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USING AREA STUDIES COLLECTIONS
CASE STUDIES: AMERICAN JEWISH WOMEN AND LATINAS
AREA STUDIES EXTERNAL SITES
|Yiddish Materials Documenting Artistic Expression
In tandem with the large influx of Eastern European immigrants to the United States at the end of the nineteenth century, Yiddish theater in America blossomed and flourished. Audiences that were largely female packed the theaters, mainly on New York City's Lower East Side, and thrilled to the operettas, melodramas, comedies, and musicals written, produced, and emotionally portrayed by their fellow Yiddish-speaking immigrants.
The Hebraic Section has custody of about twelve hundred Yiddish-American play manuscripts that were deposited for copyright at the Library in the first half of the twentieth century. Among the more than two dozen women playwrights represented is Sara Adler (1858-1953), whose husband Jacob Adler was the foremost actor of the Yiddish stage at the beginning of the twentieth century. Lucy Lang (1884-1962) and sisters Rose Shomer Bachelis (1882-1966) and Miriam Shomer Zunser (1882-1951) are also represented. Many of the plays they (and some of the men) wrote concern love, marriage, divorce, family life, and the struggle to balance assimilation and tradition.
The inquiring and persistent researcher of the history of women's health issues in this country will find that two Yiddish plays, Harry Kalmanowitz's “Geburth Kontrol, oder, Rassen zelbstmord (Birth Control or Race Suicide [sic])” and Chicagoan S. Grossman's “Di Flikhten fun a froy in geburt kontrol) (A woman's duty in birth control)” were written in 1916, the year that Margaret Sanger [catalog record] opened the first birth control clinic, which was located on the Lower East Side of New York City (see Reproductive Health in the Manuscripts section). Seventy-seven of these Yiddish plays can be found on the Library's American Memory Web site; two of the plays were written by women. In 1913, Dr. Ida Badenes-Rovinsky, a physician, journalist, and playwright, wrote the comedy-drama “Dem Doktors refue: a drama in 4 akten (The doctor's remedy).” In 1919, Lizzie Schreiman completed the drama “Di Mekhutonim fin gan heydn [!] (Relatives of the Garden of Eden).”
First active in Yiddish vaudeville and theater, many American Jewish women went on to appear in motion pictures and on television or behind the scenes in both these media. The vast scope of the Library's film collections enables the researcher to examine the phenomenon of female Jewish cinema and television stars in the industry, their experiences as Jews, and the ways in which Jewish women have been portrayed and by whom.
One subset of the Library's collection in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) consists of more than a dozen Yiddish films, including for example Vu iz mayn kind (Where is my child) (FPC 0292-0299 MBRS), starring Celia Adler, Anna Lillien, and Blanche Bernstein, from 1937. A brivele der mamen (A letter to mother) (VAF 1760 M/B/RS) is a video reproduction of an early Yiddish film set in Polish Ukraine and New York City that traces the breakup of a family owing to the stresses of the First World War, poverty, and the immense challenges of immigrant life. A combination of comedy and drama, the work focuses on the efforts of one Jewish mother to keep her family together.
Also deposited for copyright at the Library of Congress in the first half of the twentieth century were some thirty-four Yiddish song sheets. Housed in the Music Division, some of these are kept in duplicate copies in the Hebraic Section as well. More than eighty-five women have been credited as publishers, composers, arrangers, and lyricists of these songs. They include Mary Adler, Friede Belov (Weber), Celia Boodkin (Drobkin), Nellie Casman, Pauline Fellman, Ida Gittleman, Jennie Goldstein, Aliza Greenblatt, Molly Picon, and Esther Zweig. Many of the songs are about the home, love, marriage, children, and work.
The themes of marriage, women's rights, and division of labor are illustrated in the songs from two operettas staged in the second decade of the twentieth century, “Vaybershe melukhe” (Women's handiwork) (No copyright registration; MUS, Hebr) [full item] and “Di sheyne Amerikanerin” (The American Beauty) (No copyright registration; MUS, Hebr) [full item].“Di fayer korbunes” (The fire victims) (Copyright no. E265489; Aug. 24/28, 1911 MUS) [picture] expresses the anguish felt by the Jewish community after the deaths of 146 young women, most of whom were Jewish, in the fire at the non-union Triangle Shirtwaist Company on New York City's Lower East Side on March 25, 1911. The sheet music cover shows a building in flames, with women at the windows or jumping to the ground. In examples such as this, the iconography of the Yiddish sheet music offers a special visual dimension to the understanding of the history of American Jewish women.
The Ruth Rubin collection, held in the Archive of Folk Song in the American Folklife Center, consists of field recordings of Jewish folklore made by the New York folklorist from the 1940s to the 1960s. Ruth Rubin interviewed female as well as male performers in the United States, Canada, Britain, and Israel. Yiddish art songs that reflected immigrant life and songs created by Soviet Jews in the 1920s and the 1930s form part of the collection. A concordance lists the 126 tapes.
Jewish female performers ably crossed over from the stage to the media of recorded sound and broadcasting beginning in the second decade of the twentieth century. The Library holds, for example, several test pressings of “Eili, Eili” (NC26B 00413, NCPB 00302, NCPB 00224), a Yiddish ballad originally written in 1896 for Sophie Karp, star of Yiddish revues and Bowery theaters on the Lower East Side of New York City, and made more popular by Yiddish actress Bertha Kalisch. When Cantor Yosele Rosenblatt began to include it in his concerts and recordings, the hymn became synonymous with male singers.
In the Recorded Sound Reference Center researchers can also locate Yiddish actress Stella Adler's 1944 appeal to voters on NBC radio (Adler, who energized the study of acting in America, lived from 1901 to 1992), as well as the NBC radio shows of actresses Gertrude Berg (1899-1966) (of Mollie Goldberg fame) and Fanny Brice (1891-1951) (in Baby Snooks). Brice also appears on the Mail Call show of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service transcription disc collection.
Most of the nearly fourteen hundred commercial phonograph discs in the Benedict Stambler Archive of Recorded Jewish Music in the Recorded Sound Reference Center are recordings of well-known American and European cantors of the first four decades of the twentieth century. A sampling of performances by Yiddish comedians, singers, and popular musicians is available in the archive as well. Among these are recordings by diva and folksinger Isa Kremer (1887-1956) and by singer Miriam Kressyn (1911-1996), who was also a songwriter, translator, radio announcer, news analyst, and teacher.
Baker, Zachary, comp. “The Lawrence Marwick Collection of Copyrighted Yiddish Plays at the Library of Congress.” Unpublished. Hebr
Erens, Patricia. The Jew in American Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984. PN1995.9.J46 E7 Hebr Ref, GenColl.
Goldberg, Judith N. Laughter through Tears: The Yiddish Cinema.Rutherford, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University, 1983 PN1995. 9.Y54 G6 1983 Hebr Ref, GenColl.
Heskes, Irene, comp. Yiddish American Popular Songs, 1895 to 1950: A Catalog Based on the Lawrence Marwick Roster of Copyright Entries. Washington: Library of Congress, 1992. ML128.J4 H49 1992, Hebr Ref, MUS, MRR Alc, AFC, PARR.
Lyman, Darryl. Great Jews in Music. Middle Village, N.Y.: J. David Publishers, 1986. ML385.L95 1986 Hebr Ref, PARR.
Rubin, Ruth. Voices of a People: Yiddish Folk Song. New York: T. Yoseloff . ML3776.R77 1964 Hebr Ref, PARR.
Sandrow, Nahma. Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish Theater. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977. PN3035.S25 Hebr Ref.
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