life, housekeeping, and raising children. Thus, while an array of articles on "feminine" subjects and family life were printed in all parts of the paper and varied in content, the most consistent features treating women focused on their role in the public arena.
Between 1918 and 1922, the main topic of the Forverts' women's page was the struggle for suffrage. The National American Women's Suffrage Association was founded through the merger of two earlier organizations in 1890, at a time when women had achieved voting rights in only four states and their struggle for the franchise was at its height. (10) The aim of the movement was to change federal law to ensure all women of equal voting rights on both the state and national levels. In August 1920, after winning approval by both houses of Congress, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, establishing the principle that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." (11) The women's page of the Forverts closely followed the suffrage movement and regularly reported on its setbacks and its achievements. It sympathetically reported on demonstrations for women's voting rights staged by organizations such as the New York State Woman Suffrage Association, the Women's Trade Union League, and the National Council of Jewish Women, which brought together women across class, religious, and ethnic lines.
From early 1920, the Forverts' reporting on the suffragist struggle became frequent and constant. With bated breath, the women's page followed the struggle waged in Washington, Delaware, West Virginia, and Connecticut, the last states to support women's right to vote. (12) In early April 1920, the Forverts wrote: "Twenty-nine million women will be able to vote if the suffragist struggle succeeds this month.... With that the number of women voters will be only one-half-million less than the number of male voters.... Women have achieved impressive political power, and all the parties take them into account." (13)
Throughout June 1920, the Forverts printed a detailed survey of the International Congress of Suffragettes being held in Geneva, quoting one of the participants who claimed that the Congress' advocacy of world peace demonstrated that if women had the right to vote, they would naturally elect those who support peace and work towards it. (14) It is revealing that the women's page of the Forverts printed this claim only as a quotation, not as part of its own editorial statement. The suffragists usually argued that they deserved the right to vote because they were morally superior to men, a superiority signified by their opposition to the sale of alcoholic beverages and their support for the advancement of peace. The Forverts also sometimes voiced practical arguments in support of women's right to vote, such as the fact that women would support a good public health program and thereby prevent infanticide, but it generally based its support of the suffragists on theoretical and principled arguments, such as the imperative to bring about equality for all human beings. (15)
The suffragists had their earliest successes in western states, many of which altered their constitutions to enfranchise women. In 1917, New York became the first state on the East Coast to grant them a victory, one in which Jews played a decisive role. Out of one hundred voting districts that supported that year's suffragist amendment to the state constitution, seventy-eight had large Jewish populations. (16) Among the prominent Jewish figures who supported the suffragists were the trade union activists Rose Schneiderman and Joseph Barondess and the Zionist leader and Reform rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who was the honorary vice-president of the Women's Suffragette Party. (17) Eleanor Lerner, who studied the involvement of New York Jews in the suffragist cause, argues that Jews living on the Lower East Side were already extremely knowledgeable about the suffragist movement several years before the 1917 campaign. Their embrace of women's voting rights was highlighted in an article published in the organ of the Woman Suffragist Party, which cited the "well known fact that the Jewish people are in favor of the movement." (18)
If immigrant Jews already knew much about the suffragist movement prior to the 1920 fight for the Nineteenth Amendment, why did the Forverts feel it necessary to write in such great detail about the movement and its background? In addition, why were these articles published just for women on the women's page and not on the news pages for general consumption? Part of the answer lies in the low status Jewish women held in their own public world, something the two Yiddish socialist dailies may have wanted to change. Despite widespread support for the suffragist movement among immigrant Jews, in practice the public sphere of the eastern European Jewish immigrant community in the United States did not welcome women; many immigrant organizations did not even admit women into their ranks. Most of the landsmanshaftn, the immigrant associations founded on the basis of a common city of origin in eastern Europe, for example, accepted only male members. Women who wanted to participate in the activities of these organizations usually had to do so in the framework of auxiliary bodies founded alongside the male-dominated organizations. (19)
In the fraternal orders, the situation was no different. The two largest organizations, the Arbeter-ring (Workmen's Circle), which had ideological ties to the Bund and was associated with the Forverts, and the Yidishnatsyonaler arbeter farband (Jewish National Worker's Alliance or, colloquially, "the Farband"), with strong ideological and organizational ties to Poalei Zion, did not admit women as members. (20) The Farband, however, after struggling over the issue of women's membership, did pass a resolution in 1918 that enabled women to establish an affiliate organization, the Farband Women. (21) The Arbeter-ring only established auxiliary clubs for women in 1928-1929. This failure to come to terms with the question of women's status seems to have aroused little controversy, however, since as late as 1950, when the organization published a book about its history, the exclusion of women from the organization was described as something natural and self-evident. (22) The attempt by seven women to found a national women's branch of Poalei Zion met with that organization's opposition, and only after much debate was the Pioneer Women finally established in October 1926. (23) Der idisher kemfer and Der idisher arbeter, the two weeklies ideologically closest to these women's organizations, showed no sympathy for their struggle and scarcely mentioned it. (24)
This situation indicates that eastern European Jewish immigrant women in the United States had little opportunity to participate actively in public life, other than in separate women's groups. The activities of these groups were very narrowly defined, covering only charity, welfare, and to a lesser degree, education. Even their establishment proved controversial. (25) The editors of both Di tsayt and the Forverts were surely aware of both the place given to women in the Jewish public sphere and to the vast support Jewish society gave to the suffragist movement. They probably understood that focusing on the struggle over suffrage would enable them to deal with the issue of women's place in the Jewish public sphere in a subtle way, without overtly challenging the values of traditional Jewish society.
In this vein, the women's page of the Forverts continued to follow women's achievements in American politics and voiced its expectations of them in light of the nineteenth amendment. An outstanding example of this is a long, unsigned article entitled, "What Women Achieved Through their Right to Vote." It set out to show how the constitutional amendment had affected the public involvement of women, declaring that it conferred not only rights but also duties: "Today it is not enough to be a good wife and a devoted mother. The woman must also be educated and aware of her civic status as the possessor of the right to vote. Now she bears, together with the man, responsibility for the great wrongs being perpetrated in the world." (26) The Forverts, then, presented the granting of suffrage to women as a step that called for their greater involvement in the public sphere. This stance was apparent in its coverage of a proposed law in New York that would grant women equal rights in political parties and their conventions. "The governor and the heads of the political parties," it wrote, "support the proposal out of an understanding that women's opinions must be taken into account." (27) The Forverts also urged its female readers to exercise the right to vote, learn English, and take steps to obtain American citizenship, and in this way to take an active part in the public sphere without contradicting any existing social norms. (28)
It would seem, therefore, that the articles on women in public life were not intended just to inform readers of the socialist Yiddish dailies of the great changes taking place at the time concerning women's status in the United States. Rather, they aimed to increase consciousness of the public sphere and its importance among Jewish immigrant women. While they conspicuously did not call on female readers to take an active part in the suffragist movement themselves, their goal seems to have been to encourage their female readers to start exercising their rights to participate in the public sphere in less radical ways, such as voting, and perhaps to subtly spur them on to greater involvement in the public life of their own immigrant community.
The Woman in the Labor Market
The Forverts' image of women in the world of employment during the years under discussion also stemmed from the suffragist struggle and its focus on equality between the sexes. The paper's attitude towards the working woman was a very supportive one. Prior to World War I, its articles emphasized the plight of young women, especially those in the sweatshops, who were forced to cope with the harsh reality of the working world. (29) In the interwar years, other issues were added to the paper's treatment of women's employment, such as education, women's advancement in the workplace and equal employment rights. By the early 1920s, the emphasis had shifted almost exclusively to these topics.
In 1918, for example, Forverts contributor Sadie Vinokur wrote at length about the concerns and psychological problems of the young worker in the sweatshop. (30) By 1922, however, her articles had shifted focus, frequently noting the mobility of the workforce in the shops and the workers' changing aspirations. (31) It seems that this shift tells us more about the change in the image of the female immigrant than it does about a change in Jewish women's attitudes towards their work in the sweatshop. The paper no longer invoked the image of a young woman struggling to eke out a living, but rather that of a woman aspiring to equality, working to achieve economic independence, and striving to acquire education, decent wages, and opportunities for advancement.
Another example of this change was a piece printed in April 1920 that expanded on the advantages of the working woman, who enjoyed economic independence. (32) An article by Dr. Esther Luria, dealing with discrimination in women's wages, continued that same line, emphasizing the importance of the struggle for equal rights. The sole reason women were discriminated against, Luria claimed, was gender. Jews from eastern Europe invested in their sons' rather than their daughters' education, and thus women were compelled to work at jobs that offered little hope for advancement up the economic ladder. Moreover, women often regarded their jobs as temporary employment until marriage, and therefore did not pay dues to the trade unions, which could have protected them. All of this, Luria argued, stemmed from a non-egalitarian approach, which viewed the man as breadwinner and the woman as "helping with the livelihood," at first for her parents and later for her spouse. (33) In this vein, the Forverts urged women to join the battle for an equal minimum wage for both sexes by creating a lobby as well as acting through trade unions. (34) Despite Luria's allusion to the practices of eastern European Jews, however, by and large the Forverts did not focus on a concrete discussion of the Jewish woman when dealing with working women, just as it preferred to universalize in its discussion of women in the public sphere. In this spirit, it printed a growing number of articles and editorials on general issues of women's equality in employment and wages as well as women's education.
Education was perceived as an invaluable asset in the context of the labor market. The Forverts underscored the great interest shown by young Jewish women in acquiring education, an interest that, in the paper's view, set them apart from non-Jewish young women. It also pointed out that this interest on the part of Jewish women could lead to expanded job opportunities for them in a greater variety of professions. (35) But more commonly the newspaper wrote about the importance of education for women in general, and not specifically for Jewish women. (36) The women's page reported on the proportion of women in institutions of higher education in the United States, while at the same time criticizing American society's lack of progress in this area. "Women in America," it wrote, "should be waging an all-out battle to gain education." The women's movement in the United States, the paper explained, began its activity seventy years after the movement in England. Only in 1849 did the first American woman receive a medical degree, a degree awarded by a Swiss, rather than American, institution. Not until 1850 was a college founded in Philadelphia that enabled women to study medicine, and even then the local and state medical societies did not permit their members to teach in this college. (37)
The newspaper also followed the progress of women employed in other professions, such as law. It listed those states in which women were not licensed as lawyers and reported on women in the legal profession in foreign countries. (38) It also frequently reported on women who gained access to "male" occupations that did not require higher education. For example, articles appeared on women joining the police force for pay equal to that of men, a woman sheriff in Iowa, women working as lifeguards at the beach, women delivering mail, and efforts to include women in diplomatic service. (39) Two other news items reported on the employment of older women: one about two women, aged forty and fifty and the mothers of grown children, who had obtained highly desirable jobs; and another reporting on a breakthrough in Wisconsin permitting a female teacher to keep her job even after her marriage. (40)
It should be stressed again that more than half of these news items did not focus on Jewish women, but on American women more broadly. Nonetheless, I believe they tell us much about the desire of the Forverts to create an ideal image for eastern European Jewish women in the United States. While the Yiddish socialist press' discussion about women in the public sphere was likely intended to enhance the Jewish female reader's awareness of the changes taking place in the status of women, the discussion of women in the workplace had a more concrete aim, albeit not an immediate one. By reporting on changes in the labor market, the newspaper was trying to encourage eastern European Jewish women, recent immigrants and old-timers, those who had come to the United States at a very young age and those who had been educated abroad, to take part in these changes and perhaps also to be agents of change in the Jewish immigrant community.
Women writers were not an exception in the cultural landscape of eastern European Jews in the United States. Norma Fain Pratt, in her study of Yiddish women writers in the United States in the early twentieth century, presents a list of fifty women, immigrants from eastern Europe to the United States who wrote poetry and prose, and discusses some of them at length. Most of the writers adhered to socialist ideas and published their work in Yiddish socialist and anarchist newspapers and periodicals. Pratt also adds that from 1915 on, the editors of the Yiddish press grew increasingly anxious to print women's literature, which was perceived as symbolizing modernism, and perhaps also would increase their circulation. For these reasons, several editors encouraged women's writing, which had greatly increased in volume by the early 1920s. (41)
Despite the growth of women's writing in both the Forverts and Di tsayt during the 1920s, these newspapers did not become the main venue for female writers of Yiddish literature. Instead, the work of writers like Fradel Stock, a widely read author and poetess of the period, and the greatly esteemed Marie Syrkin, appeared primarily in other publications. (42) Di tsayt, which did provide a forum for a few women literary writers, including Malka Heifetz, was unable to print much more of their literature because of its poor financial state, which compelled it to constantly cut down on its size. (43) In the Forverts, works of Yiddish literature by women were far fewer than pieces offering practical advice, mainly featured on the women's page. In the years under discussion here, the authors of these practical articles were mainly Helena Brand and Regina Frishvaser, who published true stories taken from family life, particularly about marital relations; Sadie Vinokur, who wrote about clothing; Rose Fisher, who wrote about cooking; and Rachel Zaraby and Dr. Amaliah Tarensberg, who wrote about women's well-being. (44)
Another female author for the Forverts who appeared with great frequency in the 1920s and about whom we have more information was Dr. Esther Luria. Born in Warsaw in 1877, Luria studied at the gymnasium there and in 1903 was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Bern in Switzerland. In Bern she joined the labor movement, later returning to Russia, where she became active in the Bund. Because of her subversive activity, she was arrested several times and was finally exiled to Siberia in 1906. In 1912., she fled and came to New York. There she attempted to earn a living by journalistic writing, publishing articles in the Forverts, in the socialist literary magazine Di tsukunft, and in the Yiddish organ of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, Glaykhhayt. (45) There were, however, very few Jewish women like Luria. The few that had similar backgrounds and talents, like Bela Pevzner and Dr. Shoshana Bukhmil, failed in their attempt to play an active role in the public life of Jewish immigrant society in the United States and finally left. (46)
Luria's success, too, was only partial. She was only able to earn a living as a writer for a short time, and even during her active years the topical focus of her writings was limited. Some of her articles, particularly those printed in the literary periodical Di tsukunft, dealt with Jewish women who wrote in English, like Emma Lazarus and Martha Wolfenstein. (47) Her other articles, printed in the Forverts, dealt mainly with education and the upbringing of children. She published articles on the development of children's imagination and on the importance of play in their world. (48) She also recommended that parents send their children to public schools, supervise the preparation of homework and become involved in school affairs. (49) As original, progressive, and important as Luria's articles may have been, it is impossible to overlook the fact that they did not deal with political affairs or encourage women's increased involvement in the public sphere, but rather emphasized activities that were within the domain traditionally assigned to Jewish women.
This pattern was not characteristic of the Forverts only. Di tsayt, owing to its limited resources, employed very few writers, so it would be wrong to jump to any conclusions about its attitude toward the women among them. But a similar situation prevailed in Der tog, which did not represent a socialist worldview. Founded in 1914, the paper did not have a formal page for women, but on Sundays and Thursdays it did print articles on its back page that constituted a women's page of sorts. These included pieces offering advice on cooking and housekeeping; articles on health, children, and the family; occasional stories intended for women; and a regular column of questions and answers. (50) All of these were written by women, sometimes under a pen name and sometimes under the writer's real name. The most prominent women writer for Der tog was Dr. Ida Badanes, a contemporary of Luria's born in 1874, whose articles on health matters were printed each week. (51) In a 1945 article on the history of Der tog, the paper's second editor, William Edlin, described the publication as "the first paper to hire women as members of the editorial board," mentioning Adela Kean-Zametkin's articles on women's affairs in addition to Badanes' pieces on medical matters. He also added that "the well-known author, Sara B. Smith was employed at Der tog almost from the day it was founded, and Khana Yofe was also on the editorial board for years." (52)
There were also women on the editorial board of the Forverts. One was Regina Frishvaser, who frequently wrote for the paper's women's page, and in the 1940s was one of two women on the editorial board. (53) However, the editors of the Forverts did not attribute much importance to this fact, and did not mention it in the paper or elsewhere. They did not print literary works by women on the women's page, but preferred pieces on more practical subjects, articles that they believed were more urgently needed by their women readers. Some of these articles were unsigned, others only with an initial, and a very long series of articles bore the pen name "A froy" (a woman). (54) All of these factors show that the editors had no intention of nurturing or even emphasizing women's writing.
In 1982, a lexicon of writers for the Forverts since 1897 was published. A few women were included in the volume: Rokhl Brokhes, who published a story in 1907; Rokhl Moravtshik, who wrote about women's affairs; and others about whom no details are given. (55) Not only was there no specific discussion of the phenomenon of women writers in the lexicon, but the list of women was only a partial one, with none of the women I have mentioned appearing on it. Thus, it is clear that neither the Forverts nor its women's page adopted the aim of fostering women writers, and women's writing in the various sections of the paper had an instrumental rather than an ideological function. The image of the woman that the paper wanted to promote was not that of a writing woman but rather of a practical woman, attentive to events on the public scene, applying what she has learned from it to the working world and particularly to home and family.
The Woman in the Family
A considerable portion of the Forverts's women's page and nearly the entire women's page of Di tsayt were devoted to matters connected with home life, especially the family. In these articles, issues facing Jewish immigrant society were treated in a direct, practical manner. The family was depicted not only as the center of the immigrant woman's life and as her most important achievement, but also as the center of Jewish society.
Marriage was perceived as an obligation. The eastern European immigrant woman was depicted as aspiring to marry and to preserve the family framework. The newspapers wrote a great deal about this topic, and for good reason. It was no easy task for an eastern European immigrant woman to find a husband and establish a family in the United States, since she came from a society where not only marriages but also the young couple's source of livelihood, place of domicile, and their lifestyle were prearranged by parents. (56) Now she was forced to cope with an entirely different reality. In the United States in the early twentieth century, young people met one another in their workplaces or where they spent their leisure time, and they chose their future spouses far from the scrutiny of their family members. (57) Moreover, many eastern European Jewish immigrant families struggled with financial hardship and difficulties in adapting family roles and responsibilities to the new environment, problems that sometimes resulted in marital conflict.
The Forverts tried to grapple with these problems by means of various stories it printed in a section called "Bletlekh fun familye lebn" ("Pages from family life"),s" The purpose of the stories was to support the Jewish woman who had to find a husband and then to preserve the family framework. The newspaper cautioned the young immigrant not to be tempted to marry an unsuitable man just because he was rich, for he might lose his money or be miserly. (59) Divorce was perceived as a very negative phenomenon among immigrants, and the Forverts even described it as unthinkable. The advice column "A bintel brief" occasionally dealt with divorce, and in the 1920s its attitude was no more positive than what it had been earlier in the century. (60) The women's page often cajoled women to treat their spouses nicely; to show understanding and not to conceal any personal information that they might hear from another source, which would have an adverse effect on the marriage. (61)
This view, that the woman was responsible for harmony in the family and for keeping it intact, was a view widely expressed in eastern European Jewish immigrant publications in the United States. Haim Melitz's book, Di heym un di froy (The home and the woman), published in New York in 1918, and the newspaper Froyen zshurnal (Women's journal), published from 1922 to 1923, both describe the Jewish woman's role in the very same manner. (62) While the Forverts and Di tsayt attributed much importance to this role, however, they did not view it as the woman's principle responsibility. Rather, her main role in the view of both papers was to raise children and, most important of all, to educate them. A great deal of attention was given to this task in both papers, and it may be assumed that they thought of it as a long-term goal that had much significance for Jewish society.
The Forverts attributed importance to family planning, a topic that was discussed at the time in a number of other Yiddish publications that advocated a reduction in the birth rate. (63) The Forverts did not deal with this subject directly, but it did discuss it indirectly. (64) The paper wrote in glowing terms about Emma Goldman and other women who were active in promoting birth control, and applauded a judge in Chicago who was brave enough to justify a poor woman's abortion. (65) The paper quoted demographic studies that showed a decline in the size of the American family as an outcome of family planning. (66) Also cited were studies explaining that the more developed the country, the more intelligent the women and the fewer children they gave birth to, usually no more than two each. (67) One of these articles even went so far as to state that the small family was typical of American society, while the family with a large number of children characterized immigrant culture. (68) In other words, the small family is depicted as representing the values of progress and Americanization, and the large one, as representing the values of the Old World.
Ironically, the prominence of child rearing as a topic in these papers was a reflection of their own rootedness in the values of the Old World that they sought to critique. Still, the emphasis in both papers was to bring readers more into line with the approaches of the New World. They did not focus only on scientific studies and on the acquisition of knowledge, but also on the many psychological aspects of raising children, including the development of the child's personality, as was apparent in the previously mentioned Forverts articles by Esther Luria. Other articles in the Forverts dealt with the need to develop the thinking process of the very young child. (69) Particular emphasis was placed on studies in the public school, and this matter deserves special attention here.
Among Eastern European immigrants in the United States, the public school was perceived as a vital tool for learning the English language and as a key to Americanization for all members of the family. Hasia Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly note that the great passion for learning, which in the Old World was focused on religious studies, now shifted to studies in the public school. The admiration for the yeshiva student, who was often idealized in Jewish culture in eastern Europe, was now turned to the college student. The pride of the poor immigrants was not their rich son or their pretty daughter, but rather their child who became a teacher, a lawyer, or best of all, a doctor. They note that while Italian and Polish immigrants saved every penny to buy a house or a plot of land, the Jewish immigrants continued to live in crowded tenements for years, renting out a room to a subtenant and working long hours in a store or night shifts in a factory in order to enable their children to study as many years as possible. (70) The newspapers' emphasis on the education of children was, therefore, very much in keeping with the conventions of eastern European Jewish immigrants.
Diner and Benderly also stress the role played by women in preserving the family's Jewishness by preventing intermarriage. During the years under discussion here, the women's pages of the Forverts and Di tsayt hardly dealt with this issue. Indirectly, however, they both assigned the woman the task of preserving the Jewishness of immigrant society by fostering something both papers regarded as a hallmark of Jewish identity: Yiddish literature and culture. Di tsayt was the paper that placed a special emphasis on this element.
In addition to its women's section, Di tsayt also had a children's department, Di kinder velt (The world of children). The editors of Di tsayt surely saw a direct connection between these two pages, since it was seen as the responsibility of the parents, in particular the mother, to expose children, especially the very young ones, to literature. Not only did these two features appear near each other in the paper, but they were sometimes even combined on a single page. When the women's section was ultimately discontinued, it was replaced by a section on children's literature. In my view, the paper's choice of a children's page over a women's page during a period of financial hardship does not suggest that it underestimated the importance of the women's page, but rather that the choice reflected its order of priorities. Its top priority was education. If the mother had the task of guiding her child's education in the public school, the agent of Americanization, she also had the task of fostering the ethnic identity of the coming generation. To facilitate this goal, Di tsayt printed children's poetry, stories and comics. (71) The role of the woman as presented in the Yiddish dailies was, therefore, not only to bring Americanization to the family, but also to nurture Jewish identity as these papers understood it--the cultural identity of eastern European Jewish immigrants in the United States.
On March 17, 1918, in its section "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt" (Notes from the world of women), the women's page of the Forverts printed a quotation from Herbert Spencer. "The saddest part of human history," wrote the British philosopher, "is the oppression of women by men in all times, and in all countries." Unquestionably, both the Forverts and Di tsayt attributed importance to the status of the Jewish woman. This is evident from the fact that they were the only papers offering a regular page for women, as well as from the content of those pages. Both papers were aware of the inferior status of women in Jewish society and in society at large and presented their readers with an image of women advocating equal rights and participating in the struggle to gain them.
It is obvious, however, that the support these papers offered for the struggle for women's liberation did not take the form of concrete proposals that Jewish immigrant women could follow in order to achieve equality within their own community. Instead, the papers offered mainly support in principle, a fact that is most evident in the discussions about women in the public sphere. Although the Forverts adopted a sympathetic attitude towards the suffragist cause and the public activity of women in general, as well as towards the participation of women in the battles of the trade unions to gain decent wages and rights in the labor market, the rhetoric of the paper was very traditional and emphasized that the Jewish woman's primary place was in the family setting.
Gender scholars frequently point to the image of the "woman of valor" as an ideal that was often held up for Jewish women to follow in both eastern Europe and America. (72) Paula Hyman has underscored the role of the Jewish woman as the one responsible for education in the family. (73) However, the portrayal of eastern European Jewish immigrant women in these two socialist Yiddish dailies was far more complex. These papers placed Jewish women primarily in the home, but they also saw the home as a base from which women could play a larger role in immigrant society.
Yiddish dailies, in general, were an integral part of eastern European Jewish life in the United States. They accepted the fact, as Paula Hyman has put it, that Jewish women were "active subjects rather passive objects of history." (74) Based on their positive assessment of the Jewish woman's ability to learn and adapt to new situations, these papers regarded her as best able to foster progress and modernization in Jewish society, and at the same time preserve its values. This was a role to which they attributed the highest public significance.
Both the Forverts and Di tsayt taught the immigrant woman about changes in women's status taking place in the world, and did their utmost to instill in her the aspiration to achieve equality. They provided their female readers with information about how to manage family life, how to keep the family intact in the New World, and, most importantly, how to educate their children. They encouraged them to raise the next generation for a life that would combine modernization and Americanization with a Jewish ethnic identity based on the worldview of these papers, namely a secular identity anchored in Yiddish culture. In this way they fostered equality between the sexes as prescribed by the progressive ideology they espoused, and did so while using conservative rhetoric and traditional images that members of the immigrant community would easily recognize and accept.
(1.) On the press as an immigrant institution in New York, see Judith R. Blau, Mim Thomas, Beverly Newhouse, and Andrew Kavee, "Ethnic Buffer Institutions: The Immigrant Press: New York City, 1820-1924," Historical Social Research 23 (1998): 20-37.
(2.) This trend was very striking during World War 1, when, in addition to the Forverts, Di varhayt, and party papers like Di kemfer shtime, a special periodical called Der idisher kongres came out to serve the political aims of the Jewish Congress movement. See Jonathan Frankel, Prophecy and Politics: Socialism, Nationalism, and the Russian Jews, 1862-1917 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 515-17.
(3.) See Robert E. Park, The Immigrant Press and its Control (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1922); Mordecai Soltes, The Yiddish Press: An Americanizing Agency (New York: Teacher's College, Columbia University, 1925).
(4.) Jacob Glatstein, Shmuel Niger, and Hillel Rogof, eds., Finf un zibetsik yor yidishe prese in Amerike, 1870-1945 (New York: Shrayber fareyn, 1945), 6-7.
(5.) On Di tsayt, see Rachel Rojanski, "The Rise and Fall of Di tsayt: The Fate of an Encounter Between Culture and Politics," Jewish History 14 (2000): 83-107. There was another daily with a Labor Zionist orientation, Di varhayt. However, in 1919 it merged with Der tog, the only Yiddish daily that presented itself as a general rather than an ideological newspaper.
(6.) For a different reading, see Maxine S. Seller, "Defining Socialist Womanhood: The Women's Page of the Jewish Daily Forward in 1919," American Jewish History 76 (Jun. 1987): 416-38.
(7.) For data on the circulation of Yiddish newspapers in the United States until 1923, see Soltes, Yiddish Press, 24-25.
(8.) See, for example, H. Lang, "Der yortsayt fun 'triangle' korbones bay di straykende veyst meykers," Forverts, Mar. 23, 1919.
(9.) See, for example, Yakov Podolyer, "Froyen in revolutsyonen," Forverts, Apr. 20, 1920; Podolyer, "Amazonkes fun der groyser frantsoyzisher revolutsyon," Forverts, Apr. 27, 1919.
(10.) The states were Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. For the background of the movement, see Jean H. Baker, Votes for Women: The Struggle for Suffrage Revisited (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
(11.) U.S. Const. amend. XIX, sec. 1.
(12.) "Notitsn fun der froyen-veit," Forverts, Mar. 21, 1920; Apr. 25, 1920.
(13.) Ibid., Apr. 4, 1920.
(14.) Ibid., Mar. 11, 1919; Jun. 6, 1920; Jun. 13, 1920; and Jun. 20, 1920.
(15.) For the practical argument, see "Notitsn fun der froyen-veit," Forverts, Mar. 11, 1919. For the more theoretical argument, see "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt," Forverts, Mar. 14, 1920; Sep. 11, 1921; and "Glaykhe rekhte un glaykhe tsores far mener un froyen," Forverts, Jan. 22, 1922.
(16.) For data on the Jewish votes supporting the suffragist movement, see Elinor Lerner, "Jewish Involvement in the New York City Jewish Suffrage Movement," American Jewish History 70 (Jun. 1981): 443-44.
(17.) On Rose Schneiderman, see Joyce Antler, The Journey Home: Jewish Women and the American Century (New York: The Free Press, 1997), 93-95.
(18.) Lerner, "Jewish Involvement," 456.
(19.) Daniel Soyer, Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York, 1880-1939 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 52, 79.
(20.) On the Arbeter-ring, see J. S. Hertz, 50 yor Arbeter-ring in yidishn lebn (New York: National Executive Committee of the Workmen's Circle, 1950), 189. On the Farband, see Meir Brown, "Anshtehung un antviklung fun Idish-natsyonaler arbeter farband," in Idish-natsyonaler arbeter farband (New York: Jewish National Workers Alliance, New York, 1946), 14-18.
(21.) Rachel Rojanski, "At the Center or on the Fringes of the Public Arena: Esther Mintz-Abetson and the Status of Women in American Poalei Zion, 1905-1935," Journal of Israeli History 21 (Spring/Autum 2002): 40-41.
(22.) Hertz, 50 yor Arbeter-ring, 189.
(23.) Rojanski, "At the Center or on the Fringes," 43-46.
(24.) Aside from early reports on the conventions of the Pioneer Women, these two newspapers did not mention them at all.
(25.) Hasia R. Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly, Her Work Praise Her: A History of Jewish Women in America from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 247-54.
(26.) "Vos hot di Amerikaner froy oyfgeton mit ir shtimrekht?" Forverts, Feb. 12, 1922.
(27.) "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt," Forverts, Feb. 5, 1922.
(28.) Ibid., Apr. 21, 1918.
(29.) See, for example, "Shreklekhe froyen shklaferay," Forverts, Mar. 2, 1919.
(30.) Sadie Vinokur, "Di ershte teg in shop," Forverts, Apr. 21, 1921; "Friling in meydele sheper," Forverts, Apr. 7, 1918.
(31.) Sadie Vinokur, "Gants andere idishe meydlekh arbetn haynt in di sheper," Forverts, Aug. 6, 1922.
(32.) "Vi azoy di hekhere veydzshes hobn gevirkt oyf dem lebn fun di shop meydlekh," Forverts, Apr. 25, 1920.
(33.) Esther Luria, "Varum krign froyen klenere veydzshes vi mener?" Forverts, Mar. 9, 1919.
(34.) "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt," Forverts, Apr. 11, 1919.
(35.) "Idishe arbeter meydlekh interesirn zikh mer mit bildung vi nit idishe," Forverts, Mar. 17, 1918.
(36.) "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt," Forverts, Feb. 19, 1922.
(37.) Ibid., Mar. 24, 1918. The first American woman to graduate from the Geneva Medical College was Elizabeth Blackwell, who had been rejected by medical schools in the United States. Soon after she received her degree, the school closed its doors to women. In 1850, the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania was established, followed in 1863 by another school for women, the Homeopathic New York Medical College. See Regina Markell Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 47-49.
(38.) "A froy vert a dzshodzsh in suprim kourt in Meksiko," Forverts, Jul. 2, 1922.
(39.) "Tshikave zakhen vegn froyen," Forverts, Jan. 8, 1922; "'Notitsn fun der froyenvelt," Forverts, Mar. 31, 1918; and Jul. 23, 1922.
(40.) "Di mitl-yerike froyen krign itst di beste dzshobs," Forverts, Jul. 16, 1922; "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt," Forverts, Jul. 30, 1921.
(41.) Norma Fain Pratt, "Culture and Radical Politics: Yiddish Women Writers, 1890-1914," American Jewish History 70 (Sep. 1980): 68-90.
(42.) See Fradl Shtok, Gezamelte ertseylungen (New York: Nay-tsayt, 1919). On Marie Syrkin, see Jewish Frontier 50 (Jan./Feb. 1983), special tribute issue to Marie Syrkin; Carole S. Kessner, "Matrileanal Dissent: The Rhetoric of Zeal in Emma Lazarus, Marie Syrkin, and Cynthia Ozik," in Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing, ed. Judith Baskin (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 197-2-15.
(43.) Malka Heifetz, "Dos yam kerendl," Di tsayt, Oct. 30, 1920.
(44.) Rachel Zarbi, "Ver profitirt mer fun di politishe rekht vos di froyen hobn gevunen? der progres oder di reaktsye?" Forverts, Aug. 20, 1922; Amalye Tarensberg, "A sakh kinder oder veynik kinder--vos is beser far a familye," Forverts, Sep. 11, 1921; "Alte bokherim vos shadkhenen zikh tsu yunge meydlekh," Forverts, Sep. 18, 1921.
(45.) Pratt, "Culture and Radical Politics," 76.
(46.) On Bukhmil and Pevzner, see Rojanski, "At the Center," 27.
(47.) Pratt, "Culture and Radical Politics," 76n16.
(48.) Esther Luria, "Kinder muzn hobn shpiltsayg un muzn zikh shpiln geyms antviklen bay kinder di fantazye," Forverts, Mar. 16, 1919.
(49.) Esther Luria, "Di vayterdige bildung fun kinder velkhe endikn publik skul," Forverts, Jun. 15, 1919.
(50.) For articles on cooking and health, see "Vi tsu makhn kneydlekh," Der tog, Apr. 4, 1918; "Friling mode," Der tog, Mar. 30, 1918; Ida Badanes, "Vi tsu hitn dos gezunt fun kinder," Der tog. Apr. 9, 1918. For stories for women, see "'Soft zukht a man," Der tog, Apr. 7, 1918. For questions and answers, see "Entfers un oufragen fun muters, yedn zuntik un donershtik," Der tog, Apr. 11, 1918.
(51.) Ida Badanes is one of the fifty women on Pratt's list. The only biographical detail provided is her birth year. See Pratt, "Culture and Radical Politics," 89.
(52.) William Edlin, "Der tog, di tsaytung vos hot arayngebrakht a nayem ton in der idisher prese," in Glatstein, Niger and Rogof, Finf un zibetsik yor, 71. For Sara B. Smith, see Pratt, "Culture and Radical Politics," 89.
(53.) Regina Frishvaser is in the photograph of the editorial baord of the Forverts reproduced in Glatstein, Niger and Rogof, Finf un zibetsik Yor, 56.
(54.) See, for example, A froy [pseud.], "Vi azoy darfmen virken oyf kinder zey zoln zikh nisht shrekn," Forverts, Feb. 19, 1922.
(55.) "Leksikon fun Forverts shrayber, 1897-1982, tsuzamengeshtelt fun Dr. Eliyohu Shulman," Forverts, May 23, 1982.
(56.) On arranged marriage in Jewish society in eastern Europe, see Puah Rakovsky, My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman, trans. Barbara Harshav with Paula E. Hyman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 33-36; Iris Parush, Nashim korot: yitronah shel shuliyut ba-hevrah ha-Yehudit be-mizrah Eropah be-meah ha-tesha-esreh (Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 2001), 52-61.
(57.) Paula E. Hyman, Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History: The Roles and Representation of Women (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1995), 99-101.
(58.) On marriage in America and the difficulties of keeping the family together, see Diner and Benderly, Her Work Praise Her, 194-201.
(59.) Regina Frishvaser, "Vi oreme meydlekh yogn zikh nokh raykhe mener," Forverts, May 5, 1918; Regina Frishvaser, "Khasenes mit yunge un altlekhe mener," Forverts, Jun. 13, 1920.
(60.) For example, "A bintel brief," Forverts, May 3, 1918.
(61.) "Men iz heflikher tsu fremde vi tsu eygene, dos breyngt gants oft tsu familyentrabl," Forverts, Mar. 24, 1918; K. Dogn, "A froy darf ir man nisht dertseyln di soydes fun ir fargangenhayt," Forverts, Mar. 14, 1920; K. Dogn, "Iz a gliklekhe familyen lebn a shuts gegn 'zaytike' libe?" Forverts, Mar. 21, 1920.
(62.) Hyman, Gender and Assimilation, 118-20.
(63.) Eli Lederhendler, "Guides to the Perplexed: Sex, Manners and Mores for the Yiddish Reader in America," Modern Judaism 11 (Oct. 1991): 321-41.
(64.) Seller, in "Defining Socialist Womanhood," 433, explains that supporting abortion would have caused the daily to lose its permit to distribute by mail.
(65.) "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt," Forverts, Mar. 10, 1918.
(66.) Ibid., Oct. 9, 1921.
(67.) Y. Ramberg, "Velkhe felker un velkhe klasn hobn gresere familyes," Forverts, Oct. 16, 1921.
(68.) "Notitsn fun der froyen-velt," Forverts, Oct. 9, 1921.
(69.) Esther Luria, "Kinder muzn hobn shpiltsayg"; "Etvos vegn kinder ertsihung," Forverts, Mar. 3, 1918.
(70.) Diner and Benderly, Her Work Praise Her, 220.
(71.) A. Bakh, "Az a meydale vii nisht shlofn," Di tsayt, Sep. 10, 1920; Oct. 23, 1920; Mar. 4, 1922.
(72.) Hyman, Gender and Assimilation, 114-24; Carol B. Balin, To Reveal our Hearts: Women Writers in Tsarist Russia (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2001): 1-10; Diner and Benderly, Her Work Praise Her, 193-223.
(73.) Hyman, Gender and Assimilation, 114.
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|Publication:||American Jewish History|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2007|
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