History in Review
Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail
A History in the American West
By Jeanne E. Abrams. (New York University Press, New York: 2006. Pg. viii, 279. B & W Photos.) ISBN: 978-0-8147-0719-7.
Reviewed by Simone Bonim - November 22, 2006
The history of the Jewish experience in the American West has been fairly well documented. Unfortunately, the history of Jewish women in the American West is obfuscated by being lumped together with the history of middle-classed, white, Protestant women. In other cases their history has been only lightly covered, often with little more than a few sentences or chapters, tossed into larger works on the history of Jews in the American West or in general book on Jewish-American History. Jewish Women in America lead vibrant and diverse lives, lives which were in many regards quite different from their Christian counterpart. In addition to being instrumental in the formation of Jewish communities and in maintaining Jewish home life, they also made substantial contributions in all aspects of education, philanthropy, women's suffrage, health care, politics, and more.
Despite having a major influence in almost every aspect of Western life, both private and public, pioneering Jewish women who braved the frontier environment of the American West, have never been given a voice of their own - until now. In Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West, Jeanne E. Abrams has written the first book devoted solely to the experience of Jewish women throughout the Western Frontier.
Written in a lively and engaging style, Abrams presents an historic overview of Jewish women in the American West. This work covers women living in both city and rural settings. She explores not only how they came to reside in the American West, but also how they adapted to life in the West, the roles that they played in both private and public spheres, their interactions with non-Jews, and how they managed to maintain a solid connection with their Jewish heritage despite, at times, living far removed from established Jewish communities. Most important, Abrams allows the women to talk for themselves by interweaving her historical narrative with excerpts from letters, diaries, memoirs, and other personal accounts. Taking the reader from the days of the 1848 Gold Rush through the early 1900's, this book presents a vibrant and readable account of the history of Jewish Women in the American West, and it examines the factors that were in place that allowed these women greater economic and social mobility than was found in larger, metropolitan Jewish communities in the East. It also examines why, and how, Western communities were often very accepting of Jews, both foreign and American born, and how the freedoms found in the West made it easier for Jewish women to step roles often denied to them in the East, from becoming doctors and attorneys to becoming university professors and journalist.
Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West is a well-researched and academically rigorous text, one that is also eminently readable. The text not only expands out understanding of the Jewish experience in the West, but also helps to fill in an enormous gap in the history of Jewish women in America. The text will fascinate anyone, both academicians and general readers, with an interest in Jewish studies, the history of the American West, and women's history. In addition, the text is accompanied by endnotes and an up-to-date bibliography that will provide ample fodder for anyone interested in pursuing the topic of the experience of Jewish women in the American West in greater detail. I don't normally give 'stars' to a history book, but this one deserves a full five - both for its important contribution to the field of Jewish history, and also for Abrams's enthralling narrative style that makes this book both a captivating and edifying text to read!
The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000, by Hasia R. Diner.
Offers a general survey of Jewish life in America, covering both historical, religious, and social milestones.
Mordecai: An Early American Family, by Emily Bingham.
In this work, Bingham provides a fascinating glimpse of Jewish life in America, from Colonial times through the Civil War.
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