Literacy of Jewish women in the Old Country #general


David Laskin
 

Hello Genners,
I recently interviewed an elderly aunt who revealed, to my surprise,
that her mother -- my paternal grandmother -- was illiterate. My GM
was born in what is now Poland around 1890 and immigrated to the US in
1924. I found her on the 1930 census, which indicates that she could
read, so I am somewhat dubious about my aunt's assertion. I know that
Jewish girls in the Russian Pale did not receive as much education as
boys, but I had always assumed most (especially those >from middle
class families like my grandmother) were literate. I'd like to hear
what others have to say on this.

Thanks!

David Laskin, Seattle, WA


Joel Weintraub
 

The post on literacy of eastern European Jewish women raised several
questions/points of information for me.
1. In 1917 after repeated tries and over the veto of President Wilson, the
Congress passed a law requiring all immigrants 16 and over to show literacy.
That is, the ability to read with comprehension. Immigrants were given
cards in their "native" language (and also in English) with either a section
of the Bible to interpret or instructions (e.g. turn card over and place on
table) to test for this skill. Because Jews were often not well versed in
their "native" country's language, the test could prove difficult. Jewish
Groups in the U.S. pressured Congress to include as an acceptable "native"
language Hebrew and Yiddish, and those were added to the list of languages.
2. Because of the 1917 law, the ship manifests were changed. Since the
poster's relative came in 1924, he should check the manifest under column 8
where you will find whether the person declares the ability to read or
write. Between those two subcolumns is "read what language (or if exemption
claimed, on what ground)". Joining a close relative would be grounds for an
exemption. Previous to 1917 the manifest did ask about being able to read
or write, but there was no legal penalty for answering "no".
3. The poster indicated the 1930 U.S. Census showed the person able to "read
or write" which raises a question as to what language. Instructions for
U.S. Census enumerators at https://usa.ipums.org/usa/voliii/inst1930.shtml
answers my question and states "who can read and write in any language,
whether English or some other".
4. Finally, my grandmother who came over in 1908 >from the Ukraine, barely 14
years of age travelling alone (she lied she was 16, the legal age for minors
to travel alone), and shows on the manifest she could read and write.
However, that didn't mean she went to a number of years of school in the
Ukraine or was proficient in either skill. A taped interview with her
revealed that school in her Ukraine city was mainly for boys. Thus at the
age of 61 she enrolled in NYC for a special evening program for adults who
did not have an elementary education, and graduated with "honors" for
"excellence in attendance". One of her proudest achievements.
Joel Weintraub
Dana Point, CA


Felicity Bartak
 

It depends what is meant by 'literate.' While some girls may have
been less educated than boys, the common language was Yiddish and
written using Hebrew script. Those with higher education under Russian
rule, would have learnt to read and write in Cyrillic Russian too.
Neither script was the Latin script that we and other 'Western'
countries use. My grandmother, born in Odessa in 1881, migrated to
Palestine as a child, and read and wrote and spoke in Yiddish. After
marrying and moving on to Australia, her youngest child (my mother)
born in Melbourne, was embarrassed to have to write any necessary
notes to the teacher on behalf of her mother who never learnt to write
or read English. Of course such immigrants eventually learnt how to
sign their names in the accepted script. But they continued to write
to distant family in Yiddish, enjoy Yiddish theatre and cinema, and
read Yiddish literature and newspapers so were hardly 'illiterate'.

Felicity Bartak
katrab38@gmail.com
Melbourne
Australia

---
From: David Laskin <laskin.david@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2017 07:49:42 -0700

...I know that
Jewish girls in the Russian Pale did not receive as much education as
boys, but I had always assumed most (especially those >from middle
class families like my grandmother) were literate. I'd like to hear
what others have to say on this.