Who Was Hannah Solomon?
The statue is more than a foot high, a representation of Hannah G. Solomon atop a sturdy base. The very kind members of the National Council of Jewish Women presented this to me earlier this week, in recognition that through great luck and timing, I’m the first woman to edit this newspaper.
So who was Hannah Solomon? Honestly, I had never heard of her before a brief biography was read at the luncheon. Intrigued, I did some research. Turns out that she was a pioneering leader who tried, as so many of us continue to try today, to balance devotion to family with a public life promoting the rights of women and children.
According to the Jewish Women’s Archives, Solomon not only was the founder of NCJW, but she was a full-fledged participant in the teeming days of reform in turn-of-the-century Chicago. She worked with Jane Addams and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, delving into issues of children’s education and juvenile delinquency.
But the challenges facing Jewish women were a particular cause. At the Chicago World’s Fair, she organized a four-day conference that led to the establishment of the NCJW, which promptly elected her its first president. The organization seesawed during its first few years between an emphasis on religion and on philanthropy. There even was a deep split between the Reform women who wanted to back a proposal to move Shabbat from Saturday to Sunday, and the Orthodox women who wanted no such thing. Pressed to take a stand, Solomon showed her diplomatic skills by saying: “I do consecrate the Sabbath. I consecrate every day of the week!”
For all her work in the public sphere, though, Solomon defined her family as her first priority. Nowadays, while the balancing act persists, there’s no doubt that women like myself, blessed with both a family and a career, know that we can place family as our first love with the expectation that many men will, too. That change didn’t happen overnight. We have, among others, my new friend Hannah Solomon to thank.