PIONEER WOMEN, international labor Zionist women's organization, known since 1981 as Na'amat. Founded in New York City in 1925, Pioneer Women appealed to idealistic and politically committed women who were part of the eastern European immigrant generation. The organization provided social welfare services for women, young people, and children in Palestine, helped new immigrants become productive citizens there, and encouraged U.S. Jewish women to take a more active part in Jewish community life and U.S. civic affairs. Although its business was originally largely conducted in Yiddish, the organization gradually shifted to English as it became increasingly acculturated to the U.S. scene. By 1936 it had chapters in 60 U.S. cities, with 10,000 members.
After World War II Pioneer Women broadened its field of endeavors, while at the same time moderating its original socialist and feminist ideology; nevertheless, it continued to cooperate with progressive and labor groups on behalf of liberal causes. In cooperation with its sister Israel organization, Mo'ezet ha-Po'alot, Pioneer Women maintained a large network of welfare and cultural projects in Israel. Pioneer Women also stimulated the formation of sister organizations in other countries. The World Union of Pioneer Women's Organizations, which was formed in Tel Aviv in 1964, had member sisterhoods in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, Great Britain, Belgium, and Australia. The total world membership of Pioneer Women in 1970 was 150,000.
In later decades, Na'amat/Pioneer Women gradually lost many of its distinctive features, as most of its functions and goals were adopted by mainstream American Jewish groups and institutions. By 2005, U.S. membership in Na'amat had declined to approximately 25,000 from a peak of 50,000 in 1970. In the United States, Na'amat continues to conduct Jewish educational and cultural activities, publishes a quarterly journal, Na'amat Woman, and supports youth work through the *Habonim labor Zionist youth movement, founded in 1935. Habonim sustains a network of coeducational year-round activities and summer camps and serves as a training ground for many future leaders of American labor Zionism.
M. Raider, "Pioneer Women," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore, Jewish Women in America, vol. 2 (1997), 1071–77.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.