'A Great Episode in the History of Jewish Womanhood': Golda Meir, the Women Workers' Council, Pioneer Women, and the Struggle for Gender Equality

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2018




Indiana University Press




The establishment of the American Pioneer Women Organization revealed two patterns typical of the Labor Movement in the Yishuv: women’s struggle to break the patriarchal chains that kept them subordinated to men and the centrality of American funding for the socialist project of Zionist nation building. In Palestine, the Women Worker’s Council (Council) (Moetzet Hapoalot), while founded at the same time as the Histadrut (Federation of Labor), encountered considerable obstacles in its quest to implement gender equality. The founding mothers of the Council were convinced that consciousness raising, as well as meeting the special needs of the woman worker, necessitated a special gender-based organization. The founding fathers of socialist Zionism were not responsive. They believed that formal equality would resolve the gender problem. Thus, funds required by the Council to pursue the various projects aimed at training women workers and building their self-confidence as they joined the labor market, were largely denied by the patriarchal leadership. Council members had no choice but to turn to fundraising in the US and the Pioneer Women Organization was born. Golda Meir (then Myerson) was not a passionate supporter of a separate organization for women. She was indeed a member of the Council’s secretariat in the late 1920s but it appears that by and large she shared the world view of the Histadrut male leadership. The article begins by contrasting Golda Meir with Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, a Council founder, and then tracks Golda’s transformation, following her mission to the US as an emissary of Pioneer Women. Through an analysis of Golda’s article published in the newspaper Davar it analyzes the process by which she came to recognize the just claims of the women’s movement and the wisdom inherent in its policy. However, while converting, Golda did not become a feminist activist. The article reviews the reasons why Golda chose to remain loyal to the patriarchy, a choice that facilitated her rise to power in the Yishuv and then in Israeli politics. The article is based on a chapter of a forthcoming biography of Golda Meir, Through the Gender Lens.

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