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Simon, Carrie Obendorfer


SIMON, CARRIE OBENDORFER (1872–1961), founding president of the *National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods. Born in Uniontown, Alabama, Obendorfer moved with her family to Cincinnati, Ohio, where her mother began a chapter of the *National Council of Jewish Women (ncjw) in 1895. Carrie, a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, served as section secretary and became familiar with new possibilities for women's public identities as Jews. After her marriage in 1896 to Hebrew Union College graduate Rabbi Abram Simon, Carrie Simon encountered many settings where she would push these possibilities in new directions.

Simon continued to advance ncjw work while living in Sacramento, where her husband took his first pulpit in 1896, and then in Omaha and Washington, d.c., where they moved in 1899 and 1904, respectively. As ncjw struggled to reconcile the differing religious approaches of its diverse membership, Simon turned her attention to local congregational work. Synagogue sisterhood organizations devoted to congregational aid first emerged in the 1890s. Simon's husband is credited with the 1903 founding of a sisterhood at Omaha's Temple Israel. Carrie Simon established the Ladies Auxiliary Society of Washington Hebrew Congregation in 1905 for the purpose of "congregational work, pure and simple, and to endeavor to establish a more congenial and social congregational spirit."

In 1913 the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (uahc), the synagogue federation of Reform Judaism, issued a call "to all ladies' organizations connected with congregations" to send delegates to Cincinnati "for the purpose of organizing a Federation of Temple Sisterhoods." Simon's work in organizing the meeting, attended by 156 delegates from 52 congregations (mainly the wives of delegates to the concurrent uahc convention), was recognized in her election as president of the newly formed National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (nfts).

The new organization galvanized women in hundreds of Reform congregations. New sisterhoods were formed and many existing groups were revolutionized. The Ladies Auxiliary at Simon's own congregation renamed itself a Sisterhood and moved from holding occasional synagogue fundraisers to transforming the synagogue into a true social center. Simon's new role turned her into a speaker in demand across the country. She insisted that "there was no militancy" involved when she filled a pulpit; it simply represented "recognition accorded to the sisterhood."

nfts grew quickly under her leadership, introducing thousands of women to unaccustomed public roles within the Jewish community. Simon was often one of a very few women representatives in national and international gatherings of Jewish leaders. She retired as nfts president in 1919, but remained active in the organization as honorary president for the rest of her life.


M.I. Greenberg, "Carrie Obendorfer Simon," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, vol. 2 (1997), 1260–61; P.S. Nadell and R.J. Simon, "Ladies of the Sisterhood," in: M. Sacks (ed.), Active Voices (1995).

[Karla Goldman (2nd ed.)]

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