by Robin Beth Schaer

Clothing as a Measure of Assimilation

They threw their hand-made dresses and traditional head-coverings into the cold Atlantic as they left the European harbor headed for the United States. Adopting American clothing was often the first step in adjusting to a new homeland for the over one million Jewish women who emigrated from Eastern Europe to the United States around the turn of the century. The Chicago Historical Society museum exhibition, “Becoming American Women: Clothing and the Jewish Immigrant Experience, 1880-1920,” explores this change of clothes as a sign of a changing consciousness and analyzes its cultural, religious, and social implications. According to curator Barbara Schreier, “The exhibition uses clothing to study broader historical issues.” Schreier conducted a nationwide search and assembled close to 500 artifacts including clothing, photographs, letters and other belongings to help tell part of the history of American Jewish women.

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