Orleck, Annelise 1959-

views updated

Orleck, Annelise 1959-


Born January 22, 1959, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Norman (a writer and storekeeper) and Thelma (a homemaker) Orleck; partner of Alexis Jetter (a journalist). Ethnicity: "Jewish-American." Education: Evergreen State College, B.A., 1979; New York University, Ph.D., 1989. Hobbies and other interests: Skiing, kayaking, guitar.


Home— Thetford Center, VT. Office— Department of History, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755. E-mail—[email protected].


Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, lecturer in history, 1989-90; Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, assistant professor of history, 1990-96, associate professor, 1996-2005, professor of history, 2005—. City of New York, coordinator of Mayor's Task Force on the Holocaust, 1981.


Organization of American Historians, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, Coordinating Committee on Women in the Historical Profession.


Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1995.

(Editor, with Alexis Jetter and Diana Taylor) The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right (essays), University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1997.

The Soviet Jewish Americans, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1999, reprinted, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2001.

Storming Caesar's Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2005.


Annelise Orleck's first book, Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965, focuses primarily on the lives of four Jewish immigrant women, Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, and Pauline Newman, who were instrumental in their communities on New York's Lower East side when it came to organizing the people for better living and working conditions, despite their sex and relative youth. They led rent strikes, fought against anti-Semitism and elitist attitudes, and stood up against the men who ran the workforce. Orleck also addresses how these women's relationships strengthened their resolve and provided them the support necessary to stand up for their rights and those of their fellow women. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "the rich factual detail and the epic nature of the women's lives sometimes overcome the shortcomings of the writing." Dana Frank, in the Women's Review of Books, wrote that Orleck's effort "is a wonderful contribution to the literature on women and the labor movement. She has a subtle sense of her heroines' strengths and weaknesses, and is able to capture gracefully the unique culture that produced them and their particular perspective as a firebrand generation." Camille Guerin-Gonzales, writing for Signs, commented of Orleck: "She makes a clear, compelling argument that interpersonal relations offer important insights into political alliances and conflicts and asserts that a recognition of the interconnectedness of both is crucial to an understanding of immigrant women's lives." Dorothy E. Fennell, writing for Industrial and Labor Relations Review, praised Orleck's approach to her subject, stating: "While clearly eager to celebrate the achievements of the women about whom she writes, Orleck never romanticizes or idealizes them."

Orleck served as coeditor, along with Alexis Jetter and Diana Taylor, of the essay collection The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right. The book gathers a series of works on motherhood written by a wide range of women from around the world, including academics and activists, both the politically minded, and mothers who found themselves becoming political in response to a particular incident or issue involving children. Carol Sternhell in the Women's Review of Books praised "the collection's international perspective and its unusual … focus—not on mothering, but on politicized motherhood, ‘motherist’ politics."

In The Soviet Jewish Americans, Orleck addresses the large number of Soviet Jews who emigrated to the United States during the latter half of the twentieth century, in search of better opportunities for their families and a life outside the Soviet bloc. Most of these immigrants were well-educated and hard working and, as a group, they had a large impact on the economic, political, and social lives of the areas in which they settled—primarily New York and Los Angeles. Orleck looks at the cultural and historic background of this group, examines their reasons for leaving the Soviet Union, and looks at the ways in which they integrated into American society. Yelena Luckert, writing for American Jewish History, remarked on the book's "thoughtful insights based on the author's keen observations and interviews with her subjects," adding that "Orleck draws deeply upon personal narratives and testimonies in her text, and these make the book personal and highly readable."

Orleck turns her attention to a different group of women in Storming Caesar's Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty. The book looks at the public image of women on federal assistance, and how that image altered into a negative stereotype that implied that all women receiving public financial aid needed to be watched carefully to insure that the money was not misspent on frivolous items instead of necessities. A revolution of sorts took place during the 1960s, at which point women, particularly African American women, stood up for the rights of all women on public aid, and insisted they be treated with respect. Orleck focuses on a group of women who traveled the country, fleeing what they considered to be the main problem behind the number of women on assistance: the refusal to provide these women with birth control to help them limit family size and get to the point where they could rejoin the work force. Rebecca Johnson, writing for the Women's Review of Books, remarked: "The stunning achievement of Orleck's book is its demonstration of how an interlocking conspiracy of racism, economic exploitation, and gender stereotyping shaped the lives of a generation of black women."

Orleck once told CA: "Most of my writings are about poor and working women's struggles to improve their lives. I have always been struck by the contrast between the narrow and stereotypical portrayals of poor women in political debates and popular culture and the remarkable strength, tenacity, and sense of humor of the real women whom I have known and studied. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a community composed largely of union retirees. Their courage and sense of public service, even as elderly people, was impressive and inspiring. In some senses, everything that I have written—studies of Holocaust survivors, of Soviet Jewish immigrants, of women trade unionists, and most recently of welfare rights activists—has grown out of my early contacts with those dynamic elderly women and men.

"It may be surprising to many people, but it is often quite difficult to find sources about the lives and work of poor women, even those who lived as recently as the 1960s. There are many reasons for this. Journalists and historians have usually not considered these women worthy of writing about. Such women often had a hard time publishing their own writings. Finally, few found time to write after working long days and caring for their homes and children in the evenings. As a result, much of my research is derived from oral history interviews with women about whom I am writing, as well as with their friends, colleagues, children, and grandchildren. These interviews allow me to develop a personal relationship with the people that I write about. This is a particular pleasure of my work. However, it also requires that I do some careful balancing between my responsibility to be true to my subject and my desire to be respectful to those who have shared their memories with me.

"Influences on my work have been varied: from the social realist writers of the 1930s, including Meridel Le Seuer, John Dos Passos, and Tillie Olsen, to the pioneering oral history work of journalist Studs Terkel, to historians of working-class women like Jacqueline Dowd Hall and Alice Kessler-Harris, and to contemporary writers like Gloria Naylor and Dorothy Allison, who powerfully capture the experiences of poor and working people."



American Jewish History, June 1, 1999, Yelena Luckert, review of The Soviet Jewish Americans, p. 221.

Industrial and Labor Relations Review, July 1, 1996, Dorothy E. Fennell, review of Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working-Class Politics in the United States, 1900-1965, p. 773.

Publishers Weekly, March 13, 1995, review of Common Sense and a Little Fire, p. 65.

Signs, March 22, 2000, Camille Guerin-Gonzales, review of Common Sense and a Little Fire, p. 947.

Women's Review of Books, February 1, 1996, Dana Frank, review of Common Sense and a Little Fire, p. 14; April 1, 1997, Carol Sternhell, review of The Politics of Motherhood, p. 5; March 1, 2006, Rebecca Johnson, review of Storming Caesar's Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty, p. 13.

About this article

Orleck, Annelise 1959-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article