Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Day 26: Fearless Females: Looking at Women's Education Through 5 Generations

March 26th Prompt — What education did your mother receive? Your grandmothers? Great-grandmothers? Note any advanced degrees or special achievements.

As the month of March is coming to a close, I am trying to catch up on Fearless Females posts. Passover and school vacation are to blame for my falling behind, nevertheless, there are a few post I don't want to miss.

Analyzing the education of women in my family is an excellent way to review how historical changes have affected the opportunities of the women in my family and women throughout this country. I refrain from implying that these advances have equally affected women worldwide, since progress has been much slower in many parts of the world. 

Examining my female ancestors going back four generations is a very powerful exercise. I will begin with myself and travel back the generations. 

1 Generations: 
I have a bachelors in Biology and Doctorate in medicine. My sister is completing her masters in Education. 

2 Generation: 
My mother has three degrees in psychology, a bachelors, a masters and a PhD. 

3 Generations:
My grandmother Ethel was the not only the first of my woman ancestor to go to college. She was the first person in her family to attend college. She had an uncle and cousins who went to college, but neither one of her parents had to opportunity to go to University. Ethel held a bachelors in Chemistry and a Law degree. I am writing about her remarkable achievement extensively on my new blog, Ethel's scrapbook. Her parents were extremely proud of her accomplishments. 
Ethel with her parents Minnie and William Bloomfield
at er Rice graduation 1940

My paternal grandmother, Shoshana Lavi (Celnik) did not attend university. She immigrated to Israel from Poland in her late teens, and gave up the idea of studying in exchange for the dream founding a Kibbutz. 

4 Generations:
None of my great-grandmothers received a higher education. I make this statement with a bit of reservation, as I don't know for sure how much schooling my paternal great-grandmothers received. Cyla Jampel (Reiter) was listed as laborer and Anna Celnik (Rosenblum ) as store keeper on their Holocaust Yad Vashem witness sheets. My mother's paternal grandmother, Mollie Bogdanow (Katz) was a trained Chef. I believe she went to Austria to study cooking, when she was young. 

In her writings, Minnie Crane, Ethel's mother, shares quite a bit about her struggles to obtain an education. As a young female child in a small village in Russia, her education was not a priority to anyone but herself. Though her parents did believe in educations and encouraged the children to study, the boys education came first. Her education came in dribbles, when the family could spare her from housework. Her father taught her to read and write. She followed her brothers to school when she was allowed. The town had a shortage of teachers in the Russian schools and education there was irregular at best. While her brothers were sent to Yeshivas (Jewish High Schools), Minnie was the primary caretaker of her sickly mother and her younger children at the age of ten. She had no real formal education, but she spoke five languages and could read and write in all of them, including Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, Polish and German. She was able to help her father with his job as the town's postman. She was adept at reading and writing letters for illiterate towns folk. 

Arriving in America, Minnie placed education high on her list. She enrolled in English classes immediately. While working fulltime, she continued to study English as well as take writing classes. Once again, family duties called, and she moved to Hartford to keep house for her siblings. The older Crane brothers worked, supporting the youngest brother. Their goal was to send Bernard to Medical school. Bernard finished high school, college and finally medical school. Minnie continued night school and received a bookkeeping diploma. She studied French with a tutor in preparation for college entrance exams. When she moved to NY, she worked full time as a bookkeeper and took classes at the Columbia Extension School. Her college aspirations ended when she married William Bloomfield and  they moved to Laconia, NH. 

5 Generation: 

Worth mentioning is another detail from Minnie about her own mother, my lookalike, Feige Kranowitz (Yarmovsky). Feige's family was fairly well to do. Her grandfather had hired a tutor for his grandchildren. The tutor, Moshe Aaron Kranowitz was a learned young Rabbi who came to the grandfather's house to teach the boys. Feige, sneaked into the back of the room, to catch a bit of the lessons. Her yearning for knowledge sealed her fate to the man she would marry, Moshe Aaron, the tutor. 

Minnie showing her pride in her grandson's
MFA diploma 
Understanding how difficult it was for Minnie to acquire an education, it is understandable why she pushed her daughter to take advantage of the educational in America. Ethel, on her part, felt a lot of pressure from her parents to excel. Her mother encouraged her to skip grades and graduate early. She pursued Chemistry because it was her father's dream to study Chemistry. She certainly tried hard to please her parents but as a mother and grandmother herself, she encouraged the rest of us to follow our own dreams and not those of others. Her advice has remained with me as I guide my own children to discover what they wish to study.

To learn more about +Lisa Alzo's 31 inspirational writing prompts in celebration of Women's History Month visit her blog:  The Accidental Genealogist.


  1. Education has played an extremely large part in the lives of the women of your family. Especially moving are the stories of Minnie and Feige, who yearned for knowledge and degrees right up until the moment they married, it seems. I realize that not long ago, being married was usually the end of a woman's educational aspirations. That's just how it was.

    My own mother got her master's before she married, and then when her youngest child was in 1st grade, she went back to get her Ph.D. Education was a big deal for the women in my family, too.

    I'm glad you, your mother, and your grandmother were able to pursue education and have so much wonderful success. But after all, Ethel was right. We should tell our children to pursue their own dreams, not the dreams of others. That is wisdom.

    1. Minnie, did get a chance to use her education after her marriage. She kept the books for their small business, a grocery store. And though she did give up her studies she worked side by side with her husband for many years in the store. I believe she was quite lucky. I believe they both gave up their dreams of education in exchange for family life and that is why they pegged so much home in Ethel and her studies.
      Though times have changed, women today continue to struggle with balancing studies, career and family. It is inspiring to have such hard working motivated women ancestors! Thanks for your thoughtful remarks Mariann! I always look forward to your feedback!

  2. My daughter has a PhD in chemistry. After watching her work toward that degree, I can't imagine studying chemistry for someone else.

    Smadar, I enjoyed this story. When I was still teaching, I always admired my adult students who were juggling work, parenting and school to improve their lives. I was always glad I didn't have to do that. I'm not sure I would have succeeded.

    1. You've touched on an important point, Wendy. As much as studying is admirable, there is something admirable about a generation that had the luxury to dedicate time for the family. The problem often was that they didn't choose to take "time off" but rather it was assumed the women would make the sacrifice while the men advanced their career. Today, many women don't have a choice and need to continue studying and working to help support the family. The difference is, that if they have the choice, it's usually a conscious decision and choice. Many men now make a similar choice to be the stay home dad. We have advanced!
      If you haven't had a chance to take a look at my new blog, Ethel's Scrapbook "" you might find it interesting. Ethel, my grandmother kept her scrapbook during her last year of studying Chemistry at Rice. She worked as a Rice correspondent for three different publications. It's a very interesting insight to life on a college campus in 1939 from a young woman's perspective.

  3. Just caught up on reading this post. I remember Moma telling me that 1) she would go to Cheder (Jewish school) with her brothers & sit in the back of the classroom to learn Hebrew. 2) She told a story many times of walking a few miles during the summer to be taught Russian by a wealthier relative from Moscow (?) who would come to a summer home near where Moma lived. On one occasion while she was walking home from these lessons, it began to rain. Moma covered her books with her skirt. She arrived home drenched, but the precious books were dry. She taught us to treasure & respect books & learning. 3) When I was a teenager, Moma would read all the books I was reading. One day she began reading Anna Karenina. She realized that she had read this as a child in Russian & Yiddish by candlelight since they did not dare to have them out during the day. It was one of the books that the family had to bury in a neighboring farm when the Tzar's police came & told the family they knew they had contraband books. Since her family was well respected the police warned them 1st. Her sister, Bryna, whom I was named after was the librarian for the Socialist Bund, which was why they had the banned books. Although Moma did not go to college, her vocabulary & spelling was stellar for an immigrant. She also had next to no accent. She always made us look up the spelling of a word if we did not know it, before the days of spell check, dictionaries helped build vocabulary & spelling skills.


Thanks for sharing your comments!