Words to the Wives: The Jewish Press, Immigrant Women, and Identity Construction, 1924-1925

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Shapiro, Shelby Alan
Kelly, R. Gordon
This dissertation examines how six publications sought to construct Jewish- American identities for Eastern European Jewish immigrant women between 1895 and 1925, beginning in 1895 with the world's first Jewish women's magazine, American Jewess (1895 - 1899), followed by a women's magazine in Yiddish, Di froyen-velt (1913 -1914), and ending with an another Yiddish women's magazine, Der idisher froyen zhurnal (1922-1923). Between 1914 and 1916, three mass circulation Yiddish daily newspapers, Dos yidishes tageblatt, Forverts, and Der tog, started printing women's pages. This study ends in 1925, after Congress passed legislation restricting immigration in 1924. These publications present a variety of viewpoints and identities, that were political, religious and class-based. The three magazines, all in the same genre, held different attitudes on everything from religion to suffrage. The three daily newspapers represented fundamentally different ideologies. Forverts was socialist. Der tog was nationalist-Zionist, and Dos yidishes tageblatt, the oldest publication examined, represented a conservative, traditionally religious viewpoint and supported Zionism. This study examines religious and political ideologies, celebrating religious and civic holidays, attitudes towards women working and learning, Jewish education, women's suffrage and exercising citizenship, as well as women in the public and private spheres of both the Jewish and American worlds. The central question asked is how those involved with these publications endeavored to create particular Jewish-American identities. Not being a reader- response study, I make no assumptions as to these publications' actual influence. The press represented only one institution involved in acculturation. Issues subsumed under the central question include how producers of these publications perceived Americanization and saw Jews in America; and what changes these journals advocated regarding religious practices, gender roles, and citizenship. "Acculturation" implies negotiation in the process of identity formation, as a blending of Old and New World customs, lifestyles, mores, economic and social conditions occurred. This dissertation takes a social constructionist view of ethnicity and identity formation. Based on translations relevant pieces from all issues of the publications under review, this study points to the diversity present on the American "Jewish Street" from 1895 to 1925.