May 29 2014
In the 1930s-1980s, where did you get your financial news? The smart money was on an insightful journalist and economist with the enigmatic byline S.F. Porter.
Only after nearly a decade of leadership and a daily column did this writer’s full name appear, plus a photo: Sylvia Field Porter. Unmistakably female! In an interview for New Women in Social Sciences, Porter later reflected, “On that day I became a woman.” By the time she died in 1991, Sylvia was a nationally syndicated columnist with 45 million readers in 450 newspapers across the country. Historian Peggy K. Pearlstein tells her story, which goes like this:
Sylvia’s young mother, widowed, changed the family name from Feldman to Field and built a successful millinery business. She lost what was to them a great sum the 1929 stock market crash. Shocked, Sylvia wanted to understand, so she switched her Hunter College major from English and history to economics, graduating magna cum laude. She married a banker and apprenticed at several Wall Street investment firms, building her expertise. Read the rest of this entry →
May 27 2014
“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” –Susan B. Anthony, 1896
Her adventure began with a bet. In 1894, one gentleman in Boston bet another, $20,000 against $10,000, that no woman could travel around the world by bicycle, a feat that had been completed for the first time by a man in 1885. Annie Cohen Kopchovsky took up the challenge and set out from Boston on June 25, 1894. Married and a mother of three children under age 6, she had ridden a bicycle for the first time only days before.
Under the terms of the bet, Annie had to begin her journey penniless, earn $5000 above her expenses along the way, and finish her trip in 15 months. She wasted no time. On her way out of Boston, she hung a placard advertising Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company from her bicycle, accepted $100 from the company’s representative, and agreed to be known as Annie Londonderry. Read the rest of this entry →
May 22 2014
Notorious for her connections with gangsters at the height of Prohibition, Polly Adler fought to become “the best goddamn madam in all America.” Historian Ann Millin tells the story:
Born in Belorussia in 1900 into a tailor’s family, Polly began her education with the village rabbi. Her father sent her to the United States at age 12 to be the first link in a “chain emigration” to bring the entire family to the United States. Separated from her family by the Great War as a teenager, she was raped at age 17, and lost the support of her family. She then turned to factory work until her friendship with a bootlegger created a very different opportunity for making money: using his apartment as a base for herself and women she hired to entertain his gangster friends. After her first arrest, she tried to go legit, opening a lingerie business that did not last long. Read the rest of this entry →
May 20 2014
Imagine what children’s TV would be like without Peggy Charren. You can’t! Peggy took on the burgeoning television industry of the 1970s and won. She fought to keep advertising out of children’s programs, to keep quality children’s shows on the air, and to place limits on programs designed to sell toys to kids. Some people thought she was in favor of censorship, but Peggy vehemently disagreed: for her, content for children was all about context.
Journalist Janet Beyer tells her story:
The product of a liberal upbringing–Peggy learned union songs and noted, “We belonged, as did a lot of people, to all those organizations that were on McCarthy’s enemies list.”–Peggy majored in liberal arts at Connecticut College, then became film department director at WPIX-TV in New York City. She married and had two kids. At home with her young daughters, she grew concerned over too few educational TV programs for kids and too many violent, toy-focused shows. In 1968, armed with her TV experience and skill for organizing, she founded Action for Children’s Television (ACT), a nonprofit dedicated to diversity in children’s TV choices. Originally a small group of concerned mothers, ACT grew to become a grassroots organization of almost 20,000 volunteers. Read the rest of this entry →
May 15 2014
Meet Maria Winetzkaja, a renowned opera singer and a rebellious, independent woman.
Russian-born around 1888, her father was a cantor, but Maria wanted nothing to do with her family’s Judaism. She called it ridiculous and foolish, due to what she perceived to be a lack of respect for women, according to her grandson Steven Winnett. His biography of her relates what happened next:
Her family moved to the United States in 1904, following a series of pogroms. She studied opera in New York, eventually traveling the globe as a performer and learning to speak eight languages. She sang at New York’s Carnegie Hall but never at the Metropolitan Opera, the pinnacle of success for American singers: the reason, she said, was that she refused to sleep with one of the Met’s directors. Read the rest of this entry →
May 13 2014
Meet an energetic and thoughtful woman who opposed the suffragist movement: she’s the tireless writer, advocate, activist, fundraiser, author, playwright, and art critic who founded Barnard College, New York City’s first liberal arts college for women. Historian Myrna Goldenberg tells her story:
Annie Nathan Meyer, born in 1867 and a descendent of Gershom Mendes Seixas, a Jewish Revolutionary War patriot, received less than six months of formal schooling. She educated herself, later boasting she had read all of Charles Dickens by age 7. As a young woman, she enrolled in the newly established Columbia College Collegiate Course for Women. In 1888, Annie begin her campaign to build Barnard with a passionate 2,500-word letter to The Nation, arguing that New York could make no real claim to culture without a women’s liberal arts college. What started as a seven-year plan, she accomplished in two.
Along the way, she developed a “separate spheres” ideology about women’s roles: she did not believe the suffragists’ claims that social and political change would ensue when women could vote and opposed their pacifism, and she wrote extensively about her views. Turns out she was also intensely jealous of her sister, Maud, a progressive activist and well-known suffragist. However, after the 19th Amendment passed, she joined the League of Women Voters. Read the rest of this entry →
May 8 2014
How many women do you know who have a crater named after them? Now, at least one: Gerty Theresa Cori. And planetary study wasn’t even what made her a scientific star.
In 1947, Cori became the first American woman–the third woman ever–to win the Nobel Prize. She and her husband Carl received it together in recognition for their life’s work on carbohydrate metabolism, specifically for “their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen,” which expanded understanding of how muscles make and store energy and the role of enzymes, with implications for the treatment of diabetes, among other diseases.
What’s particularly amazing is that she did all this while marginalized, for most of her career, in junior research positions at a small fraction of her husband’s salary. Gerty and Carl worked so closely together that he turned down prestigious positions at universities which would not support their collaborations; even so, she only rose to full professorship shortly before receiving the Nobel Prize. Read the rest of this entry →
May 6 2014
Does Rusty Kanokogi sound like name of the Jewish mother next door? Only if it’s the mom who mastered Judo in Japan, convinced Congress to pass Title IX in sports and secured women’s Judo’s spot in the Olympics.
The woman who received the Order of the Rising Sun, Japan’s highest honor for a foreigner, was born Rena Glickman in 1935.
Writer Wendy Lewellen chronicled Rusty’s life and says it happened this way:
Living in Coney Island, she befriended the hawkers, the barkers and the social misfists of the colorful boardwalk. By age 13, she had formed her own girl gang, The Apaches, which fought neighborhood injustice.
In the 1950s, she worked out with weights: her brother’s, at home, since the YMCA wouldn’t allow her to do so there. One day, a male friend showed her a Judo throwing move he had learned, and she found her sport. In 1962 she traveled to Tokyo to study in the female section of Kudokan, Judo’s home. Once she had pulverized her female opponents, she moved on to the men. She even met her husband there. Read the rest of this entry →
May 1 2014
Photo thought to be of Josephine Earp. Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers.
Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, the woman who lived with renowned lawman Wyatt Earp for nearly 50 years, was long on daring, short on propriety, and, of all things, Jewish.
You may be familiar with the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” a bloody confrontation with the lawmen on one side and the cowboys on the other, but did you know it was a conflict of jealous revenge as well, a love triangle with our Josephine in the middle? And you might think that Wyatt Earp, the Deputy Marshal of Tombstone, Arizona, was always the good guy. Turns out that it was Josephine who devoted her life to burnishing his image, making sure that the skeletons in his closet–and hers–never saw the light of day.
Biographer Ann Kirschner literally wrote the book on Josephine–Lady at the OK Corral, the True Story of Josephine Marcus Earp–and she says it’s all true!
Here’s how it all unfolds: Josephine’s Jewish family flees to America around 1850 in search of economic opportunity and religious freedom. The teenage daughter runs away from home around 1878 to join a traveling theatre company. Instead of becoming an actress in cosmopolitan San Francisco, she heads for the Arizona Territory where she hooks up with the sheriff of Tombstone. When she figures out belatedly that he wants a mistress and not a wife, she has an affair with his archrival, the other lawman of Tombstone, Wyatt Earp…and becomes a player in the most famous shootout in American history.
Read the rest of this entry →
Ah, May–the sun is finally out, flowers are in bloom, and it’s officially Jewish American Heritage Month. Established in 2006 after a campaign led by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, JAHM is an annual tribute to the more than 350-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture.
Maybe it’s because the special month was originally spearheaded by a woman, or maybe it’s just our natural love for all things female, but we thought the perfect way to honor Jewish American Heritage Month on Kveller would be to highlight some of the amazing female Jewish game-changers who helped shape our culture today.
This month, we’ll be teaming up with the Jewish Women’s Archive–the world’s largest collection of materials by and about Jewish American women–to shed light on some of the lesser-known Jewish American women who have left an indelible mark on our history. From the Judo master mama who helped bring women’s Judo to the Olympics to Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp, Wyatt’s Earp’s renegade Jewish wife, we’ll be highlighting the lives of these inspiring women right here on the blog throughout the month of May.
So stay tuned, and get ready to be awed by these fascinating Jewish women.
And if you find yourself inspired, tell us about an amazing woman in your own life. JWA offers these 20 conversation-sparking questions to get you started on discovering more about your own Jewish American history.
As part of our month-long series dedicated to Jewish American Heritage Month, Kveller and the Jewish Women’s Archive bring to light little-known stories of inspiring, intriguing Jewish American women whose legacies still change our lives today. To explore even more, visit jwa.org.