The National Council of Jewish Women the oldest active Jewish women’s volunteer organization in America was founded in 1893 by Chicago social activist Hannah Greenebaum Solomon.
If the original goal of the group was to teach "Jewish women their obligations to their religion and community," its mission was almost immediately translated into concrete action. Between 1890 and 1900, the Chicago group set out to assist Russian-Jewish immigrants who were crowding into the city and helped pioneer the settlement house movement, working with Jane Addams’ Hull House.
Creating the model of activism that NCJW has embraced throughout its history, Solomon oversaw improvements at the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, helped found the Chicago Juvenile Court, and worked to improve the laws and city ordinances affecting juvenile offenders and the underprivileged.
By 1900, the fledgling organization had also begun to sponsor adult study circles to promote learning and leadership and to develop school health programs and free health dispensaries.
Today, NCJW structures its activities according to well-defined priorities: advancing the well-being and status of women, advancing the well-being of children and families, enhancing the quality of Jewish life, ensuring and advancing individual and civil rights, and supporting a secure Israel and the well-being of all its people.
The group carries out its mission through initiatives at the local, state, and national level. Locally, sections engage in diverse community action projects. On a larger scale, the group maintains a public affairs network through which trained volunteers share public policy expertise at the state level, representing NCJW concerns in state capitals. Nationally, NCJW engages in coalition-building, working to effect public policy change on a wide range of domestic and international issues. Its online action center assists in this effort, providing instant access to information on both issues and advocacy campaigns.
NCJW is also identified with two major campaigns: BenchMark, a campaign to save Roe v. Wade and reproductive rights; and StoP Strategies to Prevent Domestic Violence, which engages in educational, outreach, advocacy, and community action efforts to halt abuse.
In Israel, NCJW established the Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University, the first bachelor’s degree program of its kind in the Middle East, as well as the Women Studies Forum at the university, which advances research and analysis in feminist studies. In addition, the group’s Yad B’Yad initiative supports grass-roots organizations that empower women and serve at-risk children and their families in Israel.