In the early twentieth century, one of the critical political battles was the fight for women’s right to vote. Among the suffragist organizations of Great Britain, there arose a unique organization known as The Jewish League for Woman Suffrage (JLWS).

Founded on November 3, 1912, by a group of women already active within the Jewish community, the JLWS had two primary goals: earning the right to vote nationally and earning the right to vote in their own synagogues.

At the time of the British suffragist movement, it was natural for Jewish women to have a separate organization, as there were still many class and cultural divisions within British society.

One reason that the JLWS was accepted among the British suffragists was due to the women at its helm: Lily Montagu, Edith Zangwill (and her husband, Israel Zangwill), Inez Bensusan, Hennrietta Franklin, etc. In addition to their already existing community involvement, these women were all respected members of upper-middle-class society. (Working class women were too afraid of how such activism might affect them.)

The JLWS secured its place in Jewish history through its campaign to gain women greater rights in the synagogue. From 1913 until the beginning of World War I, a more militant group within the JLWS became known for disrupting Shabbat services in order to draw attention to their cause. Although the United Synagogue (the umbrella organization for British synagogues) did not grant women synagogue voting privileges, they did have success winning voting rights in several individual synagogues.

Following the First World War, the Representation of the People Act 1918 granted women over 30 the right to vote. Without this distinctive need, the JLWS became obsolete. The struggle for women’s rights in synagogue administration did not, however, become obsolete, but was taken up by the Union of Jewish Women.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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