RS Suffrage Project: Meet Caroline Katzenstein
By Ellen Poster, RS Suffrage Project Member
One year ago, Rabbi Maderer suggested the creation of an RS Suffrage Project to celebrate the centennial of the August 18, 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, giving women the right to vote. While the members of the Suffrage Project looked forward to highlighting the Jewish women suffragists of Philadelphia, our earliest research suggested that the Jewish women of Philadelphia in the years leading up to 1920 were not particularly focused on suffrage. Some resources pointed to threads of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant feeling running through the Suffrage movement as reasons that the Jewish women of Philadelphia chose to focus their energies more on improving the lives of immigrants, young people, and the poor instead of securing women the right to vote.
After a year of work, we are thrilled that our independent research has yielded a profoundly different result! While our Jewish sisters in Philadelphia were committed to social justice, they were also heroic, committed suffragists. We are currently preparing a suffrage timeline of events from local to international and biographies of ten Philadelphia Jewish suffragists, whom Julie Williams has dubbed “The Minyan,” and shorter biographies of even more. We have written the stories of some of these women in the last few issues of the Bulletin. Julie wrote about Olga Gross and Bertha Sapovits, and Paula Fuchsberg wrote about Jennie Dornblum. While Paula learned about Jennie through a request for information she placed in the Bulletin, Julie began her research by reviewing the papers of Caroline Katzenstein, a Jewish suffragist of Philadelphia who fought the battle for the right to vote from 1910 to 1920, working closely with Alice Paul and other national suffrage leaders. Alice wrote the forward to Caroline’s book, Lifting the Curtain; the State and National Woman Suffrage Campaigns in Pennsylvania as I Saw Them, which includes a detailed description of the efforts of Philadelphia suffragists, listing many of them by name. Caroline’s papers stored at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania had even more lists of women involved in the suffrage movement.
Julie recognized that many of these women could have been Jewish, and our research began to bear fruit as we discovered that indeed many of them were Jewish, and they ran the gamut from working-class to upper middle- class women, both uneducated and college graduates, immigrant and American by birth. What these women had in common was a devotion to the cause of suffrage, which remains an inspiration for us today as the uncompromised right to vote is central to our democracy.
David J. Galter, editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent from 1933-1953, wrote an article for The American Jewish Chronicle about Caroline Katzenstein in 1916, which he began by saying, “Some day when the story is written of the struggle of the women of the Keystone State for their enfranchisement, due credit will be given to her who has done more for that cause than all her Jewish sisters in the state, and almost as much as the most active among the non- Jewish workers – to Miss Caroline Katzenstein…”
Caroline was born in Warrington, North Carolina in 1876, although later census records indicate that she chose to give her date of birth as 1888. As we started to learn more about Caroline, our first line of inquiry was to verify that she was indeed Jewish, as she was very reticent about her personal life in any of her writings. Ultimately, we found the David Galter article and the October 26, 1906 obituary of Caroline’s father, Emil Katzenstein, written by his friend and published in The Warren Record, the Warrington, North Carolina newspaper, which verify that Caroline was indeed Jewish. The obituary states that Emil had gone to Philadelphia for treatment and died at the University Hospital on October 17, 1906. The funeral service was conducted by Rabbi Marvin Nathan, who had become the rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in 1905. Emil’s wife was Miss Sophia Massman of Philadelphia. She and their four daughters returned to live in Philadelphia after Emil’s death.
Shortly after her arrival in Philadelphia, Caroline became deeply involved in the suffrage movement. The history of her personal involvement is the history of the growth of the suffrage movement. Caroline was the Executive Secretary of the Pennsylvania branch of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) and then of the NAWSA Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1910- 1914. NAWSA sought to achieve suffrage by securing suffrage amendments in each state. She was also a member of the NAWSA Membership Committee for two years beginning in 1911. In 1914, Caroline spoke on suffrage in Philadelphia to the Keneseth Israel Sisterhood.
In 1913, Alice Paul came to Philadelphia to introduce the more aggressive tactics of civil disobedience, imprisonment, and hunger strikes she had learned from the suffragist fight in England. Alice set up a soap box on Kensington Avenue and gave an impassioned speech about the need for women to have the vote while Caroline handed out pamphlets to the crowd. In that year, Alice founded the Congressional Union (later named the National Woman’s Party) which was focused on a national constitutional amendment and employed the combative techniques Alice supported. Since Caroline was involved in both the less militant NAWSA and Alice Paul’s Congressional Union, she sought, unsuccessfully, to find common ground between the two groups. She subsequently became the Executive Secretary of the Equal Franchise Society of Philadelphia and saw the suffrage amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution go down to defeat.
In 1916, she traveled with a group of suffragists to the western states where women already had the right to vote to seek their participation in a conference in Chicago to form the National Woman’s Party. From 1916 to1920, Caroline acted as Executive Secretary of the Pennsylvania Branch of the National Woman’s Party.
After the 19th Amendment was passed, Caroline continued her life of leadership and service. She actively campaigned for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment from 1923-1965 and supported the Women Teachers Organization of Philadelphia intheir fight for increased salaries for female teachers. This remarkable woman also was an extremely successful insurance agent for several companies from 1909 to 1960. In November 1922, she won the Philadelphia Insurance Company’s “Leader of Leaders” award for the October 1922’s “greatest amount of paid- for business,” the first woman to win this award. Finally, she fought for women’s rights internationally as a representative with Alice Paul in the World Woman’s Party.
We have a 1922 photo of Charlotte Peirce, the last survivor of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, perhaps the first women’s rights convention, which included the right to vote as one of its goals. Charlotte was the only Seneca Falls participant that lived to cast a vote. In the photo, Charlotte, who had delegated Caroline Katzenstein to represent her at the dedication of the National Woman’s Party in Washington D.C. on May 21, 1922, passes a trowel to Caroline to be used at the dedication.
The Suffrage Project seeks to pass on the story of Caroline and the other brave Jewish women suffragists of Philadelphia to RS and beyond. As Alice Paul wrote in her forward to Caroline Katzenstein’s book Lifting the Curtain, “It is right that the memories of these gallant leaders [Jewish and not Jewish] should be honored and that the women of today should recognize and appreciate their heritage.”