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Scott D. Seligman’s new book The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City (Potomac Books, 2020) is a full account of the Great Kosher Meat War of 1902, a milestone in the history of Jewish-American women.
Facing a quantum leap in the price of kosher meat, immigrant Russian and Eastern European Jewish women took to the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1902 in an effort to shut down every kosher butcher shop in the neighborhood until prices came down.
Contemporary press reports described it as a modern Jewish Boston Tea Party. Customers who crossed picket lines were heckled and assaulted, their parcels of meat hurled into the gutter. Butchers who refused to close were attacked, their windows smashed, stocks ruined, fixtures destroyed. And brutal blows from police nightsticks sent many women to local hospitals and others to court.
Although the men behind the price rise were members of a cartel of meatpackers hundreds of miles away in the Midwest, Jewish housewives in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Harlem, Newark and even Boston soon joined in solidarity. And though the women had no previous experience in politics, they managed to organize themselves into a potent fighting force, successfully challenge powerful, vested corporate interests and, in the process, set a pattern for future generations.
Scott D. Seligman is a writer and historian. He is the author of several books, including the award-winning The Third Degree: The Triple Murder That Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice (Potomac Books, 2018) and The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post and the Seattle Times, among other publications.
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