Word Clouding: Immigrant Jewish Female Settlers
Assumptions are the enemies of historians. Well, at least, this historian. I had hoped that the topic modeling for immigrant female Jewish settlers would be gendered in a way that would provide stark contrast to their male counterparts. You know that old dichotomy—masculine vs. feminine. Even though I often write against such tropes, I nevertheless had thought that these stark contrasts would provide a rich and fertile discussion about gender on the frontier. These hopes, however, were dashed.
As I looked at the word clouds, I found that, like much their male counterparts, female Jewish immigrants looked to and remembered their time in the Dakotas in terms of two key topics: family and the home. For many of these Jewish women, life on the Dakotas was much different than it was in Russia. Back in the mother country, Jewish women were, by and large, the economic breadwinners while their husbands went to Yeshiva. This was not always the case, as some, like the Losk family were upper middle class business owners and the duties of the wives were like much like their Western European coreligionists. Families like the Losks were the exception and not the rule. Many of those families who immigrated were poor and from shtetls. Jewish women living in the Dakotas mirrored the lives of many immigrant women. They worked in the fields, raised children, and if they lived in larger cities, kept a house while the husband worked.
The word clouds do tell a gendered story. Traditionally, women both transmitted Jewish culture to their children and in inter-religious marriages, it was women who determined if the offspring were considered halachically (by Jewish law) Jewish. One can see across the five various word clouds that for these women, religion was a primary concern. These concerns also mirror the rise of a stable Jewish life in the Dakotas as well. Initially, no temples existed, and Jewish settlers held religious services in homes or rented churches. Their concern to reconstruct and ensure that Jewish life would continue for their children might be one explanation for this.