America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

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Study Guide

America's Jewish Women coverAmerica’s Jewish Women uncovers what it has meant to be a Jewish woman in America by weaving together the stories of remarkable individuals—from the colonial matron Grace Nathan and her great-granddaughter, the poet Emma Lazarus, to labor activist Bessie Hillman and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In this groundbreaking history, we see how they and the scores of women—the wives, mothers, activists, and workers who appear in these pages—maintained their Jewish identities as they wrote themselves into American history. Defined by a strong sense of self, a resolute commitment to making the world a better place, and diverse notions of what being a Jew means, America’s Jewish women left deep imprints on their families, communities and the nation they call home.

Winner of the 2019 National Jewish Book Award — Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year 

Coming in 2025: Antisemitism, an American Tradition: A New History (W.W. Norton)

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Audio Book read by Suzanne Toren (HighBridge)


“Painting a vivid picture of a golden land that often defaulted on its promises, Nadell creates an extremely readable portrait of Jewish women collectively realizing their power to change their destiny…America’s Jewish Women is a thoughtful history of a group of diverse, passionate, contemplative, vocal and dynamic women, and is a welcome addition to the American historical canon. It’s truly remarkable to read this book and appreciate how these women — numerically small, qualitatively great — made such a tremendous impact on this nation.”—New York Times

“This enthralling and well-doc­u­ment­ed chron­i­cle of the vari­ety of ways in which Jew­ish women have embraced the pos­si­bil­i­ties of Amer­i­ca is essen­tial read­ing for all Amer­i­can Jews. Build­ing on her deep schol­ar­ly foun­da­tions in Amer­i­can Jew­ish his­to­ry and her pio­neer­ing and inno­v­a­tive research on Jew­ish women, Pamela Nadell’s acces­si­ble and rev­e­la­to­ry nar­ra­tive begins in the ear­ly era of Euro­pean set­tle­ment and con­cludes in an ever-evolv­ing present. Much of the charm of Nadell’s approach is her focus on indi­vid­u­als, some well-known and oth­ers obscure. She brings names and per­son­al details to women’s expe­ri­ences of immi­gra­tion, edu­ca­tion, the work­place, mar­riage and moth­er­hood, and syn­a­gogue, orga­ni­za­tion­al, and polit­i­cal involve­ments, as well as of anti­semitism, sex­u­al dis­crim­i­na­tion, and harass­ment. Nadell’s approach ren­ders the larg­er pat­terns of Jew­ish women’s lives vivid and par­tic­u­lar, as do her well-cho­sen illus­tra­tions that visu­al­ly demon­strate what her book relates about women’s engage­ment in Amer­i­can Jew­ish life. Images include a fam­i­ly doing gar­ment piece work at home, and women strik­ing for bet­ter work con­di­tions, play­ing mah-jongg, work­ing for civ­il rights, and study­ing for rab­binic and can­to­r­i­al ordi­na­tion. We see Ruth Bad­er Ginsberg’s 1946 con­fir­ma­tion pic­ture and Chabad women attend­ing a 2015 week­end, as well as a pho­to­graph of female phil­an­thropy in action. As Nadell teach­es us, the diver­si­ty of America’s Jew­ish women is stag­ger­ing, but equal­ly awe-inspir­ing is their share in the ​’col­lec­tive Amer­i­can Jew­ish female past.’”— National Jewish Book Award Judges’ Remarks

“Nadell cites marvelously varied primary sources . . . She covers traditional Jewish domestic practices in lively detail . . . More deeply inspiring is Nadell’s tracking of how zealously Jewish American women pursued reform and justice . . . Nadell presents an invaluable, recalibrating look at American, women’s, and Jewish history.”—Booklist

“Her swift-paced and concise history of American Jewish women…fluidly intersperses thumbnail accounts of the famous and less so with a discussion of trends in American Jewish life.”Forward

“A great storyteller, Nadell brings these women to life on the page…testimony to decades of pioneering scholarship in American Jewish women’s history, of which the author’s works are leading exemplars.” American Historical Review

“This is as informative as it gets when it comes to the U.S. history of Jewish women.  It’s the book we wish we were all given growing up in this country.” Jewish Link NJ

“A commanding survey…[A[ rich, colorful and endearing study.” Jewish Journal

“The rarity of histories like this—short enough for the lay reader to appreciate and comprehensive enough for a more scholarly audience—makes this work important.”—Jewish Book Council

“I especially applaud Nadell not only for portraying outstanding Jewish women who challenged the rules and mores of their time, but also for paying tribute to the equally-challenging daily lives of Jewish women who, throughout this country’s history, have toiled in obscurity.”—Reform

“We learn a great deal about some spectacularly brave and innovative women who transgressed traditional boundaries to break new ground.”—Jerusalem Post

“A must read… authoritative, comprehensive, and concise… This book should inspire other women that they also have the power to change their destiny.” St. Louis Jewish Light

“A compelling and well-researched chronicle…The contributions of these remarkable women shine in Nadell’s impressive book.”BookPage

“Carefully researched, eloquent, and engrossing…” Resources for Gender and Women’s Studies

“a graceful volume…a successful work.”Journal of American History

“a set of brilliant and lively examples that show the lives of Jewish women.” American Jewish Archives Journal

“It is impossible, even within the generous word allotment of a review essay, to do justice to the richness of America’s Jewish Women.”  American Jewish History

“Nadell includes many women who had been virtually unknowntestament not just to the author’s tenacity, but to the scholarship that has expanded…”Moment

“Covering so many swaths of American history, this should be widely acknowledged as intriguing women’s history and also the history of Judaism.”Library Journal

“Nadell has taken on a big job in covering such a multidimensional, important subject. Nadell does it in informative and succinct style, and the result is a readable, valuable text.”Publishers Weekly

“A fascinating portrait of American Jewish women.”Kirkus Reviews

Advance Praise

Authoritative, comprehensive and readable, this long-awaited book by one of the field’s premier scholars is destined to become an instant classic. It takes its place as the definitive history of Jewish women in America.—Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University and author of American Judaism: A History

No one is more suited to analyze the profound changes in the position and status of American Jewish woman than Pamela Nadell.  With an expansive knowledge of both American Jewish history and women’s history, she brings to this book unparalleled insights.  This book is a great read that is both informative and highly engaging.—Deborah E. Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Emory University, and author of Antisemitism: Here and Now

A masterful and remarkably timely history which should be on every shelf.  In becoming America’s Jewish women, generations of immigrants and their native-born daughters transformed themselves, their faith, and the nation they called home.—Abigail Pogrebin, author, My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew

In America’s Jewish Women, Pamela Nadell has done what would seem undoable: she has turned the diverse life stories of dozens of women across centuries of time into a mesmerizing whole. This is a book to read and reread, then sit back and contemplate, with a smile, the wondrous achievements of Jewish women in America.—Francine Klagsbrun, author of Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel

From the justifiably famous to the undeservedly obscure, three centuries’ worth of American Jewish women come to vibrant, edifying life in the pages of Pamela Nadell’s book. This is not a collection of biographies, but rather a seamlessly arranged narrative of the intersection of gender, religion, identity, immigration, and assimilation. It is essential reading for anyone who seeks a fully inclusive sense of American Jewish history.—Samuel G. Freedman, author of Jew v. Jew