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Monday, July 11, 2005

Heroine of the Day

Today's heroine of the day is Maud Nathan. She was an outspoken suffragette and an advocate for better working conditions for women. Nathan was born in 1862, in New York City, to a distinguished Orthodox Sephardic family. Two of her most famous first cousins were the poet Emma Lazarus, and Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo. She first became involved in social causes when she began teaching English to Jewish immigrants as a member of the board of directors of the Hebrew Free School Association. Through her association with that and other charitable causes, she became interested in helping to improve the working conditions of working Jewish women, and by extension, all working women in New York. In 1890 with other women, she formed the Consumers' League of New York. In her capacity as President of the League, Nathan investigated the conditions under which women worked in stores, and found them to be deplorable. Women were working for miserable wages, under filthy conditions, with rampant sexual harassment and exploitation. Nathan, working with the League, publicized these terrible conditions and the names of the stores that were the worst offenders. They also created a "white list" which named the stores and factories that met the league standards for wages and conditions and urged the public to patronize those stores.
Through her lobbying in Albany for better working conditions for women, she realized that all her work would be in vain unless women were able to vote and exercise power over the legislature. She joined the Equal Suffrage League of New York, and began to devote more and more time to helping women obtain the right to vote. She spoke eloquently in favor of a woman's right to vote, so much so that President Woodrow Wilson, who obviously was less progressive than his reputation suggests, noted after hearing her, "When I hear a woman talk so well in the public interest, it almost makes me believe in woman suffrage."
Nathan was close to sixty when the amendment giving American women the right to vote was ratified. She played no small part in it's passing.
She also dedicated her time to fighting anti-semitism, and spoke out publicly against "Proprietors of fashionable resort hotels and of New York apartment houses [that] frankly advertise that they exclude all Jewish patrons".
Maud Nathan died in 1946 at the age of eighty-four. She had dedicated her life to the social causes of all American Women.

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