Exhibiting Cultural Philanthropy: Women, Power, and Museums in Jewish America, 1920-1970

Cohen, Ariel, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Loeffler, James, AS-History, University of Virginia

Exhibiting Cultural Philanthropy: Women, Power, and Museums in Jewish America, 1920–1970 argues that women spearheaded the movement to create Jewish museums in the United States and inspired the foundation of other culturally specific museums. Charting the emergence of Jewish public art spaces and recovering the invisible labor of the women who founded them, this dissertation focuses on four forgotten women and their influential approaches to the recognition and preservation of Jewish and American material culture. Focused on the period beginning in 1921 and ending in 1970, this dissertation explains how women pioneered new forms of public culture that became central to Jewish communal life. Across the middle decades of the twentieth century, between American antisemitism, the Holocaust in Europe, the birth of Israel, civil rights struggles, and second wave feminism, women wove Jews into the fabric of American life through museums. Despite the tremendous amount of scholarship on American Jewish culture, these women are surprisingly still forgotten. This dissertation is in line with a new turn to reexamining philanthropy and social citizenship through critical perspectives on power and identity and recovering forgotten historical actors. Excluded from Jewish communal leadership because of their gender, these four women collectively forged places for themselves as the first generation of Jewish curators and cultural philanthropists. They imagined a relationship with the Jewish past that was essential to the creation of a new Jewish American public identity in their own time.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Art History, Judaica, Museums, Identity Museums, Jews and Judaism, American History, 20th Century , Galleries, Rebbetzin, Secretary, Curator
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