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Collection Overview

Essays by Jewish-American Immigrant Women
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
circa 1925-1929
1 box and 0.5 linear feet
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1


This collection consists of essays written by mainly Jewish women immigrants to the United States, regarding their lives and experiences. They were written in connection with English language classes given by the National Council of Jewish Women's Department of Immigrant Aid, and initially collected through a contest sponsored by the same organization. The winning essays were originally published in the journal The Immigrant, a publication of the Council.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of about three hundred first-hand accounts of the lives of mainly-Jewish women who immigrated to the United States between about 1900 and 1927. They were written for an essay contest sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women, administered through English language and Americanization classes organized and funded by the Council.

With a few slight deviations, the format of the essays is that of responses to set questions or topic choices. Topics include "My First Impressions of America", "The Most Important Day of My Life", and "My Plans and Ambitions for My Children", among others. These essays served multiple roles, functioning as writing exercises, contest entries, personal tributes to the Council, and publicity for the Council's programs. Now they are also historically relevant, giving a window into the daily lives, exceptional experiences, opinions, and aspirations of these women. They deal with such issues as poverty, antisemitism, female work experiences in the early twentieth century, World War I, the Russian Revolution, marriage, motherhood, and cultural assimilation.

There are some pieces that are beautifully written, and others where the struggle to master a foreign tongue is more clearly evident. There are many accounts that are unfeignedly authentic, telling stories of a very biographical nature, as well as few, especially in response to questions about famous Americans, that seem tainted by plagiarism. Many of these accounts were written by women residing in the New York City area, but there are also many essays from other locations including, among others, Chicago, Nashville, and San Antonio. The winning entries were originally published in The Immigrant, a journal published by the Council. Included in this collection is an article from that journal on the judging process, entitled "What the Judges Say."


The Roman and Arabic numerals on the documents were present in the collection before processing. The intended structure they imply has been preserved. Additionally, whenever a topic title was evident, it was used. In absence of a clear uniform title, the similar content of the essays led to the derivation of a descriptive title for the section.

Collection Creator Biography:

National Council of Jewish Women

The National Council of Jewish Women was founded in 1893 by Hannah Solomon, as part of the Parliament of Religions in the World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. At the close of the exhibition, Solomon and the others involved with its committee of Jewish women resolved that they would form a permanent organization, known as the NCJW, with a dual purpose. First, this new organization would work to keep Judaism alive by informing women of their religious duties and their role in rearing Jewish children. Secondly, its members would "take part as a large group in all that concerns the welfare of mankind," working together to solve growing social problems that were impossible for the individual to combat alone. The Council quickly spread across the country, as a social and socially active women's club, so that by the time of its first triennial convention in 1896, the Council had more than four thousand members and fifty local sections.

In the past hundred years since its inception, the National Council of Jewish Women has grown to approximately one hundred thousand members and has established itself as one of the preeminent American reform organizations of the twentieth century. It has been actively involved in a wide variety of concerns including immigrant aid, opposition to the white slave trade, educational opportunities and vocational training for the blind and visually impaired, maternal and infant health care, establishment of child labor laws, religious education, opposition to anti-Semitism, international relief work, civil rights for blacks and women, and peace initiatives.

The journal in which these essays were first published, The Immigrant, was a monthly and then later a quarterly journal published by the National Council of Jewish Women, Department of Service to the Foreign Born (later known as the Department of Immigrant Aid) in New York City from 1921 to 1930. It was edited by Etta (Lasker) Rosensohn and Cecilia Razovsky.

Collection History


These essays were extracted from the Arthur Cort Holden Papers (C0767), and originally written for the National Council of Jewish Women. Other than that, their chain of ownership is unknown.


No appraisal information is available.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Jennifer Groom in 1999. Finding aid written by Jannon Stein in 2000.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Essays by Jewish-American Immigrant Women; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box 1

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