Jewish Pioneering in the Early West
Before writing this quarterly essay, I re-read the February issue, in which I announced the release of the republication of Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West. When I realized that I’d failed to name Robie Macauley, (1919-1995), I was chagrined. An author and an esteemed editor at Houghton Mifflin, in 1981 he convinced his superiors that my published profiles of Jews who pioneered in the newly American West qualified me to write a region-wide social history on the subject.
For the next two years, he oversaw my progress as I researched and wrote the text. He did so, I soon realized, because he was entranced by real-life accounts of Jews who pioneered in the West. In contrast to most academic Western histories, what appealed to Robie, and to me, was the individuality of the participants. The Jewish men, and some Jewish women, albeit fewer in number, were of diverse origins, age, education, skills, character, and intent. Those with funds and experience building on raw terrain, did so. Others worked for the self-starters. While seekers, sans skills and scorning poor pay, left for developed sections of the region, or returned home.
Never having attempted a full-length social history, or worked with an editor as immersed in the undertaking, I kept most of the letters Robie and I exchanged. His first is dated September 2, 1981. In the opening paragraph he expressed a wish to read the text, or a part of it. (So soon?) In the second, he detailed the publisher’s promotional needs, including a 350-400 word description of the book, due September 25th. I responded in two days, with a promise to send him, by September 15th, the first forty-five pages of the text and a 300-400-word blurb. Included was a newly proposed title, In a Rush: Pioneer Jews in the Far West. The opening blurb reads: “It projects the speed, exuberance and the raging hunger for opportunity Jews brought to the far western frontier.”
Robie was equally attentive to the contributions of my husband and co-author, Fred Rochlin, an architect and photographer, who gathered a sizable portion of the 219 photographs. As a result, each of the chapters is enhanced by photographs of actual Jewish pioneers, men and women. To demonstrate how numerous and effective these images are, I call your attention to Chapter Six, Pioneer Jews: Elected, Appointed, Self-Appointed, pp. 141-167. Of the 26 pages, 19 include 1 to 3 photographs of Jewish pioneers. All were taken in the 19th or early 20th century in the American West. Each was of a male Jew appointed or elected to fill a public post: fire department, vigilance committee, state assembly, chief of police, bailiff of a police court, deputy sheriff, mayor, United States senator, United States congressman, and state governor.
Most informative, and as such, extraordinary, is a two-page spread on pages 158-159, which features thirty-two Jewish mayors, sixteen to a page. Each includes a photograph, name of the pioneer mayor, the city, state, and years he served. The earliest was Bernard Goldsmith, Portland, Oregon, who served from 1869 to 1871. The latest listed was Israel Katz, Port Townsend, Washington, 1915-1917.
As to when and how women, Jews among them, finally won the unabridged right to vote as United States citizens, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Or wait for the release of my next book, “A Mixed Chorus: Jewish Women in the American West, 1849 to 1924.”
This “is the first exhibition to look at the contribution of Jewish designers, architects, patrons, and merchants” in a modern America environment. After World War II, the central environment for Jews, outside the land of Israel, shifted from Europe to America. This exhibit gives great insight into the Jewish architects and designers assimilation from Europe into American society. “The exhibition and its public programs look at the intersections between Jewish social ideals and modernism’s own progressive commitment to egalitarianism.” Much of the Jewish involvement in modernizing America has been forgotten; however the exhibit put on by the museum will give light to the different furniture, textiles, ceramics, dinnerware, among many other home décor items that the Jews contributed to. Highlighted Jewish designers in this event will be Anni Albers, George Nelson, and Richard Neutra among many more fascinating designers and architects. With the help of guest curator Donald Albrecht, who is nationally noted, the exhibition will contain a fully illustrated catalog as a significant accessory to the work of Designing Home, available to purchase in both the museum store and online. The exhibition will contain over 120 objects organized into five areas throughout the museum.