Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace

American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940

301 pages

August, 2014

ISBN: 9781479850594



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

All books by Melissa R. Klapper

Winner of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award, Women's Studies 
Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace explores the social and political activism of American Jewish women from approximately 1890 to the beginnings of World War II.
Written in an engaging style, the book demonstrates that no history of the birth control, suffrage, or peace movements in the United States is complete without analyzing the impact of Jewish women's presence. The volume is based on years of extensive primary source research in more than a dozen archives and among hundreds of primary sources, many of which have previously never been seen. Voluminous personal papers and institutional records paint a vivid picture of a world in which both middle-class and working-class American Jewish women were consistently and publicly engaged in all the major issues of their day and worked closely with their non-Jewish counterparts on behalf of activist causes.
This extraordinarily well researched volume makes a unique contribution to the study of modern women's history, modern Jewish history, and the history of American social movements.


  • "Melissa Klapper has made an outstanding contribution to a history that we thought we knew well, of some of the great women's struggles of the early twentieth century —suffrage, peace, and birth control. However, she has changed that history by focusing on Jewish women's important participation in them. We learn not only of their contribution, but the antisemitism they encountered. Her analysis is nuanced and represents the very best of what women's history does, to understand the complexity of identity as women struggled to become citizens and political actors in the United States. This is a remarkable book."

    —Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor of American Studies, University of Minnesota

  • "In this illuminating account of campaigns for social justice, Melissa Klapper takes an important cohort of Jewish women and shows us how Jewishness mattered to their activism as well as how their activism influenced the world they lived in. This book provides the best explanation I have yet encountered for the more recent involvement of Jews in the social movements of the 1960s. It is a wonderful and inspiring read."

    —Alice Kessler-Harris, author of A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman

  • "In this lucid and compelling narrative, Klapper captures both the personal dedication of individual women and the broad sweep of Jewish women’s activism. By illuminating the complex activist identities and organizations forged by Jewish women in the early twentieth century, this book requires future scholars of feminism to engage more fully with ethnicity and religion and Jewish historians to incorporate more fully women’s experiences."

    —Nancy A. Hewitt, author of No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism

  • "Highly recommended."

    —R.C. Cottrell, CHOICE

  • "Klapper . . . conducted her research across the country, accessing primary sources such as Jewish newspapers, National Council of Jewish Women meeting minutes, letters and diaries. The result is the stories of many impassioned, educated and influential women who helped shape the early social and political movements."

    —Melissa Gerr, Baltimore Jewish Times

  • "While the names Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem have become synonymous with second-wave feminism, the role of Jewish women in earlier feminist causes has gone largely unrecognized. With her new book, Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women's Activism, 1890-1940, Melissa R. Klapper, a history professor at Rowan University in New Jersey, is trying to change that, bringing to light the outsize role Jewish women played in the suffrage, birth control and peace movements."

    —Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil, Moment Magazine

  • "By illuminating Jewish women's contributions to mainstream social and political activism, the book fills an important scholarly gap . . . Klapper's work provides a window onto the broader topography of turn-of-the-century progressive reform. This variegated lens on the way gender and ethnicity inflected Jewish women's progressive reform stands as a major contribution to the historical record, providing a compelling view on a broad constellation of activist foci and the manifold ways in which they were connected ideologically. That Klapper contextualizes her stories of individual activists with rich big-picture analysis makes this book an excellent choice for teaching. . . . The author ultimately provides an eloquent and detailed set of answers no only to the question, 'what's Jewish about American Jewish women's activism?' but also 'how are struggles for social justice forged in the politics of identity?' In other words, Klapper provides yet more eloquent historical proof that the personal has always been political."

    —Caroline Light, H-Net Reviews

  • "Klapper's work on the Jewish women who organized and helped fund the fight for suffrage, established birth control clinics in immigrant neighborhoods, and played a key role in the international peace movement is an example of the kind of careful scholarship that is needed to correct the imbalances in both Jewish and women's history."

    —Ellen R. Rothman, Jewish Women's Archive

  • "Melissa R. Klapper provides a wonderful overview of Jewish involvement in three major early twentieth-century women's movements. She illuminates the struggle those activists faced in negotiating their Jewishness within female-led organizations, places where they not infrequently encountered anti-Semitism. Klapper contributes a much-needed focus on the influence played by religion, other than Protestantism, on American women's activism."

    —Mary McCune, The Journal of American History

  • "[The] recent book, Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women's Activism, 1890-1940, explore[s] the lives of those who focused on the great women's movements of the early 20th century: suffrage, birth control, and peace."

    Jewish Exponent

  • "Klapper paints a vivid picture of the activists involved in several social reform movements. Hers is a well-researched, finely textured, and significant contribution to our understanding of how the categories of 'Jewish' and 'woman' animated American activism."

    —Marc Dollinger, American Historical Review

  • "[The] strength of this book lies in the individual stories that Klapper unearths. Painstakingly researched, Klapper draws on a tremendous number of primary sources, published and nonpublished." 

    Journal of the American Academy of Religion

  • "Klapper writes to restore Jewish women to their rightful place in these histories as well as to insert women's activism into the panorama of American Jewish life. . . . This book is an opening, a gift, an invitation, and anyone who writes on these subjects after her owes the author a massive debt of gratitude for the map she has drawn."

    The American Jewish Archives Journal

  • “In this important volume, Melissa Klapper introduces readers to an overlooked generation of Jewish women and the causes they championed, particularly in the interwar era—most notably suffrage, access to birth control, and the international peace movement.”

    Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000