Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Workmen’s Circle

The first convention of the Workman’s Circle took place in New York on March 29-30, 1901. The Workmen’s Circle, founded as a local organization in 1892 and made national in 1900, was (and to some extent still may be) a secular Jewish organization, originally a labor organization that promoted the use of Yiddish. Peak membership: 87,000 in 1925. Again, an example of the Jewish commitment to the labor movement that I mentioned yesterday.

The Workmen's Circle page of the American Jewish Historical society explains that the organization:
"was established as a social and cultural Jewish labor fraternal order. Its purpose was to provide members with mutual aid and health and death benefits and to support the labor and socialist movements of the world. Historically, the Workmen’s Circle was closely tied to Jewish unions, the Yiddish labor press, and the Socialist Party. The Circle was highly dedicated to raising the education levels of members and bringing social change in America. Workmen’s Circle functions provided a place for Jewish radicals of different ideals to mingle. ..."

"The Workmen’s Circle, dedicated to the promotion of progressive Yiddish culture, established a wide array of cultural activities including the publication of books, adult education and singing and drama clubs. It also promoted Jewish education for young people by opening afternoon schools for Jewish children in 1916. In addition, the Workmen’s Circle established homes for the aged, camps, Yiddish theater clubs, and several choirs."
Clearly, the Workmen's Circle was an organization dedicated to secular Jewish life and values. If it had a presence in St.Louis when I was growing up there, I was completely unaware of it, however.

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