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The Nathan Sisters

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The Suffragist Movement of the early twentieth century was a political cause about which many people felt strongly, either one way or the other. Maud Nathan and her sister Annie Nathan Meyer are excellent examples of this divide. Both exemplary women and activists, Maud was a leading suffragette, while Annie was known as an outspoken opponent.

The Nathan sisters were proud members of a Sephardic family whose American roots went back to 1730. Their brother was the acclaimed American poet Robert Nathan, and they were cousins of both Emma Lazarus (poet) and Benjamin Cardozo (Supreme Court Justice).

Maud Nathan’s (1862-1946) activist life began after the death of her only child, 8-year-old Annette. Josephine Shaw Lowell, a friend, encouraged her to involve herself with women’s labor rights. Together, they helped form the Consumer League of New York (1890). Through her work for women’s labor rights, she realized that nothing would change as long as women could not vote. Joining the Equal Suffrage League of New York, she became one of their most prominent speakers. Her husband, Fredrick Nathan, was an active supporter of suffragist rights.

Annie Nathan Meyer (1867-1951) was also a powerful activist for women’s rights whose course in life was influenced by the lack of stimulation she found when attending the Columbia College Collegiate Course for Women. Shortly after her marriage to Dr. Alfred Meyer in 1887, Annie began her campaign to create a women’s affiliate to Columbia. In October of 1889, Barnard College welcomed its first class. Annie was also a prolific writer who used her pen to fight against sexism and racism. She sponsored the enrollment and education of Zora Neal Hurston at Barnard in order to break the color barrier. Her opposition to the suffragist movement stemmed from her opposition to the idealized projected end results – that women voting would be the panacea to all the country’s ills.

March is Women’s History Month.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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