For San Francisco’s female Jewish pioneers, learning to organize and operate charitable societies was an integral step in their Americanization, or assimilation into American culture. Charity work taught women leadership skills and, at the same time, accustomed their fathers, husbands, and sons to limited forms of female authority within the community. In the process, leaders of San Francisco’s first female-led Jewish charities transformed themselves as well as their community. In some cases, male support for women’s charitable enterprises marked the spread of American Reform Judaism through San Francisco’s pioneer synagogues. In other instances, questions regarding the proper place of women intensified community members’ adherence to the traditions of their fathers. Even so, by founding and leading charitable associations through the period 1850–1880, “women with hearts” transformed Jewish San Francisco, male and female, foreign- and native-born, helping all to become more fully American. The glory of the San Francisco example is that the sources allow us to watch the process unfold, as the female leaders of benevolent agencies trod paths taking them from Jewish immigrants to Jewish Americans, or from well-intentioned but untrained “ladies bountiful” to what Jacob Marcus Rader called the New Woman, the “Jewish social worker.”

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