Fashion Statements: Buttons for a Cause

January 31, 2024
by Tanya Elder

The AJHS Museum Collection has acquired several buttons and badges over the years, with early 20th century buttons promoting Rosalie Salomon’s Democratic Party and Tammany Hall, while later 20th century buttons feature social justice themes or organizational support for Hillel, Hadassah, and the United Jewish Appeal. Below are some of our favorites from the collection.

These buttons are nods to the many civil rights struggles that the Jewish community have been involved with through the late 20th century. The American Jewish Congress was very much involved with the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, while the other three items are from campaigns to rescue Jews from Syria, Ethiopia, and the Soviet Union.

Hillel’s “Be Happy You’re Jewish,” button is a celebration of Jewish identity and a way for a student to publicly display their Hillel membership.

Buttons also became a popular vehicle for advertising, often with a humorous bent. “I’m a Herring Maven” is a nod to Vita Foods 1960s marketing campaigns featuring the voice of a “maven” or herring expert on the best source for delicious specialty fish.

These buttons are a kind of material culture that provide insight into the social movements and causes of their time. They inspired conversations in the past, and now encourage reflection – a button for your thoughts.