The Women of the American Jewish Congress

Establishing a voice for Jewish feminism.

The American Jewish Congress (AJC) has benefitted from the leadership of women since its assembly in 1918 when Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold was elected as a deputy of the organization. Women continued to shape the Congress early on by exercising their abilities to both campaign and vote with authority equal to that of their male counterparts.  

An official Women’s Division was established in 1933, creating a platform to further amplify their voices and expand upon the AJC’s rapidly growing agenda. Lead by renowned philanthropist and fellow Hadassah founder Louise Waterman Wise, the Women’s Division organized the first ban on Nazi goods in 1934 and became an invaluable resource for refugees escaping Nazi persecution. The late 1940s saw a shift towards broader causes, including American Jewish culture and support for the state of Israel. The Women’s Division remained active in international causes up until their disbandment in the 1970s, but both national and regional divisions were called to action at the onset of the civil rights movement in America.  

Aided by the legal counsel of Justine Wise Polier, daughter of Louise Waterman Wise and sitting Vice President of the AJC, and future AJC Executive Director Naomi Levine, the Women’s Division contributed to the fight for racial equality and social justice by attending protests and organizing events of their own. It was inevitable when the Division became entrenched in the women’s rights movement and expanded the focus of their efforts to include gender equality and reproductive freedom.  

Although the Women’s Division was integrated into the larger organization of the American Jewish Congress in the mid 1970s, their continued work culminated in the inception of The Commission for Women's Equality in 1984. This gave the women of the Congress a space for collaboration with major figures of the feminist movement, including Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, and Ann Lewis. The Commission for Women’s Equality was able to confront current issues faced by Jewish women, and to finally establish a voice for Jewish feminism.   

 

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