Ari Cohen studies Jews, gender, and museums in America. Her dissertation, “Exhibiting Cultural Philanthropy: Women, Power, and Museums in Jewish America, 1920-1970,” argues that women created the first Jewish museums in America and started a movement for Jewish objects before the notion of the identity museum became mainstream.
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.