Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

traditional formulations of the public and private spheres, Fassel Sonneschein commented:

In the busy world of American womanhood she is yet a mere cipher. Protected, as she is, by the male members of the family, she does not work unless compelled to do so. She is, however, commencing to show some signs of intellectual activity, as we hear now and then that a Jewess has become a doctor, lawyer, writer, artist or poet. American society has as yet given the Jewess but few opportunities to display her abilities as a leader, if indeed she has any. ( "The American Jewess,"208)

Apparently, Jewish women had only begun to explore their opportunities. Indeed, she suggested that opportunities for work were limited only by the prejudices of U.S. society and the Jewish community.

Desire for a new identity for Jewish women was created, in part, by the influence of American society on Reform Judaism. The decreased reliance on culture and tradition changed the community members' understanding of their religious rights and responsibilities. Accordingly, Fassel Sonneschein sought to redefine the religious sphere for women. Jewish women, especially those who were married, were religiously disfranchised. Various articles explored the differences in the religious duties of men and women. The argument was made that, without equal responsibilities, women indeed were powerless. Any notion that religious emancipation would destroy the traditional values held by women was refuted in a December 1897 editorial:

As time passes the Jewish woman will unfold more and more divinity in her mission. The uncontrollable advance of knowledge may rob her of some of her ancient traditions, but will in the long run not antagonize her piety. Ministers of religion who proclaim against her present strides, will soon recognize in her the truest champion of reform-- purified religion. (142)

Religious emancipation was not seen as something that would destroy the traditional sphere, but rather as a mechanism that would enable Jewish women and men to carry out their duties more effectively.

In 1893, before the Press Congress of the Columbian Exposition, Fassel Sonneschein had indicated that she wanted to produce a newspaper that would "connect with the cord of mutual interest the sisters dwelling throughout the length and breadth of the country" (quoted in Porter, 1981:158). The imagery of an umbilical cord uniting women is consistent with the idea that feminist discourse works to create a sense of community. Arguably, the American Jewess was the only public, printed matter through which these women could address issues that were pertinent to the development of a new Jewish identity.


CONCLUSION

The rhetorical significance of the American Jewess is in its focus on issues of assimilation. Through the American Jewess, Rosa Fassel Sonneschein pro-

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