When it comes to awesome Jewish ladies to kvell over, there are so many–from Barbara Walters to Barbra Streisand to Sheryl Sandberg to Natalie Portman. Usually, however, we don’t often hear about ladies from the past who helped shape our world in ways we may not even realize–or even women in the present who are “behind the scenes.”
Here’s a few you should know:
1. Helen Tamiris
Helen changed the world of American modern dance. Notably, she worked as the director of the Dance Project for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and as a Broadway choreographer. What made her so different? She wanted to dispel racism, poverty and war.
According to JWA, in 1928, she “wrote the following manifesto in her concert program: ‘Art is international but the artist is a product of a nationality. … There are no general rules. Each original work of art creates its own code.’”
Then, in 1929, she founded the School of American Dance and her company, Tamiris and Her Group, which she directed until 1945. Her musical theater choreography includes hits like Annie Get Your Gun (1946).
You can check out a video of her choreography here:
2. Julie Taymor
You probably know of Taymor without realizing it. She was the first woman to win the Tony Award for Directing in 1997 for The Lion King. She also won an Emmy for her 1992 television film Fool’s Fire. On film, she also directed Frida, which stars Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo. Her long-term partner Elliot Goldenthal won an Academy Award for the score.
But that’s not it–in 1990 ,Taymor won a Guggenheim Fellowship and the first Dorothy Chandler Performing Arts Award in Theater. Only two years later, she was given a MacArthur Fellowship.
Watch her on TED:
3. Gertrude Weil
Weil was a prominent Southern Jewish social activist in the early 20th century. According to JWA, She was the first Jewish woman to “lead a statewide secular women’s movement in North Carolina.” In particular, she worked to advocate for protective labor legislation for women and children, voter education, and election reform–and believed women had an influential place in society.
In 1915, she worked for North Carolina Equal Suffrage League–and continued to work for the North Carolina chapter for the League of Women Voters, the Goldsboro Community Chest (a Depression-era relief agency), the North Carolina Association of Jewish Women, and the North Carolina Interracial Committee.
4. Louise Weiss
Weiss was an iconic feminist French journalist who also wrote about anti-Semitism, especially during the Holocaust. She was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 at 86, and was deemed to be the “grandmother of Europe” by the then chancellor of the German Federal Republic, Helmut Schmidt, according to JWA.
Weiss began her career during World War I, writing under the male pseudonym Louis Lefranc. In 1919, however, she got a big break when she became a correspondent for Le Petit Parisien.
During the rise of Nazism, she focused on women’s rights, and in 1934, she founded La Femme Nouvelle, which became a hugely active feminist organization.