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Schechter, Mathilde Roth

SCHECHTER, MATHILDE ROTH

SCHECHTER, MATHILDE ROTH (1857–1924), founding president of the National Women's League of the United Synagogue of America, now known as the *Women's League for Conservative Judaism. Born in Guttentag, Germany, Mathilde Roth grew up in the Breslau Jewish orphans home. A gifted student, she attended the Breslau Teacher's Seminary. In 1885, she went to England to study and to be a tutor in the home of Michael Friedlaender, principal of Jews College. In the library of that college she met the distinguished scholar Solomon *Schechter. They wed in 1887.

The Schechter home quickly became a center for Jewish intellectual life, largely thanks to Mathilde Schechter's legendary hospitality. That tradition continued in her subsequent homes, in Cambridge, after Solomon Schechter was appointed lecturer at the university, and then, after 1902, in New York, when he became president of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In Cambridge, Mathilde Schechter gave birth to their three children, a son and two daughters. Even as she raised them, she edited the works of local scholars and engaged in other literary pursuits, including translating the German poet Heinrich *Heine. Furthermore, she edited almost everything her famous husband wrote.

In the United States Mathilde Schechter complemented her husband's establishment of Conservative Judaism by laying the foundations for its women's organization in 1918. The National Women's League of the United Synagogue of America subsequently grew to become one of the largest Jewish women's organizations in the United States. Mathilde Schechter believed that the Women's League could help women deepen religious life in their homes, synagogues, and wider communities. She persuaded the Women's League to establish a Students' House in New York City in 1918, which became a home away from home for Jewish students as well as for Jewish servicemen on leave. She also founded and taught at a Jewish vocational school for girls on the Lower East Side and was national chairwoman of education for Hadassah.

Mathilde Roth Schechter extended the domestic ideal of women caring for their home and family, which she lived to the fullest, to women's caring for their synagogues and wider Jewish communities. She thus stands within a coterie of leaders of American Jewish women, who, in the early decades of the 20th century, laid out new avenues for women's activism within Jewish life.

bibliography:

They Dared to Dream: A History of the National Women's League, 19181968 (1967); P.S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America (1988), 221–22; M. Scult. "The Baale Boste Reconsidered: The Life of Mathilde Roth Schechter (M.R.S.)," in: Modern Judaism 7, 1 (February 1987), 1–27; idem. "Mathilde Schechter," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia 2 (1997), 1201–3.

[Pamela S. Nadell (2nd ed.)]

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