The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902


The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902

Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City

Scott D. Seligman

312 pages
22 photographs, 11 illustrations, 1 map, 1 chronology, index.


December 2020


$32.95 Pre-order
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

December 2020


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eBook (EPUB)

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December 2020


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About the Book

In the wee hours of May 15, 1902, three thousand Jewish women quietly took up positions on the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Convinced by the latest jump in the price of kosher meat that they were being gouged, they assembled in squads of five, intent on shutting down every kosher butcher shop in New York’s Jewish quarter.

What was conceived as a nonviolent effort did not remain so for long. Customers who crossed the picket lines were heckled and assaulted, their parcels of meat hurled into the gutters. Butchers who remained open were attacked, their windows smashed, stocks ruined, equipment destroyed. Brutal blows from police nightsticks sent women to local hospitals and to court. But soon Jewish housewives throughout the area took to the streets in solidarity, while the butchers either shut their doors or had them shut for them. The newspapers called it a modern Jewish Boston Tea Party.

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902 tells the twin stories of mostly uneducated female immigrants who discovered their collective consumer power and of the Beef Trust, the midwestern cartel that conspired to keep meat prices high despite efforts by the U.S. government to curtail its nefarious practices. With few resources and little experience but a great deal of steely determination, this group of women organized themselves into a potent fighting force and, in their first foray into the political arena in their adopted country, successfully challenged powerful vested corporate interests and set a pattern for future generations to follow.


Author Bio

Scott D. Seligman is a writer and historian. He is the author of several books, including the award-winning The Third Degree: The Triple Murder That Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice (Potomac Books, 2018) and The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post and the Seattle Times, among other publications.


“Master storyteller Scott D. Seligman weaves together the disparate narratives of New York’s 1902 kosher meat boycott, America’s first and only chief rabbi, and the notorious Meat Trust. Deeply researched and engagingly written, The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902 takes its delighted readers back in time to the teeming streets of the Lower East Side and the rough-and-tumble world of its immigrant Jews.”—Pamela S. Nadell, author of America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

“The first blow-by-blow account of the kosher meat boycott of 1902 and the Jewish immigrant women who devised and promoted it. Anticipating both the consumer movement and contemporary Jewish women’s activism, The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902 shows how commerce, labor, food, and gender explosively combined at a tempestuous moment in the history of New York City.”—Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, and author of American Judaism: A History

“Why would a strike led by immigrant women in 1902 be important today? In this carefully crafted book, Scott D. Seligman draws from original zaftik (juicy) Yiddish news sources to bring to life the women brave enough to strike against their butchers. At the intersection of religion and politics, their cause gave rise to a mass movement not unlike those of today that pit human values against crass commercial interests.”—Miriam Isaacs, professor of Yiddish language and culture emerita, University of Maryland

“Scott D. Seligman has performed a bit of a miracle in letting the immigrant Jewish women who led the Great Meat Boycott of 1902 find their voice today. Seligman shows how and why women publicly organized America’s first consumer boycott. Launched from New York’s Lower East Side to fight precipitous Chicago Meat Trust price hikes, their action spread to other cities, providing a powerful model for future activism.”—Elissa Sampson, visiting scholar and lecturer at Cornell University

Table of Contents






Dramatis Personae


A Note on Language

1. A City within a City

2. Greater Power Than Ten Standard Oil Companies

3. The Conscience of an Orthodox Jew Is Absolute

4. Each One Is an Authority unto Himself

5. A Despotic Meat Trust

6. As Scarce around Essex Street as Ham Sandwiches

7. Let the Women Make a Strike, Then There Will Be a Strike!

8. If We Cry at Home, Nobody Will See Us

9. They Never Saw Such Assemblages in Russia or Poland

10. Hebrews with Shaved Beards

11. And He Shall Rule over Thee

12. No Industry in the Country Is More Free from Single Control

13. Essentially It Is a Fight among Ourselves

14. Vein Him as He Veins His Meat

15. Patience Will Win the Battle

16. Disregard All Verbal or Written Agreements

17. This Cooperative Shop Is Here to Stay

18. There Was Never Such an Outrage on Our Race

19. We Don’t Feel Like Paying Fifth Avenue Prices

20. It Is Not Our Fault That Meat Is So High

21. A Great Victory for the American People



Further Reading


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