Today in Herstory: New York Rabbi Speaks Out for Womens Equality

Founding Feminists is FMF’s daily herstory column.


April 8, 1894: A strong endorsement of equality for women this morning by Rabbi Joseph Silverman of New York’s Temple Emanu-El, at Fifth Avenue and Forty-third Street.

Speaking on “The Rights of Women,” he said:

I believe it is absolute slavery, considering our age, to discriminate against the work of women merely because of her sex. Let her work be judged by its merits alone. The cornerstone of all kinds of rights for women is the right of suffrage, the right to be represented in making the legislation of our country. We have certain fundamental principles upon which this is based. All men are born equal. Then women are equal too, are they not?

We have another principle, no taxation without representation. Yet women are taxed without representation. Open up the ballot box and woman will interest herself in the city, State and national affairs in a way to eclipse the interest that indifferent men have in the business of their country. I believe that woman would bring into political life an element divorced from politics – the ideal character. There will never be a true American nation until the principles upon which it is founded – equality and liberty – are carried to their logical extreme.

…We should open up all the careers and professions to women.

Temple Emanu-El, built in 1868 and where Rabbi Silverman has served since 1888.
Temple Emanu-El, built in 1868 and where Rabbi Silverman has served since 1888.

He then criticized the emphasis that society puts on youth and subjective standards of physical attractiveness in women:

Young ladies, let me say to you that you should not be content to waste one-third of your life cultivating charms that may fascinate men; another one-third in trying to preserve the charms and the last one-third in pining over charms that are lost forever. Rather cultivate the charms of the mind and heart.

Let’s hope these views become representative of the entire American clergy so that the battle for the ballot – and total equality – will be considerably shortened.

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