View the Table of Contents. Read the Introduction.
aMasterfully weaving together stories of adolescent girls based
on an analysis of their diaries, personal letters, and memoirs,
Klapper illuminates the ways these young women grappled with
contradictory feelings about their friends, family, and
future...This compelling narrative deeply enriches our
understanding of the intertwined roles played by gender, ethnicity,
religion, and education in fostering American identity at the turn
of the century.a
--"American Historical Review"
aMelissa R. Klapper has succeeded handsomely in surmounting the
hurdles of her topic to create a coherent narrative of cultural
change. She brings to her subject sensitivity to the stress of
adolescence, mastery of her materials, and genuine affection for
the experience of growing up female, Jewish, and American.a
--"Journal of American History"
aDrawing on diaries and magazines, historian Klapper recreates
the world of Jewish girls in late 19th- and early 20th-century
America. . . . This book's charm lies in its innovative and
engaging focus on girlhood. Klapper . . . offers grace notes to a
familiar narrative about the tensions between assimilation and
"Provides a revealing glimpse into the lives of adolescent girls
at the turn of the century. Klapper's exhaustive search for the
diaries of young Jewish women has produced a harvest of insights
into their relationships to religion, to education, to domestic
lives, and to girl culture."
--Alice Kessler-Harris, author of "In Pursuit of Equity"
"Melissa Klapper's pioneering volume, based on an astonishing
wealth of primary sources, uncovers more than wehave ever known
about the upbringing and education of Jewish girls in America from
the Civil War to World War I. Covering everything from religious
education to sex education, it explores what it meant to be a
Jewish girl aged 12-20 during one of the most tumultuous eras in
--Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of
American Jewish History, Brandeis University
"Brings to life the lives of the 'ordinary' young women whom we
encounter in these pages. By exploring the diaries of Jewish girls
who used these private and personal sources to think about their
conflicting ideas about identities, families, and futures, Melissa
Klapper has shown them to be historical actors, and as such
anything but ordinary. By combining intellectual matters of several
literatures-the history of education, women's history, American
Jewish history, the history of the United States over the course of
a crucial six decade period-Klapper has made a substantial
contribution to our understanding of the past and those who peopled
--Hasia Diner, Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American
Jewish History, New York University
"Klapper offers a thoughtful book on subjects too often ignored
in both the literature of Jewish-Americans and of American
-- "Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era"
Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920 draws on a
wealth of archival material, much of which has never been
published--or even read--to illuminate the ways in which Jewish
girls' adolescent experiences reflected larger issues relating to
gender, ethnicity, religion, and education.
Klapper explores the dual roles girls played as agents
ofacculturation and guardians of tradition. Their search for an
identity as American girls that would not require the abandonment
of Jewish tradition and culture mirrored the struggle of their
families and communities for integration into American society.
While focusing on their lives as girls, not the adults they
would later become, Klapper draws on the papers of such figures as
Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah; Edna Ferber, Pulitzer
Prize-winning author of Showboat; and Marie Syrkin, literary critic
and Zionist. Klapper also analyzes the diaries, memoirs, and
letters of hundreds of other girls whose later lives and
experiences have been lost to history.
Told in an engaging style and filled with colorful quotes, the
book brings to life a neglected group of fascinating historical
figures during a pivotal moment in the development of gender roles,
adolescence, and the modern American Jewish community.