Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women's Pre-World War II Activism

Publication Date: January 2008

Publisher: Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

Author(s): Melissa R. Klapper

Research Area: Culture and religion; Human rights; Politics; Population and demographics

Keywords: Human Rights; Communal Organization; Feminism; Political Behavior

Type: Other

Coverage: United States


At least one significant group of activists fighting for what later generations might label citizenship, reproductive, and human rights, rarely spoke of rights at all. While the rhetoric of the suffrage movement never completely abandoned the supposedly gender-neutral rhetoric of rights, its focus moved consistently towards highly gendered rhetoric about the special contribution women voters would make to American society. When Jewish activist women later turned their attention to other causes like birth control and peace, rights talk disappeared almost completely from their vocabulary. This paper sketches the history of Jewish women's participation in three major women's movements during the first half of the twentieth century, analyzing the arguments and rhetoric these Jewish women activists used, and offers preliminary thoughts on why rights talk so rarely appeared in the birth control and peace movements.