Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Edited by Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore. New York: Routledge, 1997. 2 volumes, xxxi + 1770 pp.
Asserting that American Jewish women have not been "constructed as a category of knowledge" (p. xxi), the editors offer this encyclopedia as a partial remedy and as an inducement to further research and reflection on the subject. Including women who lived in or live in America, and those who either identified themselves or were identified by their contemporaries as Jewish, the two volumes comprise 800 biographical and 110 topical essays covering an impressively wide range. The selections, the editors explain, "emphasized accomplishment" of mostly deceased women of the twentieth century and areas in which Jewish women Were active and interested. Two appendices in particular, an Annotated Bibliography and Guide to Archival Resources, and a Classified List of Biographical Entries, help make the rich and extensive contents more accessible.
While the encyclopedia in toto demonstrates the great diversity in American Jewish women's experiences and contributions, the Classified List also points up some interesting patterns and juxtapositions. One must be struck, for example, by the number of women in the categories of "activists," "intellectuals/scholars," and "writers," as well as by the numbers of women in the creative arts and entertainment. Generally lively and well written topical essays build on these themes, exploring, for example, "communism" and "eastern European immigration" as well as the "film industry."
A theme that emerges from both the biographical and topical essays is the continuing importance of an early project of women's history: restoring women's life stories to our national narratives. The biography of Clara Lemlich Shavelson is a good example. Familiar to historians of American women and labor for her founding role in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and her leadership during the strikes that broke out in 1909, Shavelson's life story encompassed far more than these episodes. She read radical political literature as a child in the Ukraine, and put her lessons to use well into her eighties and nineties, when she helped to organize the orderlies at her nursing home. In between she was instrumental in groups protesting about such basic issues as food prices and eviction policies. Shavelson's lifelong commitment to radical politics and organizing on behalf...