Women need to take up more space. Here are 10 women, all Jewish, who have done so in their fields and the world. However, these are not your Gloria Steinems or your Ruth Bader Ginsbergs. For this piece, I wish to highlight women who are lesser known. How many of these ten highly influential Jewish women have you heard of?
1. Phyllis Greenberg Heideman
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman is the president of the March of the Living. Heideman, on the March of the Living: “The role of the March of the Living in the future of the Jewish people rests in our commitment to carry the torch of memory as a means of igniting an attachment to the past as a connector to the future. We are in the unique position of educating a committed group of alumni who can lead Jewish communities around the world into the future. If knowledge is power, then memory is powerful. In the fast-paced and ever-changing times our younger generations face, we take seriously our responsibility to prepare them to feel better equipped to face the future”.
2. Anna Freud
Known as the founder of psychoanalytic child psychology, Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud, contributed greatly to her field. Anna began her adult life as an elementary school teacher, which led to her entering the field of psychology, specializing in children.
3. Gertrude Weil
Gertrude Weil was a social activist during the early and mid-1900’s. What makes Gertrude Weil stand out is that she was not afraid to stand up for what was highly controversial at the time. In addition to women’s rights and suffrage, Weil fought for labor reform and civil rights.
4. Justine Polier
Justine W. Polier was the first female Justice in the State of New York. She was known as a “fighting judge” because she was also an activist who fought for the rights of the disempowered.
5. Gertrude Elion
Gertrude Elion was a biochemist and pharmacologist. She won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, alongside two men. Elion was also the first woman to be introduced into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Her work led to the discovery of the AIDS drug AZT. She also developed the first immunosuppressive drug, azathioprine, which is used during organ transplants. Finally, Elion developed the first successful antiviral drug, which is used to treat Herpes.
6. Regina Jonas
In 1935, Regina Jonas became the first female rabbi the world had seen. She was born in Berlin and was ordained at age 33. Her University thesis was titled, “Can a Woman Be a Rabbi According to Halachic Sources?” The conclusion was affirmative. However, it took her many tries to become ordained.
7. Bella Abzug
Bella Abzug was a lawyer, U.S. Representative, and women’s equality activist. She founded the National Women’s Political Caucus alongside many other greats such as Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and Betty Friedan.
8. Lillian Wald
Lillian Wald fought for the rights of many, to the point where some may call her an idealist. She believed in the rights of women, children, immigrants, the poor, and members of all ethnic and religious groups.
9. Sally Priesand
While the world’s first rabbi was ordained in 1935, America’s first female rabbi was not ordained until 1972. Sally Priesand was also the second female rabbi in world history. She retired in 2006. In her own words, as a rabbi she was specifically “sensitive and aware of the needs of others who were dealing with health crises,” as she has suffered multiple bouts of cancer. On her retirement: “I’m retiring by choice, because I believe that rabbis should know when to leave and when it’s time to inject ‘newness’ into synagogue life”.
10. Emma Lazarus
Emma Lazarus’ claim to fame is that her sonnet is inscribed upon the Statue of Liberty. The sonnet was not inscribed until 1903, after her death. It was initially written in order to raise money to build the pedestal of the statue.