Contact B'nai B'rith

1120 20th Street NW, Suite 300N Washington, D.C. 20036


(Washington, D.C., May 3, 2019)—Pamela Nadell, the Patrick Clendenen chair in Women’s and Gender History at American University’s Department of History and the author of America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today, joined B’nai B’rith CEO Daniel S. Mariaschin for a discussion on the history of Jewish women in American life. Nadell also directs the Jewish Studies Program at American University and serves as the chair of its Critical Race, Gender & Culture Studies program.
Nadell and Mariaschin discuss the societal roles of Jewish women across classes, professions and time periods, as well as their roles in pivotal social movements in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the labor movement, women’s suffrage and the feminist movement. Among the many ways women made their voices heard: In New York City in 1902, Jewish women organized a boycott of kosher meat to protest its rising prices.
Nadell describes one notable example of the involvement of Jewish women in the labor movement: “The first really successful general strike on the Lower East Side of New York was the 1909 Shirtwaist Makers strike, and the men who were in charge of the labor unions were very suspicious of women. They didn’t expect that women could organize and sustain a strike. They started the strike with an almost bankrupt strike fund, and they always felt that the women who were working in the factories and in the sweatshops were, by and large, single women and they were going to get married and they were going to leave…and the women of the shirtwaist makers braved thugs and terrorism from the police and arrests and workhouse sentencing, and they sustained a several months-long strike that was settled in many shops successfully…It sparked a decade of labor unrest that ultimately saw, by the end of World War I, the garment industry as the best-organized labor unions in the United States.”
America’s Jewish Women mostly takes the form of sketches of individual women at specific points in time. Some of the prominent women discussed include American author Mary Antin, feminist activist Betty Friedan and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; however, Nadell also explores the lives of various every day women whose time was taken up with family life and domestic responsibilities.
The podcast conversation includes discussion of how American Jewish women influenced the development of Judaism and Jewish institutions. From the earliest days of the Jewish community in America, American Jewish women began regularly attending synagogue (rather than observing their religious duties solely at home) and invented Sunday school for Jewish children. Women also founded Jewish organizations focused on immigrant relief, were adept at fundraising and organizing for programs for their synagogues and many were early activists in the Zionism movement. Some of these organizations, such as the National Council of Jewish Women, still exist today. 
To listen to the full discussion on our podcast, click here.
B’nai B’rith International has advocated for global Jewry and championed the cause of human rights since 1843. B’nai B’rith is recognized as a vital voice in promoting Jewish unity and continuity, a staunch defender of the State of Israel, a tireless advocate on behalf of senior citizens and a leader in disaster relief. With a presence around the world, we are the Global Voice of the Jewish Community. Visit