Dianne Ashton received her PhD in Religion at Temple University in 1986 and works in the area of Jewish women's history.
Dianne Ashton researches women in Judaism, especially American Judaism. She is trying to move the field of American Jewish history to have a broader understanding of the importance of women's history, because the American Jewish experience cannot be understood without gender analysis, without exploring women's history.
She is especially interested in 19th century America, the era in which Jews were optimistic about American freedoms and scattered through the population, even though the largest centers of Jewish population were New York, Philadelphia, and variously, Charleston, Cincinnati, and Baltimore. They also settled throughout the West and even the South in small towns. The 1880-1924 influx of East European immigrants, from whom most Ameircan Jews are descended, created large ethnic Jewish enclaves that really were quite a new thing in America. Three or four generations later, the intermarriage rate, dispersal throughout the country, and general comfort with American life looks to Ashton more like the pre-1880 condition than anything else. So we still have much to learn from studying 19th century Jewish life -- especially if we do it with gender as a key factor in our analyses.
Ashton's recent book on Rebecca Gratz presents the life of one of the most influential Jewish women in America during the 19th century. Gratz began the first Jewish Sunday School, the first independant Jewish women's association, the first Jewish foster home in the U.S., and was well-known around the country.
Rebecca Gratz: Women and Judaism in Antebellum America.Wayne State University Press, 1998.
Jewish Life in Pennsylvania.Pennsylvania History Association, 1997.
Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality: A Sourcebook. (Co-edited with Ellen M. Umansky) Beacon Press, 1992.
"Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics and Womanhood Among Jewish Women During the Civil War." (forthcoming).
"Grace Aguilar and the Matriarchal Theme in Jewish Women's Spirituality," in Active Voices: Women in Jewish Culture.Maurie Sacks, ed. (University of Illinois Press, 1995).
"Crossing Boundaries: The Career of Mary M. Cohen."American Jewish History83 (June 1995): 153-177.
"Souls Have No Sex: Philadelphia Jewish Women and the American Challenge," in When Philadelphia Was the Capital of Jewish America.Murray Friedman, ed. (Association of University Presses, 1993).
"The Feminization of Jewish Education."Transformations3 (Fall 1992): 15-23.
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