Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920

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Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860—1920 draws on a wealth of archival material, much of which has never been published—or even read—to illuminate the ways in which Jewish girls’ adolescent experiences reflected larger issues relating to gender, ethnicity, religion, and education.

Klapper explores the dual roles girls played as agents of acculturation and guardians of tradition. Their search for an identity as American girls that would not require the abandonment of Jewish tradition and culture mirrored the struggle of their families and communities for integration into American society.

While focusing on their lives as girls, not the adults they would later become, Klapper draws on the papers of such figures as Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah; Edna Ferber, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Showboat; and Marie Syrkin, literary critic and Zionist. Klapper also analyzes the diaries, memoirs, and letters of hundreds of other girls whose later lives and experiences have been lost to history.

Told in an engaging style and filled with colorful quotes, the book brings to life a neglected group of fascinating historical figures during a pivotal moment in the development of gender roles, adolescence, and the modern American Jewish community.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Masterfully weaving together stories of adolescent girls based on an analysis of their diaries, personal letters, and memoirs, Klapper illuminates the ways these young women grappled with contradictory feelings about their friends, family, and future...This compelling narrative deeply enriches our understanding of the intertwined roles played by gender, ethnicity, religion, and education in fostering American identity at the turn of the century.”
-American Historical Review

“Melissa R. Klapper has succeeded handsomely in surmounting the hurdles of her topic to create a coherent narrative of cultural change. She brings to her subject sensitivity to the stress of adolescence, mastery of her materials, and genuine affection for the experience of growing up female, Jewish, and American.”
-Journal of American History

Publishers Weekly
Drawing on diaries and magazines, historian Klapper recreates the world of Jewish girls in late 19th- and early 20th-century America. These were years of massive immigration, expansion of the secondary school system and an increased sense of "the... importance of youth in modern society." Jewish girls were committed to maintaining Jewish identity and religious practice, but also wanted to read Black Beauty, go on dates (only very rarely with gentile boys) and attend dances. Readers watch as 18-year-old Emily Frankenstein and her boyfriend "spoon... on the porch swing," listen to Minnie Goldstein lead her high school debate team to victory and hum along as Lottie Strogoff practices the piano. One of this monograph's major themes is education: Jewish girls attended high school and often college, where they studied American history, and mixed and mingled with non-Jewish classmates. But parents also wanted their girls to be steeped in Yiddishkeit (all things Jewish) so many girls attended Sunday school (or Sabbath school) devoted to Jewish studies. This book's charm lies in its innovative and engaging focus on girlhood. Klapper doesn't overhaul historians' traditional understanding of Jewish-American history; rather she offers grace notes to a familiar narrative about the tensions between assimilation and tradition. The primary audience is academic, but the book will be accessible to other readers. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814747803
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 1/10/2005
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Melissa R. Klapper is a professor of history, Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ.

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Table of Contents

1 “Any Other Girls in This Whole World Like Myself”: Jewish Girls and Adolescence in America
2 “Unless I Got More Education”: Jewish Girls and the Problem of
Education in Turn-of-the-Century America
3 “Education in the Broadest Sense”: Alternative Forms of Education
for Working-Class Girls
4 “A Perfect Jew and a Perfect American”: The Religious Education of Jewish Girls
5 “Such a World of Pleasure”: Adolescent Jewish Girls and American Youth Culture
About the Author

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2005

    Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920

    I found this book to be an enjoyable, easy read about an interesting subject. Modern girls will be especially interested in reading all of the diary excerpts that are included here; they'll be surprised to see that Jewish girls in 1880-1920 had a lot of the same concerns they have now! This is going to be my regular gift for bat mitzvas and graduations from now on. I would highly recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2005

    A Wonderful Addition to Women's History

    Klapper offers an excellent, engaging study of Jewish female adolescents coming of age in the mid 19th-early 20th century. She examines how issues of Jewish and American identity surfaced in the personal diaries, journals, and momentos kept by girls and went previously unnoticed by other scholars. Interestingly, many of the concerns expressed by these teenagers, such as acceptance by peers, relationships with parents, and courtship appear across time and space. This book would make a wonderful addition to any bookshelf, teenager and scholar alike.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2005

    Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920

    I really enjoyed reading this book. I generally read fiction, but a friend recommended this to me and I was glad she did. The author has a clear and interesting writing style, and her research on Jewish girls was fascinating. I especially enjoyed the many excerpts from previously-unpublished diaries. This would be an excellent gift for bat mitzvas or graduations.

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