Progressive Era

Although certainly not an activist in any political movement, including woman suffrage, Bessie’s deeply-held beliefs that one must care for those less fortunate mirrored the Progressive Era of her time.

Her concern for a poverty-stricken woman living in a wretched tenement to inviting a large family to Passover dinner because the father had recently died and left a widow with little means reflected what more famous reformers and social activists were doing at the same time, albeit on a larger scale.

The Progressive era, in full swing in 1906, brought in sweeping social activism and political reform. Under President Theodore Roosevelt, reform-minded politicians and citizens would push to rid local politics of corruption and big business of monopolies. Settlement houses like Henry House in New York with its emphasis on health and sanitation to Hull House in Chicago with free kindergarten, recreation programs for children, and night classes for adults, would help the poor.

Social Reform:
Reform during this time included the establishment of settlement houses to help the poor. Henry House in New York emphasized health and sanitation. Hull House in Chicago offered free kindergarten, recreation programs for children, and night classes for adults. Immigrants would benefit from the services of these institutions.

Economic Reform:
Major economic reforms included the Sherman Antitrust Act to prevent a few large companies from controlling the economy,  a conservation movement, and food and drug laws to protect people from contaminated food and unsafe drugs.

Union Activism:
Unions and their members would voice their concern and demonstrate for improving the lives of all citizens. As the Jewish immigrants discovered the low wages, long hours, the horrors of child labor, and the dreadful working conditions, some would become active in the rising labor movement. Woman Suffrage and Prohibition would both become law in 1920.

By the 1920s even women’s fashion had changed drastically. Bessie arrived in America wearing a modest, if cumbersome, floor-length, full-skirted dress with a high neck and long sleeves. Almost overnight, young daring women would begin wearing dresses with lower necklines, shorter skirts and no sleeves. By the 1930s more conservative women like Bessie would wear short-sleeved cotton housedresses falling a couple inches below the knee. An apron kept splatters from soiling a clean dress.

Baseball, radio and movies, unheard of in Eastern Europe, became popular pastimes in all but the most religious households. Instead of the often gender-segregated exuberant dancing in the “Old Country,” young people scandalized their grandparents by dancing with their arms around each other.