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American Jewess


AMERICAN JEWESS , monthly magazine published between April 1895 and August 1899. It was the first English-language periodical intended for American Jewish women. Indicative of newly emerging public identities for Jewish women, the American Jewess offered health, household, and fashion tips; discussion of women's demands for synagogue membership; early expressions of American Zionism; short fiction; and reflections on the propriety of women riding bicycles. Rosa Sonneschein, the creator and editor of the American Jewess, was a Hungarian immigrant who divorced her rabbi husband in St. Louis. Her successful participation in the Press Congress and Jewish Women's Congress that were both part of 1893's World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago inspired her to create the American Jewess.

Like the *National Council of Jewish Women, which also emerged from the Jewish Women's Congress, the American Jewess was intended to represent the aspirations of America's prosperous and acculturated Jewish women who believed that the national and religious aspects of their identity were not in conflict. Thoroughly American and thoroughly Jewish, the "American Jewess" felt fully at home in her overlapping worlds of American and Jewish culture. Working initially from Chicago and later from New York, Sonneschein echoed ncjw's calls for female synagogue membership and leadership. Through her magazine, she was able to offer the first sustained critique, by a Jewish woman, of gender inequities in Jewish worship and organizational life. In addition, by publishing a veritable portrait gallery of locally prominent Jewish women (often those serving their communities as ncjw officers), Sonneschein altered expectations of what American Jewish leaders should look like. Male and female authors within the magazine offered differing views on Jewish women's public roles within the Jewish and general communities, but all were engaged in making sense of new collective and individual identities for women.

At its height, the magazine claimed a circulation of 31,000. Deflected by both business and health setbacks, however, Sonneschein yielded control to an unidentified group of publishers in the summer of 1898. Despite Sonneschein's continued contributions as a correspondent, the publication suffered from the loss of her editorial vision and energy. When the new publishers were unable to revive the magazine's financial fortunes, the American Jewess shifted from a monthly to a quarterly publication in 1899; it concluded its run with a "valedictory" issue in August 1899.


J. Rothstein, "The American Jewess," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore, Jewish Women in America (1997), 39–42.

[Karla Goldman (2nd ed.)]

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