Ariel Cohen is a graduate student in history at the University of Virginia, where she is writing a dissertation entitled, “Displaying Art and Exhibiting Philanthropy: Jews, Gender, and Museums in the United States, 1888 - 1958.” Her primary interests include art history, gender, power, American Jewish museums, and philanthropy. Cohen’s work aims to restore agency and visibility to the invisible women of early 20th-century history, women who funded, curated, and gave the objects for Jewish museums in the United States but are forgotten or ignored - both in scholarship and in museums - because of their gender. She earned her B.A. in history and art history from the University of Pennsylvania in 2014, and her M.A. degrees from the University of Virginia (History, 2018), Columbia University (Art History, 2016) and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Modern Jewish Studies, 2016).
Displaying Art and Exhibiting Philanthropy: Jews, Gender, and Museums in the United States, 1888 - 1958
My dissertation offers a gendered history of Jewish cultural philanthropy in United States museums. Beginning in 1888 with Cyrus Adler’s tenure as curator of Judaica at the Smithsonian National Museum in D.C. and ending in 1958 with New York Jewish Museum benefactor Frieda Warburg’s death, this dissertation examines the individuals and networks that donated their time, talent, and treasure to Jewish exhibitions in American museums and thereby altered the course of American Jewish life. During the time period which this project covers, Jewish Americans attempted to secure places for themselves in a new, expanding country. By creating Jewish art museum spaces, which served as vehicles for Jews to formulate and express their own identities, the women this dissertation investigates exercised their own privilege through philanthropy while remaining marginal as Jewish outsiders to mainstream American (Christian) life and women outsiders to mainstream Jewish (male) leadership. By focusing on five key female cultural philanthropists, this project examines how women in Jewish museums, from this period onwards, proved essential yet remained only partially visible, pioneered new forms of public culture yet faced limitations on their power.