Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Wom-En's Clubs

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EMMA LAZARUS FEDERATION OF JEWISH WOM-EN'S CLUBS , U.S. progressive women's group, founded in 1944 by the Women's Division of the Jewish People's Fraternal Order (jpfo) of the International Workers Order (iwo). Formed to combat antisemitism and racism and to nurture positive Jewish identification through a broad program of Jewish education, the Emma Lazarus Division attracted a membership of left-wing, largely Yiddish-speaking women of the immigrant generation. One founder was labor leader, Clara Lemlich *Shavelson.

In 1951, when New York State's attorney general initiated proceedings against the iwo as a subversive institution, the Women's Division reorganized as the Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women's Clubs. Despite revelations about Stalinist terrors and antisemitism, elf Executive Director June Croll Gordon and her successor, Rose Reynes, called for coexistence with the U.S.S.R. elf's public disregard of Soviet antisemitism remained a conspicuous blind spot.

At home, the elf commissioned writer Eve Merriam to write a biography of poet and essayist Emma *Lazarus, and in 1954 published Yuri Suhl's biography of Ernestine *Rose, who was seen to combine Jewish patriotism with broad humanism. The Federation wrote study outlines of other Jewish women, including Rebecca *Gratz, Lillian *Wald, Sophie Loeb, and Penina *Moise. The elf also developed curricula on working women, dissident women (from Anne Hutchinson to Ethel Rosenberg), and black women, and joined in a statement of principle with the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, an African-American women's group. In the 1950s and 1960s, it sent food and clothing to the South and joined boycotts and sitins. In 1963, the elf initiated a petition campaign for the U.S. to ratify the Genocide Convention, adopted by the un General Assembly in 1948; it considered this campaign its most important political project.

With chapters in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Miami, Rochester, Newark, Jersey City, Lakewood, and Toms River, New Jersey, the elf maintained its educational and political activism for almost 40 years, attracting approximately 4,000–5,000 members in 100 clubs at its peak. Affected by the aging of the membership, the transformation of women's work, and the women's movement, elf disbanded in 1989, though some individual clubs remained.


J. Antler, "Between Culture and Politics: The Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women's Clubs and the Promulgation of Women's History, 1944–1989," in: A. Kessler-Harris and K.K. Sklar (eds.), U.S. History as Women's History (1995); idem, "Emma Lazarus Federation," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, vol. 1 (1997), 375–77.

[Joyce Antler (2nd ed.)]