Ariel Cohen is a graduate student in history at the University of Virginia, where she is writing a dissertation entitled, “Exhibiting Cultural Philanthropy: Feminine Power in the Creation of American Jewish Museums, 1921 - 1968.” Her primary interests include art history, gender, power, American Jewish museums, and philanthropy. Cohen’s work illustrates the emergence of Jewish public art spaces and recovers the invisible labor of the women who founded them. It explains how women stepped into history to pioneer new kinds of public culture when American Jews needed builders of community and belonging. Their institutions offered Jewish self-description to an American democracy puzzling through its own character, in a time in which women had only recently garnered the right to vote and were pursuing more public-facing roles. Ariel earned her B.A. in history and art history from the University of Pennsylvania, 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.