Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History

First Advisor

Beth S. Wenger

Abstract

Between the 1880s and the 1920s, Yiddish newspapers rose from precarious origins to become successful and integral institutions in American Jewish life. During this period, Yiddish speaking immigrants, many of whom had been unaccustomed to reading newspapers before coming to America, quickly began to see newspapers as an indispensable part of their daily lives. They looked to their favorite papers not only as sources of entertainment and news, but also as places to turn for advice on acclimating to American life and navigating American institutions.

This dissertation offers a rereading of the history of the American Yiddish press that places issues of women and gender at the center of analysis. Unlike previous histories concentrating on the more overtly political content of these publications, such as editorials and front-page news coverage, this study analyzes the role of features directed at a female audience, advertisements, editors’ discussions of female audiences, and the changing gender breakdowns of newspaper staffs, in the development of the Yiddish press. Through a close examination of three of the most successful Yiddish dailies, Dos yidishes tageblat, the Forverts, and Der tog, this dissertation argues that considerations of women and gender were crucial to the development of the Yiddish press. It was through these considerations that the producers of the Yiddish press learned how to transform their newspapers into effective mediums to reach their desired reading audiences, how to express ideological messages in ways that could be easily absorbed by readers, and how to build a broad base of institutional power in Jewish immigrant life. The seemingly peripheral status of women’s features also meant that editors and publishers often used these articles as testing grounds to explore what types of content or formatting an American Yiddish newspaper should include, and how a newspaper should interact with readers. Therefore, instead of framing issues of gender as of secondary importance, we must place them at the center of analysis in order to understand how and why the American Yiddish press developed into the influential, diverse publication field it became by the 1920s.

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