Introduction: The United States as an ideal is a child of that revolution of Western society, the Enlightenment. Just as there was a discrepancy between Ideal and Real in defining black slaves as three-fifths a man at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, so too were Jews never fully accepted by law and society in all states until the late 19th century:
would only be rescinded in North Carolina in 1869, while New Hampshire finally relented and allowed “non-Protestants” to hold state office in 1887. Sabbath laws, forbidding commerce on Sunday, was another form of legal antisemitism. Such discriminatory laws remained on the books well into the twentieth century. Their antisemitic intent was clearly described when, “in the 1855 California assembly debate
on the topic, the speaker of the house argued that Jews ‘ought to respect the laws and opinions of the majority.’”
Housing and Recreation:
The Seligman-Hilton Affair brought to the fore the depth of social antisemitism in the United States during the boom period of 1877. Joseph Seligman, a personal friend of President Grant, was barred entry to Saratoga’s Grand Union Hotel. Responding to this act of discrimination the American Jewish Spokesman
in an 1864 editorial reminded, “Jews were barred from [polite] circles of society [long before that incident].” Two years later it editorialized, “We are unable to deny that even among the so-called ‘educated classes’ there is a distaste for, “the Jew which often inclines [Christians] to wish their ancestors had not so lovingly granted liberty and equality to the non-Christian.” And around the same time in his book about New York a reporter described Jews “a nuisance…Christians deserted residential
and resort areas when they became infested with Jews.”
One response was for Jews to build their own college fraternity houses, country clubs, hotels and resorts. Perhaps the symbol of this response was a hotel in the Catskills north of New York City, Grossingers
“[By] 1972, the hotel had grown to 35 buildings on 1,200 acres that served 150,000 guests a year. It had its own airstrip and post office… But in the late 1970s and 1980s, resorts like Grossinger''s or the Concord
could no longer attract younger guests. Grossinger''s closed in 1986.”
Employment: As Jews faced discrimination in housing and recreation, so too they faced discrimination in employment. This led to such efforts to “fit in” as anglicizing names, and even undergoing cosmetic surgery:
“Jewish job seekers
were sometimes not averse to changing their names to American sounding ones, wearing a crucifix or a religious medal, or obtaining a letter from a willing minister to attest to the fact that they were Christian… After World War II the plague of name changes was buttressed by the popularity of a “nose job,” to fit the perceived Christian sense of facial aesthetics.”
Discrimination was common in the professions, and in the colleges and universities providing the training and credentials necessary to practice the professions. As in Europe Depression-era America scapegoated the Jews to vent fear and frustration. “This era of “polite” Judeophobia
through social discrimination, underwent an ideological escalation in the 1930s [also as in Europe].”
We will discuss political antisemitism in more detail next week.
Members of the Hollywood Ten and their families in 1950, protesting their impending incarceration
The arts: Because so indelibly impressed in the popular imagination Hollywood represents the best illustration of antisemitism in the field of the arts:
“As late as 1921
, the Dearborn Independent
still proclaimed: ‘The motion picture influence of the United States -- and Canada -- is exclusively under the control, moral and financial, of the Jewish manipulators of the public mind.’”
And in 1947, just two years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began its notorious career by targeting Hollywood as a “center for communist propaganda.” Among the Committee’s first witnesses were Ronald Reagan and known antisemite, Walt Disney, both assuring the Committee that the threat was real. Hundreds of actors, screenwriters, studio executives were called to testify and those who refused were blacklisted, barred from employment.
After a year HUAC found, “no evidence
that Hollywood was secretly disseminating Communist propaganda,” but that was cold comfort to its many victims.
“…actor Lee J. Cobb and director Michael Gordon, who gave friendly testimony to HUAC after suffering on the blacklist for a time, ‘concede[d] with remorse that their plan was to name their way back to work.’ And there were those more gravely haunted by the choice they had made. In 1963, actor Sterling Hayden declared, ‘I was a rat, a stoolie, and the names I named of those close friends were blacklisted and deprived of their livelihood… He was widely believed to have drunk himself into a near-suicidal depression decades before his 1986 death.”
College and University: In 1922 Harvard, America’s most prominent university, announced a quota for Jewish students, a model followed by other schools. In 1925 Yale, already discriminatin according to,
“"character", "solidity", and "physical characteristics"
added a program of legacy preference
admission spots for children of Yale alumni, in an explicit attempt to put the brakes on the rising percentage of Jews in the student body. This was soon copied by other Ivy League and other schools, admissions of Jews were kept down to 10% through the 1950s. Such policies were for the most part discarded during the early 1960s although the last vestiges were not eliminated at Yale University until 1970.”
How effective was numerus clausus
in reducing Jews in these schools? My own school, Columbia University, reduced the percentage of Jews from 32.7% to 14.6%; between 1918 and 1941 while Cornell’s medical school went from 40% to 3.47%!
“During this period, a notable exception among U. S. medical schools was the medical school of Middlesex University, which had no quotas and many Jewish faculty members and students; school officials believed that antisemitism played a role in the school''s failure to secure AMA accreditation
Interesting that Yale and its copy-cat schools imposed, and apparently modeled, their quota system on the U.S. Congress’ 1922 Immigration Restriction Act also designed to keep Jews out.
Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia University,
I am not aware that numerus clausus regarding Jews and the universities continues in American schools today. But its absence, if so, does not mean that America’s institutions of higher education are free of antisemitism. Take as example Columbia University’s two invitations to Ahmadinejad to speak. In 2007, before an audience of students and faculty the New York Times
reported that the Iranian president argued, “the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews should not be treated as fact...” Four years later Columbia extended yet another invitation. In 2011 Yale University eliminated its highly regarded Interdisciplinary Initiative for Studying Antisemitism. According to historian and head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism
“The highly polemical tone of the debate has, in my view, obscured some more important and wider issues about American campuses, not least of which is the question of why the academic study of anti-Semitism has come so late to the United States.”
In light of our present discussion, an appropriate question.
Recent writings in this Series: