An organization which came into being as a result of the Congress of Jewish Women, one of the denominational congresses of the World's Parliament of Religions held at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. It was organized in response to the appeal of Sadie American, and in pursuance of the following resolution offered by her at the final session of the congress:

"Resolved, That we, Jewish women, sincerely believing that a closer fellowship will be encouraged, a closer unity of thought, sympathy, and purpose, and a nobler accomplishment will result, from a wide-spread organization, do therefore band ourselves together in a union of workers to further the best and highest interests of Judaism and humanity, and do call ourselves the 'National Council of Jewish Women,' whose work shall be:

  • "(1) To seek to unite in a closer relation women interested in the work of religion, philanthropy, and education, and to consider practical means of solving problems in these fields.
  • "(2) To organize and encourage the study of the underlying principles of Judaism, the history, literature, and customs of the Jews, and their bearings on our own and the world's history.
  • "(3) To apply knowledge gained in the study and improvement of the Sabbath-school and in the work of social reform.
  • "(4) To secure the interest and aid of influential persons in arousing general sentiment against religious persecution, whenever, wherever, and against whomsoever shown, and in finding means to prevent such persecution."

Hannah G. Solomon and Sadie American, respectively chairman and secretary of the congress, were elected president and secretary of the council, and have continued to hold these offices. In Jan., 1894, a circular was issued, setting forth the need, desirability, and objects of the National Council of Jewish Women, together with a provisional constitution, which called for a delegate convention to be held in 1896, when a permanent constitution would be adopted. This meeting took place in New York city in Nov., 1896, by which time 50 sections had been organized; it was attended by 83 delegates and alternates from 31 sections. The word "National," which, as originally employed in the name of the organization, referred only to the United States, was dropped on account of the entrance of two sections formed in Canada; and the title became "The Council of Jewish Women."

Page from the Pinkes (Minute-Book) of the Council of Four Lands, with Signatures Of Delegates.(Through the courtesy of S. M. Dubnow of Odessa.)Reverse of Page (Minute-Book) of the Council of Four Lands.(Through the courtesy of S. M. Dubnow of Odessa.)

The objects of the council, as defined in the constitution finally adopted, are: "To further united efforts in behalf of Judaism by supplying means of study; by an organic union to bring about closer relations among Jewish women; to furnish a medium for interchange of thought and a means of communication and of prosecuting work of common interest; to further united efforts in the work of social betterment through religion, philanthropy, and education."

The constitution provides for a continuous board of directors, who, with the general officers, form the executive committee, which has full charge of the affairs of the organization, and for five committees—to wit: on religion, religious school work, philanthropy, reciprocity, and junior sections—who respectively arrange the plan of work. There is no individual membership in the council, but membership through its branches, which are called "sections," and are organized (one only in each city) on the plan of the general society. Meetings with two delegates from each section are held triennially, and executive sessions annually. Junior sections have been formed with a membership of both sexes, between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one; these are under the guidance of the senior section in so far as three members of the latter sit on the executive committee.

The council "seeks to give its utterances no color of orthodoxy or reform." It is not propagandist, and stands for no particular phase of Judaism. Recognizing the existence of differences of belief and observance, and "seeking only to square conviction and conduct," but leaving each free to follow her own bent, it has united the Jewish women in a strong and unique organization. The council carries out its objects in meetings, conferences, study circles, lectures by specialists, and its various philanthropies, which can, perhaps, be measured and numbered; its significant and important results, however, can be neither measured nor stated in exact terms.

Born of the two tendencies of the time—the growing self-consciousness of the Jew and the tendency of women to unite in associations for self-development and preparation for the new responsibilities which modern life is thrusting on them—the council is becoming the center of religious and intellectual activity of the Jewish women, and the means of throwing them into the active life and work of the community at large. It is the policy of the council to cooperate and affiliate with the organized forces at work for progress and social betterment, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It is a member of the National Council of Women of the United States, and of the International Council of Women of the World. The visit of Sadie American, as delegate to the quinquennial of the International Council of Women, held in London in June, 1899, resulted, through a presentation of the work before a representative body of London Jews and Jewesses, in the formation of the Jewish Study Society of England, which is organized on the plan of the council; and between this society and the council there is close affiliation, as well as an exchange of pamphlets, plans of work, etc.

The sections are members of the city, county, and state federations of women's clubs, and are actively cooperative in all work for the public welfare. During the Spanish-American war the council within one week set its sections to work in aid of the soldiers and sailors, and in several places was the first organized body to take any steps for their relief. It raised ten thousand dollars in money an equal amount in goods, and a nurse was sent to the army; the members were, during the continuance of the war, among the most active workers in the service of relief. It cooperated with the National Red Cross Society, the regimental auxiliaries, and the various state organizations. Through the influence of the council, 72 women have been placed on Sabbath-school boards of congregations; interest in the schools has been greatly increased thereby, and, what is of signal importance, the age of confirmation, in a number of communities, has been raised. It maintains fifteen mission schools.

The philanthropies of the council, numbering 85, are supported by voluntary subscription, and include settlements, clubs, libraries, free baths, night-schools, manual-training classes, household-schools, employment bureaus, penny provident funds, classes for crippled children, ice funds for consumptives, recreation-rooms, and gymnasiums. The following meetings have been held: first triennial, New York, Nov., 1896; Omaha Exposition, Oct., 1896; Chautauqua summer assembly, July, 1897, 1898; second triennial, Cleveland, March, 1900; first annual executive, New Orleans, La., Feb., 1901; third triennial, Baltimore, Md., Dec., 1902. The present officers, elected in 1900, are: president, Hannah G. Solomon; first vice-president (resigned); second vice-president, Babette Mandel, Chicago, Ill.; recording secretary, Gertrude Berg, Philadelphia, Pa.;corresponding secretary, Sadie American, New York city; treasurer, Bertha A. Selz, Chicago, Ill. It has (Nov., 1902) 7,000 members, in 70 sections; 15 junior sections, with 500 members; 89 study circles in religion, and 12 in philanthropy.

  • Papers of the Jewish Women's Congress (Jewish Publication Society of America), 1893;
  • Proceedings of the First Convention of the National Council of Jewish Women, (ib.), 1896;
  • Report of the Council of Jewish Women, from 1894 et seq., 1903;
  • American Jewish Year-Book, 5661.
A. S. A.