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Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920

Melissa Klapper

Publication Year: 2005

Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860—1920 draws on a wealth of archival material, much of which has never been published—or even read—to illuminate the ways in which Jewish girls’ adolescent experiences reflected larger issues relating to gender, ethnicity, religion, and education.

Klapper explores the dual roles girls played as agents of acculturation and guardians of tradition. Their search for an identity as American girls that would not require the abandonment of Jewish tradition and culture mirrored the struggle of their families and communities for integration into American society.

While focusing on their lives as girls, not the adults they would later become, Klapper draws on the papers of such figures as Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah; Edna Ferber, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Showboat; and Marie Syrkin, literary critic and Zionist. Klapper also analyzes the diaries, memoirs, and letters of hundreds of other girls whose later lives and experiences have been lost to history.

Told in an engaging style and filled with colorful quotes, the book brings to life a neglected group of fascinating historical figures during a pivotal moment in the development of gender roles, adolescence, and the modern American Jewish community.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. ix-x

I have incurred many debts, both professional and personal, while writing Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860–1920. As a significant revision of my Rutgers University dissertation, this book has lived through many incarnations. Without the support of numerous teachers and friends, archivists and librarians, grant agencies and academic orga-...

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pp. 1-18

When Rachel Rosalie Phillips began keeping a diary during her prolonged stay in Washington, D.C., with her uncle and aunt, she took her commitment seriously. She wrote about the dresses she wore to synagogue services, the books she read, the Hebrew she learned from her uncle, the sewing projects she completed with her cousins, and the letters ...

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1. “Any Other Girls in This Whole World Like Myself”: Jewish Girls and Adolescence in America

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pp. 19-58

During the winter of 1889–1890, the editors of the nationally circulated weekly Jewish Messenger decided to sponsor a written symposium on the topic of “The American Jewess.” In a publication that had always run numerous articles by, about, and for women, this idea was not particularly surprising. Other Jewish periodicals had carried out similar ...

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2. “Unless I Got More Education”: Jewish Girls and the Problem of Education in Turn-of-the-Century America

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pp. 59-105

During the spring of 1872, thirteen-year-old Jennie Rosenfeld ventured out with trepidation to take the entrance examination for the public high school in Chicago. Though her mother was afraid to let Jennie go downtown alone, she felt that the possibility of extending her daughter’s education outweighed other considerations. After the exami-...

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3. “Education in the Broadest Sense”: Alternative Forms of Education for Working-Class Girls

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pp. 105-142

In 1892, when Rose Gollup was twelve years old, she and her unmarried aunt left their Belarus village to travel to America and join her father in New York. Though she went to work right away, even as a child she recognized that her opportunities in her new country were likely to be limited by illiteracy and ignorance unless she took action. Once her ...

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4. “A Perfect Jew and a Perfect American”: The Religious Education of Jewish Girls

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pp. 143-184

Amelia Allen opened her 1876 diary with the hope that “God grant that the end of this year may find me in all respects a better and wiser daughter in Israel, a more affectionate sister, and a true friend. ”During the course of the year, she and her family participated in the local excitement of hosting the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The pa-...

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5. “Such a World of Pleasure”: Adolescent Jewish Girls and American Youth Culture

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pp. 185-234

On a typical day in New Orleans during the Civil War, six-teen-year-old Clara Solomon rose early to go to the Louisiana Normal School. She dawdled over breakfast and left the house reluctantly, complaining of poor health. She would have much preferred to stay home with her mother. At school, she noticed the dwindling number of students ...

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pp. 235-240

Nothing demonstrates so clearly the complicated route adolescent Jewish girls took toward adulthood and individuality than the ways in which they embraced American youth culture yet balanced their participation with a measure of traditionalism. Playing the piano, reading Shakespeare, and joining the school glee club offered only indirect ...


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pp. 241-272


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pp. 273-294


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pp. 295-309

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About the Author

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pp. 310-310

Melissa R. Klapper is Assistant Professor of History at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.

E-ISBN-13: 9780814748657
E-ISBN-10: 0814748651
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814747803
Print-ISBN-10: 0814747809

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 76898859
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920

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Subject Headings

  • Jewish girls -- United States -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Jewish girls -- United States -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
  • Jewish religious education of girls -- United States.
  • Jewish girls -- United States -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Jewish teenagers -- United States -- Social life and customs -- 19th century.
  • Jewish teenagers -- United States -- Social life and customs -- 20th century.
  • Jewish girls -- Education -- United States.
  • Jewish girls -- United States -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
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