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Dora Askowith

(1884 - 1958)

ASKOWITH, DORA (1884–1958), U.S. scholar and college educator. Born in Kovno, Russia, in 1884, Askowith was brought to America that same year. After earning a B.A. at Barnard College in 1908, she entered Columbia University, where, in 1915, she earned her Ph.D. for her first book, The Toleration and Persecution of the Jews in the Roman Empire: Part I: The Toleration of the Jews Under Julius Caesar and Augustus. As the title suggests, Jewish history was and would remain her abiding passion, and she continued her studies at the American School for Oriental Research in Jerusalem, the American Academy in Rome, and New York's Jewish Institute of Religion.

Beginning in 1912 and continuing until 1957, just a year before her death, Askowith taught generations of New York's Hunter College female students ancient, medieval, and Renaissance history as well as comparative religion. In 1912, she founded the school's Menorah Society, a Jewish student organization. Askowith, who spent much of her career teaching in the college's evening and extension division, never acquired the regular faculty appointment she so desired. Nevertheless, she continued throughout her life to publish, writing more than a hundred articles on history, biography, and contemporary Jewish affairs. Her second book, Three Outstanding Women (1941), celebrated the achievements of the Zionist philanthropist Mary Fels, Jewish communal activist Rebekah Kohut, and Barnard College founder Annie Nathan *Meyer .

Askowith's interests in the Jewish people extended from the past to the present. A committed Zionist, she sat on Hadassah's Central Committee in its early years. She became national director of the Women's Organization for the American Jewish Congress in 1917. Her pamphlet A Call to the Jewish Women of America (c. 1917), urging America's Jewish women to turn out to vote for the Congress, revealed her fascination with Jewish women's history, a topic which surfaced in other of her writings and in her work with the Menorah Society. Askowith herself earned a place in that history when she tried, but failed, to be admitted as a regular student in the rabbinical program at the Jewish Institute of Religion in the 1930s.


A.S. Miller, "Dora Askowith," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia., vol. 1 (1997), 81–82; P.S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination (1998), 76–80, 106–8.

[Pamela S. Nadell (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.