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“The Whole Wide World, Without Limits”

International Relief, Gender Politics, and American Jewish Women, 1893-1930

Mary McCune

Publication Year: 2005

Often perceived as being removed from the rough-and-tumble world of male politics, women involved in relief during World War I and the 1920s found themselves grappling daily with questions of ideology, nationalism, and political statehood. Participation in large-scale relief work provided Jewish women with a firm sense of their own capabilities and contributed to their heightened sense of gender consciousness. Their experience provides powerful evidence that women activists in the post-suffrage period sustained a notable degree of separation from men even as they propounded gender equality, thereby facilitating American Jewish women’s entrance into the public realm without their having to sacrifice commitment to either Jewish or women’s issues. Gendered and separatist strategies enabled women to bring their concerns into the public sphere, affect the course of American Jewish history, and shape modern American Jewish identity. “The Whole Wide World, Without Limits” explores the international relief activities of three American Jewish organizations during this period: the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah (the Women’s Zionist Organization of America), and the Workmen’s Circle. Women in all three organizations vigorously raised money for Jews in the war zones and continued to help them after the armistice. Author Mary McCune demonstrates the significance of the work of each group while analyzing the interactions between class, ethnicity, religion, and gender consciousness, both inside the Jewish community and in the broader American context. McCune looks at a wide variety of Jewish women—Zionists and anti-Zionists, religious and secular, capitalists and socialists, wealthy and working-class—and sheds light on the myriad ways that personal identity shapes public activism. More importantly, this book reveals how women’s charity work and their use of gendered strategies exerted influence over seemingly unrelated political events.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book started as a dissertation at Ohio State University, where I had the great fortune to work with a number of remarkable people who helped me combine my interests in women’s, Jewish, American, and European history. Susan Hartmann was a model adviser, keeping me focused while at the same time allowing for, and fostering, my disparate interests. ...


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pp. xiii-xiv

Note on Yiddish Transliteration

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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. 1-10

Hannah G. Solomon, founder of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW; also Council), could well have been describing the achievements of many women’s organizations besides her own in the era preceding World War I. From the end of the Civil War through the 1890s, the decade of the NCJW’s birth, ...

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1. Creating Organizations for Women, 1892–1912

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pp. 11-42

At the Columbian Exposition in 1893, participant Helen L. Bullock exclaimed, “We are all doubtless aware here that Columbus discovered America. America’s uncrowned queen, Miss Frances E. Willard [founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement], once said the greatest discovery of the nineteenth century ...

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2. The Crisis Years: Jewish Women and World War I

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pp. 43-78

The First World War had a profound impact on the American Jewish community despite the fact that the United States did not directly involve itself in the conflict until mid-1917. Following the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, American Jewish organizations immediately turned away from their individual projects ...

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3. The Move Toward Autonomy: The NCJW and Hadassah in the Postwar World

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pp. 79-112

Nancy Cott and others have argued that after World War I and the attainment of suffrage, many American women turned away from separatist organizing and other forms of the nineteenth-century “woman’s rights movement,” acknowledging instead a diversity among women and experimenting with newer modes of feminist activism. ...

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4. Women Organizing Women: Gender and American Jewish Identity, 1920–1930

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pp. 113-156

In breaking some of the bonds tying them to male-dominated organizations, Jewish women in the 1920s strengthened their own groups. At the same time they built alliances with other women, both Jewish and gentile, nationally and internationally. The NCJW and Hadassah shared with others a continued interest in women’s and children’s issues, ...

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5. The Feminization of the Workmen’s Circle, 1920–1930

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pp. 157-186

Like women in the NCJW and Hadassah, those in Arbeter Ring worked vigorously to raise relief funds during the war, putting aside their earlier attempts to achieve equality through the separate ladies’ branches. After the war some women in the Circle returned to their interests in gender issues ...

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pp. 187-196

Rebekah Kohut, like countless other American Jews in 1929, envisioned the world’s Jews as one large family. Just as in a personal family, where relationships might not always be easy, Kohut argued that all members, no matter how troublesome, remained part of the whole. ...


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pp. 197-250


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pp. 251-272


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pp. 273-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780814337523
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814332290

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 849944460
MUSE Marc Record: Download for “The Whole Wide World, Without Limits”

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jewish women -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Jewish women -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jewish women -- United States -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Jewish women -- United States -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Jewish women -- United States -- Societies and clubs -- History -- 19th century.
  • Jewish women -- United States -- Societies and clubs -- History -- 20th century.
  • National Council of Jewish women -- History.
  • Hadassah (Organization) -- History.
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