firsts

11 Surprising Jewish Women Who Made History

barbra streisand, ruth bader ginsburg, and golda meir

Considering we’re in the midst of a crazy monumental historical moment (AKA Hillary Clinton is the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in the U.S., and could very well be the first woman president). Whether or not you’re voting for Clinton doesn’t change the fact that it’s a first. And firsts are pretty important for Jews (maybe we’ll be able to say a Shehecheyanu tomorrow… pu pu pu).

Because of all these firsts, it got us thinking about all the times Jewish women made history. There are way too many to name in one post, but here are some of our favorites:

1. Rosalie Silberman Abella was Canada’s first Jewish woman judge and the country’s youngest ever. She was also the first woman chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board and the first woman in the British Commonwealth to become the head of a Law Reform Commission. As if that’s not enough, she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004, becoming the first Jewish woman to sit on the Canadian Supreme Court bench.

2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the first Jewish woman to become a Supreme Court justice (and only the second woman ever after Sandra Day O’Connor).

3. Rebecca Zerline was apparently the first woman physician in the world, according to Dr. Oscar Leibowitz, a former director of the Hamburg Sanitarium. Dr. Leibowitz said that Dr. Zerline was considered a famous oculist in her time–and practiced as early as 1430 in Frankfort.

4. Helen Goldmark Adler, along with her husband, helped establish the first model tenements at Cherry Street in New York as well as the first free kindergarten in America, called the Working Man’s School. Later she founded the Ethical Culture School at Fieldston in the Bronx.

5. Gloria Steinem became the first woman to speak at the National Press Club in 1972. She also attended the first women-only Passover seder held in Esther M. Broner’s New York City apartment in 1976.

6. Golda Meir was Israel’s first elected Prime Minister from 1969 until 1974.

7. Regina Jonas was ordained privately and became the world’s first ordained female rabbi in Germany in 1935.

8. Birdie Amsterdam was the first woman elected to the New York State Supreme Court on January 6, 1957.

9. Hedy Lamarr invented technology that led to what we now know as wifi. In 2014, Lamarr was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

10. Barbra Streisand is recognized as holding the record for the most Top 10 albums of any female recording artist (not to mention Jewish female recording artist): a total of 34 since 1963.

11. Judith Resnik was the first Jewish woman (and second woman in general) to travel to space. Sadly, Judith Resnik lost her life in the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.


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Joanna Valente

Joanna Valente is the Editorial Assistant at Kveller. She is the author of Sirs & Madams The Gods Are Dead, and Marys of the Sea (forthcoming), and received her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. You can follow her @joannasaid on Twitter, @joannacvalente on Instagram, or email her at joanna@kveller.com.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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