Biographical Sketch of Rachel Szold Jastrow

Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920

Biography of Rachel Szold Jastrow, 1865-1926

 

Photograph: Rachel Jastrow, Wisconsin Historical Society.

By Nerissa Nelson, Librarian, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Rachel Szold was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1865. She came from a large family of eight siblings, three of whom died as infants. Her father, Benjamin Szold, was a well-regarded rabbi and scholar at the Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore where he lived for many years with his wife, Sophie Szold (Schaar), and their children.

In 1888, shortly after graduating from Baltimore Western Female High School, Rachel Szold married Joseph Jastrow, a psychology student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Joseph Jastrow's father, Marcus Jastrow, was good friends with Rabbi Szold, and Joseph roomed with the Szold family while studying at the University. Later that same year, Joseph Jastrow received a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in experimental psychology. His post became the foundation of what is now the psychology department at the University. The Jastrows moved to Madison when Rachel was 21 years old. Their first residence was a small two-room space in the Ladies' Hall dormitory.

Rachel Jastrow became active in Madison immediately upon arrival. She enrolled in classes at the University and joined organizations, including the Madison German Society. Because the Jastrows believed that science should not be contained to the “ivory tower,” Rachel began hosting her husband's students in their home for more casual conversations. As their gatherings grew, the Jastrows' small living quarters became a challenge (as did making chicken salad for 90, which Jastrow described in a letter to her mother), and a move to a larger house became necessary. While her hosting increased in their new home on East Wilson Street in Madison, so did Rachel Jastrow's involvement in other local organizations, such as the Women's Club, the Civics Club, and, much later, the League of Women Voters.

Jastrow's work in these organizations coincided with the 1890 state-by-state campaign of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) advocating voting rights for women, a cause that she strongly identified with. Soon, Jastrow became one of the leaders of the suffrage movement in Madison. She acted as liaison to the state legislature for the Wisconsin Woman Suffrage Association (WWSA). As a spokesperson, Rachel Jastrow also addressed the public by delivering speeches from an open vehicle with a “Votes for Women” banner hanging from the back. In 1930, Jastrow's name was one of fifteen included on a bronze plaque at the Washington offices of the League of Women Voters; those included were the women acknowledged as the most active in the ratification of suffrage in Wisconsin.

In 1892, the Jastrows purchased a plot of land on Langdon Street and built a larger home to fulfill Joseph's ambitions to improve the couple's social status. Two years later, overwhelmed by his demanding job and the stress of paying for the house with too small a salary, Joseph suffered a breakdown. Luckily, the University granted him a leave of absence with pay for one year, after which he resumed his teaching duties.

In 1895, Rachel Jastrow became president of the Madison Woman's Club. In 1897, she was asked by the Madison Literary Club to present a paper on Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi and the intellectual development Jews in Spain. Although nervous, Jastrow took the opportunity to conduct in-depth research with the help of her father and her older sister, Henrietta. Henrietta Szold was a Zionist and founder of Hadassah, a national Jewish women's organization. Subsequently, Jastrow started a Madison chapter of Hadassah which is still active today. She was also instrumental in the establishment of one of Madison's first synagogues.

The Jastrows were also art aficionados and in early 1896, Rachel Jastrow organized an Art Loan Exhibit to promote the appreciation of art among Madisonians. This exhibit formed the foundation of an Art Association created in 1901, of which her husband served as president.

Jastrow also created a hospital association that eventually became the first hospital built in the city, Madison General Hospital. She volunteered at the hospital after its creation and during the influenza epidemic of 1918. Not having children of their own, the Jastrows adopted a boy named Benno, who had been orphaned during this health crisis.

While little is written about her accomplishments as an author, Jastrow was also active in scholarship and translated two works: The Individualization of Punishment, translated from the second French edition in 1911, and The World's Legal Philosophies, translated from German in 1912.

Rachel Szold Jastrow died in 1926 after a long illness.

SOURCES:

Joseph Jastrow Papers, 1883-1942. Wisconsin Historical Society.

“Jastrow, Rachel Szold.” Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and Canada, 1914-1915, edited by John William Leonard, American Commonwealth Company, 1914. [LINK]

Kohler, Ruth De Young. The Story of Wisconsin Women. Kohler, WI: The Committee on Wisconsin Women for the 1948 Wisconsin Centennial, 1948, p. 65.

Levin, Alexandra Lee. “The Jastrows in Madison: A Chronicle of University Life, 1888-1900.” Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 46, 1962/63, pp. 243-56.

McBride, Genevieve G. On Wisconsin Women: Working for their Rights from Settlement to Suffrage. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993, p. 245.

“Mrs. Joseph Jastrow, Wife of Professor, Dies in Baltimore.” The Wisconsin State Journal, 13 September 1926, p. 1.

“Rachel Jastrow.” Jewish Federation of Madison, 3 May 2018, https://www.jewishmadison.org/community-directory/hadassah.

White, Sarah. Madison Women Remember: Growing up in Wisconsin's Capital. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub, 2006.

“Wisconsin's Contribution to Suffrage: Mrs. Rachel Jastrow.” The Capital Times, 6 April 6 1930, p. 18.

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