"The Advent of a Western Jewess": Rachel Frank and Jewish Female Celebrity in 1890s America
- Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues
- Indiana University Press
- Number 22, Fall 5772/2011
- pp. 111-135
- Additional Information
Rachel "Ray" Frank, a renowned American Jewish woman preacher in the 1890s, was inaccurately celebrated by the American press as "the first woman rabbi." While existing scholarship has used her anecdotally and focused on her origins and career within the American Jewish community, this essay considers her celebrity and image in the public sphere. It traces the social and cultural origins of Frank's career before exploring the various femininities through which she was constructed. Frank is read against other public Jewish women—Jewish actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Adah Menken, as well as Emma Goldman and Emma Lazarus—in order to uncover and interpret the common cultural spectrum on which public Jewish women have been understood. Interpreted as a true woman, a beautiful Jewess and a universalistic preacher, Frank was inserted into existing cultural tropes that made hers a comforting and legible example amidst the era's destabilizing mass of Jewish immigrants.