Out of the Archives

Friday, March 23, 2012

During Women’s History Month and throughout the rest of the year, the women’s collections at the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS)—one of the five partners of the Center for Jewish History—can provide many resources of interest to students, scholars and the general public.  The largest collection of the Jewish women’s organizations at AJHS is the Hadassah archives, which has been located at AJHS since 2000. 

The Hadassah archives document the contributions of the volunteer and staff leadership in the national office from 1914 to the 1980s.  The depth of the collection is found in the record groups that document the projects in Palestine/Israel that Hadassah existed to support, including the Hadassah Medical Organization, Youth Aliyah and Hadassah’s education institutions.  Other frequently more used series in the collection include photographs, pamphlets, the papers of Henrietta Szold, and a nearly complete run of the organization’s newsletters.  Some collections remain underutilized because access is difficult.  Sound recordings, for example, are fragile, and listening to reel-to-reel tapes is not possible for the general public at the Center for Jewish History.

In 2011, thanks to a grant from the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO), a digitization project was undertaken using the resources of the Center for Jewish History’s Gruss Lipper Digital Laboratory.  Project goals were to increase access and to preserve the originals.  Now digitized and available through the Center for Jewish History’s catalog are the first 20 years of Hadassah Magazine and 50 sound recordings documenting events through 30 years of Hadassah’s history.  Both digitization projects were timed to coincide with Hadassah’s centennial, which fell on February 24, 2012. They can be found at www.cjh.org.

Hadassah Magazine, still published as a membership benefit, began publication after Hadassah’s first convention in 1914 specifically to deliver news of the organization to a membership which at that time extended from New York to Jacksonville, Florida, to Youngstown, Ohio and St. Paul, Minnesota.  By 1917, Hadassah had reached the west coast by way of San Francisco as well as San Antonio, Texas, and the eight-page newsletter proved an excellent way to communicate with far-flung and diverse members.  Originally published as the Hadassah Bulletin, the name became Hadassah Newsletter from 1920 to 1961, when it changed again to Hadassah Magazine.  All existing issues of the Bulletin and the Newsletter from 1914 through 1933 have been digitized and are fully searchable.

Highlights found in the earliest newsletters include excerpts from letters sent to Hadassah’s national office by Hadassah’s first two nurses in Jerusalem, Rae Landy and Rose Kaplan. These letters, from 1913-1915, survive in no other form.  By 1918, with the arrival in Jerusalem of a complete medical unit, the newsletter was full of news of the growth of the clinics and hospitals established by this unit in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tiberias and every other Jewish community then in existence in Palestine.  Also included in each issue through the 1930s was news from the growing number of chapters and sewing circles around the United States, communicating chapters’ fundraising successes on behalf of Hadassah’s projects in Palestine.

The sound recordings were digitized from a diverse collection of reel-to-reel tapes dating from 1949 to 1978.  In the earliest recording, Eleanor Roosevelt can be heard speaking in connection with her involvement with Youth Aliyah.  On another recording, Senator Edward Kennedy is interviewed in Jerusalem in 1971 after visiting the Hadassah Medical Center with members of the United States Senate Health Sub-Committee, which he chaired, on a fact-finding mission in their quest for a solution to the healthcare crisis in the United States. 

Other women’s organizations represented at AJHS with large collections include the National Council of Jewish Women, New York Section (I-469) and AMIT (I-521).  The collections at AJHS also include those of women like Abigail Franks (Franks Family Papers, collection P-142), whose correspondence in the second quarter of the 18th century from her home in New York to her son Naphtali, in London, provides insight into the life of a Jewish woman in New York before the American Revolution; Lucy Dawidowicz (P-675), whose collection contains information on her research and work relating to American history and American Jewish history, anti-semitism in America, Holocaust denial, European Jewish heritage and the Holocaust; and two women involved with the Women’s Division of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress collection, I-77): Louise Waterman Wise, who established the division in 1933 and remained active until it was disbanded in the mid-1970s, and Virginia Levitt Snitow, represented at AJHS with a collection of her papers (P-876), which documents her career as a teacher, a leader at the American Jewish Congress, and an outspoken opponent of racial inequality and the war in Vietnam.

Enjoy browsing these digital files from home, and then come to the Center for Jewish History for more in-depth exploration of the Hadassah collection, and all of the women’s collections at the American Jewish Historical Society. www.search.cjh.org

Susan Woodland, Senior Archivist, UJA-Federation of New York Collection, American Jewish Historical Society.

Junior Hadassah members at the Palestine Pavilion at the World’s Fair, New York City, 1940.  YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

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