The American Jewish Historical Exhibition Proposal

The committee is strongly of the opinion that an exhibition such as has been sketched out would do credit to the Jewish name in America and the convince the American people that its Jewish section has played a worthy part in its annals from the very beginning, and is an integral part of it; would greatly stimulate and advance the study of American Jewish history, and above all, would awaken interest in Jewish matters, not alone in the outside world, but among Jews at large themselves. 

The American Jewish Historical Society met in Philadelphia in 1900 and resolved to hold an American Jewish Historical Exhibition in New York City during the winter of 1901-02 for the purpose of convincing “the American people that its Jewish citizens have played an important part in its development.”[1]  The Society also resolved to invite a wide variety of Jewish groups from orthodox, reform, the Council of Jewish Women, Jewish charitable organizations, and Zionist organizations, Hebrew Union College, the Jewish Theological Seminary, various Jewish fraternities, the Chautauqua Society, and the Council of Jewish Women.[2]  The Society sent letters to prominent members of the Jewish community throughout the United States.   In a letter from Rabbi Cohen of Galveston, Texas to Dr. Herbert Friedenwald on April 8, 1901, Rabbi Cohen declines the invitation to participate in the design committee’s “most important meeting,” but notes that he is in favor of such an exhibit because his father was involved in the Anglo-Jewish exhibit and he has “all the published papers” of that exhibit in his possession.  Rabbi Cohen praises the “peculiar facilities for holding such an exhibition with Dr. Cyrus Adler, as Curator of the Smithsonian Institution,” as the exhibit president.  He closes by saying “The outcome of a public representation of Jewish life and work can only be beneficial.”[3]


[1]A Jewish Exhibition: Movement Started To Have One in New York During the Coming Winter.” 1901. New York Times (1857-1922), Jun 27, 1901.

[2] The Council of Jewish Women was founded in 1893 as a women’s volunteer organization in reaction to Jewish women asked to serve coffee at the Chicago World’s Fair when they came to volunteer.  The women walked out and formed an organization that would strengthen women’s connection to Judaism and pursue social justice.  Influenced by the settlement house movement, the NCJW were mostly women of German descent who had achieved economic stability. 

[3] "A Proposed American Jewish Historical Exhibition."  American Jewish Historical Exhibition Recods; 1-21; Box Number 1; folder number 1; American Jewish Histoical Society.