The Changing of Times, the Changes of Roles

The Changing of Times, the Changes of Roles

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The Changing of Times, the Changes of Roles

After braving the hard travels and experiencing even worse, almost unbearable, living conditions of the pioneer life, the Jewish women gained a sense of a new freedom and a new reality that was only offered in the harsh, wild desert of the Southern Arizona territory. During these times of pioneers, many great histories and legacies of the small, scattered Jewish communities were established. Although these groups were small in numbers, there was a very large and dynamic impact. For example, of the Goldwaters of Phoenix, one of the more better known descendants, the late Senator Barry Goldwater impacted the federal as well as the state governments in politics until his death. Or the Capins, whose mercantile enterprise produced various large business chains throughout Arizona.(1) Or perhaps, the Bloom family, whose Bloom and Sons stores provided for the Tucson community for over eighty years!(2) The Jewish women of such families, although many unnamed and unrecognized for their work, have also help shape the fledgling Southern Arizona territory. These women broke the traditional guidelines of how to behave and how to live, which would have normally kept them in the home. “The escape from the ‘kosher beds’, from early marriage, the rituals accompanying menstrual purity, the continual burden of childbirth, was particularly dramatic in the case of the women revolutionaries...(3)” These Jewish women became, in a sense, revolutionaries; their generation produced radical changes in what a women's roles should be. Their source of strength can almost be credited to the Southern Arizona environment of those changing times, where etiquette and grace were not necessary nor needed in an area where rogues, flash floods, and the heat existed. Some Jewish women began to drop their traditional roles as mothers and wives to become doctors, nurses, teachers, even lawyers and active members in the community to better help the growing communities. In this paper, I plan to introduce my theory that the changes that led to the trailblazing of America also led to the trailblazing of the Jewish women, and I am using specific examples of local Jewish women of Tucson and Nogales, Arizona to show that the destruction and reconstruction of the ideal Jewish woman occurred during this dramatic time of mass migration, pioneerism and growth of America herself.

The new times called for changes, and these changes were evident in the Jewish women's increasing involvement in their communities.

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Traditionally, these women were expected to marry, have as many children as possible, and be a good wife. Sandra Butler, a little known Jewish woman revolutionary of her time, reflects in her account that she contributed to a collection of essays and autobiographies (Celebrating the Lives of Jewish Women: Patterns in a Feminist Sampler) her own experiences with the changing of times:

By the time I was thirteen, I knew that there were generic girl rules that had to be followed . . .

Let the boy take the lead . . . Be smart, get good report cards, but don’t be smarter than the boys . . .

I followed the rules carefully. Married well. I became the mother of two daughters . . .

I was divorced in 1963, the first in my family and in the lives of everyone we knew. It was a shanda [scandal] and my family was terribly angry and ashamed. I had failed in my attempts to be a successful adult woman.(4)

Pressures of maintaining the traditional rules of a Jewish woman was enforced in Butler's home, and when she realized later that there was something more than to her marriage and her children, all those rules shattered. The ideal "successful adult woman" at the time was a woman who took care of the domestic businesses and who was docile and loyal to her marriage and her family; however, Butler was a revolutionary of her era, who broke the traditional rules as a Jewish house wife. She became much more than a mother or wife, and with her sacrifices and rejection of the traditional roles of a Jewish woman, came the pain of her own rejection of her family and loved ones. Butler, however, knew that there was something more to the woman, something different that her maternal ancestors had never experienced, much less given the opportunity:

I was restless and eager to participate in the world exploding around me. It was a time of the civil rights struggles . . . I got a job . . . and I threw myself into the passions of American life.

I demonstrated. I attended meetings . . . I was faced with questions about what it meant to be a Jew.

No longer the Jewish wife and mother I had been trained to be, I was becoming another kind of Jew . . . I was becoming the Jew my parents feared.(5)

Butler was redefining herself, her life, her roles as a Jewish women, and she openly recognized this. Such a change could not be met without much opposition: imagine this radical change from an ideal of a meek, docile housewife that bore children and the household chores to a revolutionary who is fighting for rights never given to the women before. Obviously, the previous generations could not let go of their traditional ideal, which was drilled over and over again to them and then to their children. Butler was redefining herself, her life, her roles as a Jewish women, and she openly recognized this, but her revolutionary stand on women’s roles were challenged even by her own family.

In the Old World, for example: Europe, most of the continent was already well established, thus there was no true excitement or need to explore. However, with the new American atmosphere of pioneering into the wild unknown, where a newfound passion and excitement of moving west, allowed women freedoms that was never before experienced. Women found that they were depended on to help build the fledgling communities, giving them new powers and a new, different status in society as founding figures, and it was hard for the older generations to accept this change that their daughters and wives had begun to accept. William Toll, the author of the essay "Jewish Women, Domestic Ideologies, and the Creation of a Public Space, tries to explain how these women were given such opportunities:

In the late 19th century . . . American women emerged from the confines of their homes . . . which had sustained them to develop new public voices. As electricity and indoor plumbing allowed refrigerators and washing machines to complement servants . . .
women were gradually freed from the . . . drudgeries of housework. In addition, a new sense of choice led women to postpone marriage . . . have far fewer children . . . in many cases not marry at all. With larger portions of their lives free to devote to themselves, women could . . . cultivate their own interests . . . inadequate public services and incompetent male political leadership led some women to seek a more public expression of their nurturing interests.(6)

Toll suggests that increasing readily available technology allowed women more time to do other things besides housework and child rearing. There was more opportunities to do much more than the chores and even more time to do these new found hobbies or interests. With this new found taste of freedom, women began to explore and seek out more freedoms, which eventually led to their involvement in their communities. In the Southern Arizona territory, although much of that technology was still rare to come by to many of the early inhabitants, many women found that in the new fledgling of an area, all were relied upon to do something for the community in order to have a solid foundation. In place of technology, these early Jewish women in the Southern Arizona area had Mexican helpers that helped free up the Jewish woman's time. Instead of the woman washing the clothing, cooking or watching the children, she may have a Mexican hired help to do such work. As the communities grew, and combined with hired help of the Mexican women (and men) and more readily available technology, many of the Jewish women found it possible to involve themselves in a lot more than housework. Although many of these women were not as revolutionary as Butler, who abandoned the traditional role of the Jewish woman altogether, they still redefined the traditional roles within a more domestic setting.

The "Angel of Tucson," Therese Ferrin, has very little written or recorded about her, except for the fact that Ferrin worked as a nurse for an Arizona doctor and had an extensive knowledge of herbal and other natural remedies.(7) However, this "Angel of Tucson" is just one of the examples of a revolutionary woman redefining the traditional roles of the Jewish woman. I had the pleasure of interviewing her grandson, Theodore Bloom, who gave more insight of this amazing woman's life. Therese Marx met Joseph Ferrin, and they married in a Russian-Polish synagogue in San Francisco, California. By train, they traveled to Yuma, Arizona, then by stagecoach, to Tucson, which took one week to complete this journey. Within the first five years of their marriage, the couple had three children: Hattie, Clara, and Arthur. However, this information is readily available in most of the books I have read about Ferrin. What is little known about her is Therese, with the knowledge of the herbal medicine she had brought with her from Europe, used her skills to create cures. Her natural remedies "rarely failed"(8) which helped her earn the name "Angel of Tucson." With what she had, Therese redefined the role of a Jewish woman, making herself the healer of the community. In addition to her household duties, Ferrin was heavily involved in her society, as well as being the community's apothecary. Therese Ferrin also had the honor to keep the Torah in her home for almost twenty years until the Temple Emanu-El was built. In fact, Therese, with her daughter, Clara, helped collect money to build this first Temple in the Arizona territory, located on Stone street in Tucson, Arizona; a total of $8000 was raised in their effort. Ferrin worked hard to raise enough money to build the Temple, another example of a Jewish woman redefining the roles of a traditional Jewish woman; this woman plunged herself by helping to better her community. Therese was able to witness the laying of the first stone of the Temple on March 20, 1910, but she passed on before the first sermon could be preached. Other great achievements of the "Angel of Tucson" included her founding of the Tucson Benevolent Society in 1887, as well as her presidency over the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent society in 1890.

During Ferrin's time, when the excitement of pioneering was beginning to wear off, many of the Jewish women were found deeply involved in the building of their societal and religious communities. Even though Therese Ferrin was not as radical as Butler and other revolutionary Jewish women, her participation in the community still proves that she had redefined the roles of Jewish women. This could not have been possible if not for the growing community's heavy dependency on her, as well as other Jewish women's, support and involvement to build a solid
societal foundation.(9)

Clara Bloom, Therese Ferrin's daughter, also had a great impact with her involvement in the Tucson community. It seems to be the case that the offspring of the pioneer women had ben accustomed to the harsh life of the Southern Arizona territory, and, naturally, growing up in a community where their mothers had helped raise and support, the new generation of Jewish wmen also were involved in the community:

With the maturity of the children of the immigrants . . . women’s sphere
changed dramatically until it became the source of civic innovation within
the Jewish community. Indeed, to understand the new social concerns
of the community one must begin with the roles of women, which were
given focus by a new institution initiated nationally [Council of Jewish

Clara Bloom seems to be almost the poster child of what Toll had suggested; her involvement of the community helped further redefine the role of the traditional Jewish woman as a Jewish woman whose involvement and contributions was the source of the community. Ted Bloom also shared some history of his mother in the interview. As before said, Clara Bloom helped raise the money to build the first Temple in the Arizona territory. But this woman was also involved in much more. She graduated from the University of Arizona, the only girl in a class of 3 in 1901. She was involved in the Teacher's Honorary of the University of Arizona, as well as the Red Coss, the Tucson Symphony Association, Phi-Kappa-Phi (where she one of the charter mmbers), National Council of Jewish Women, the Tucson Festival Society, and about fifty other organizations. Clara was very involved as an alumni, which she attended every meeting. She was fluent in Spanish and taught the language to many people, as well as teaching at the Safford Elementary School for 12 years.

Clara Bloom's participation helped shape and refine the community of which she was raised in. She had changed the way a traditional ideal Jewish woman should be: now, with her modifications of her own mother's redefinition, a Jewish woman's involvement in the community was essential for the survival and the betterment of society. Her impact in the Tucson community is very evident even today. Bloom's exemplary participation in the educational system earned her the honor of having the Clara Ferrin Bloom Elementary school named after her; however, she died a few weeks before the dedication. Just like her mother, Clara Bloom was very involved in the Tucson community from a non-radical stance. However, her involvement of her community had a large impact that cannot be ignored or denied. Bloom had also redefined the roles of the Jewish women, just as her mother did before her, and this opportunity would have been almost impossible without the dependency of the growing town or the freedom from being the docile housewife.(11)

There were many other Jewish women of the Southern Arizona area that were heavily involved in their communities; each helped redefine the role of the traditional Jewish women, as well as Esther Capin. Like Therese Ferrin and Clara Bloom, Capin also participated in many activities and projects in Nogales and Tucson, Arizona. Although Esther was not born or raised in the Arizona community, she has lived in Arizona for over forty years, but during those years, she has been greatly involved in the educational system of Tucson, Arizona. This was said of her in an article found on the Bloom Southwest Archives:

Her [Esther Capin] long-standing activities and involvement with her
community and her Temple are reflective of her commitment to both.
She represents the values that all of us with commitments for the
improvement and betterment of our community should espouse and

In her lifetime, Capin has accomplished much; she graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Counseling and Guidance.(13) Capin seemed to be involved in many activities that focused on health and educational issues, which has thoroughly impacted “the local and state wide community”(14) However, the most noteworthy accomplishment include Capin as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents since 1978, serving as President in 1982.(15)

As a Jewish woman, Esther Capin was like a revolutionary, becoming involved much more deeply than most of the past Jewish generations would approve of. Her concentration and commitment on the educational system further developed the growing Southern Arizona communities. Capin was just one of the many women trailblazers of these societies; her accomplishments and participation also provided for an entirely different model Jewish woman from what the preceding generations had embraced. Like Clara Bloom, as an educator and a political figure, Capin used her education and her knowledge to help better her community that depended on her for such improvement and refinement.

These women of the Southern Arizona territory were given a rare opportunity to be involved in the creation of their religious and social communities. They did not waste the precious time given to them, hoping to affect the lives of the citizens in a positive way. In this essay, I explored the source of which many of these Jewish women had found their new freedoms; because of the new American atmostphere of pioneering into the great unknown and the excitement of establishing a new community, such Jewish women like Therese Ferrin found an opportunity to utilize her skills and interests upon the young growing community. The following generation, like Clara Bloom and Esther Capin, who were born and raised into these societies, was accustomed to such conditions, and in a sense, they built upon their mothers' accomplishments by continuing to reconstruct the ideal Jewish woman, who was deeply involved in the communities of which they hailed. Though they did not expect nor achieve a radical revolution of their rights as Sandra Butler had hoped to achieve, these revolutionary women like Therese Ferrin, Clara Bloom, Esther Capin, and many others still redefined the deeply rooted ideal of the domestic Jewish woman the previous generations had envisioned, and their influences helped shaped the communities of which we see in present day Southern Arizona.

1 “Hyman Capin and the Capin Mercantile Corporation.” The Leona G. and David A. Bloom
Southwest Jewish Archives. Online. Internet. Available

2 Bloom, Theodore. Personal interview. March 22, 1999

3 Shepard, Naomi. A Price Below Rubies: Jewish Women as Rebels and Radicals.
Weidenfield & Nicolson. London: Orion House, 1993. 291.

4 Butler, Sandra. “Backwards and Forwards in America.” Celebrating the Lives of Jewish
Women: Patterns in a Feminist Sampler. Ed. Rachel Josefowitz Siegal, MSW and Ellen
Cole, Ph.D.. New York: Hawthorn Press, 1997. 50.

5 Butler, Sandra. “Backwards and Forwards in America.” Celebrating the Lives of Jewish
Women: Patterns in a Feminist Sampler. Ed. Rachel Josefowitz Siegal, MSW and Ellen
Cole, PhD. New York: Hawthorn Press, 1997. 50.

6 Toll, William. “Jewish Women, Domestic Ideologies, and the Creation of a Public
Space.” Women, Men and Ethnicity: Essays on the Structure and Thought of American
Jewry. Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1991. 45.

7 Rochlin, Harriet and Fred. Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West. Houghton
Mifflin company: Boston, 1984. 100.

8 Bloom, Theodore. Personal interview. March 22, 1999

9 Bloom, Theodore. Personal interview. March 22, 1999

10 Toll, William. “Judaism as a Civic Religion in the American West.” Women, Men and
Ethnicity: Essays on the Structure and Thought of American Jewry. Maryland:
University Press of American, Inc., 1991. 9.

11 Bloom, Theodore. Personal interview. March 22, 1999.

12 “Esther Capin: An Exhibition of Her Life and Contributions.” The Leona G. and David
A. Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives. Online. Internet. Available

13 “Esther Capin: An Exhibition of Her Life and Contributions.” The Leona G. and David
A. Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives. Online. Internet. Available

14 Same as 13

15 Same as 13

Works Cited:

Bloom, Theodore. Personal interview. March 22, 1999.

Butler, Sandra. “Backwards and Forwards in America.” Celebrating the Lives of Jewish Women:Patterns in a Feminist Sampler. Ed. Rachel Josefowitz Siegal, MSW and Ellen Cole, Ph.D.. New York: Hawthorn Press. 1997.

“Esther Capin: An Exhibition of Her Life and Contributions.” The Leona G. and David A. Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives. Online. Internet. Available

“Hyman Capin and the Capin Mercantile Corporation.” The Leona G. and David A. Bloom Southwest Jewish Archives. Online. Internet. Available

Rochlin, Harriet and Fred. Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston, 1984.

Shepard, Naomi. A Price Below Rubies: Jewish Women as Rebels and Radicals. Weidenfield & Nicolson. London: Orion House, 1993. 291.

Toll, William. “Jewish Women, Domestic Ideologies, and the Creation of a Public Space.” Women, Men and Ethnicity: Essays on the Structure and Thought of American Jewry. Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1991.

Toll, William .“Judaism as a Civic Religion in the American West.” Women, Men and Ethnicity: Essays on the Structure and Thought of American Jewry. Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 1991.
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