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The Forward: A Gallery of Missing Husbands (1908-1914)

Compiled and translated by Michael Morgenstern

Background

The Forward (Yiddish: Forverts, also known as the Jewish Daily Forward) was the leading Yiddish language newspaper in the United States throughout the first half of the 20th century. Founded in 1897, this newspaper initially catered to the Jewish working class and immigrant community. This database contains translations of the “Gallery of Missing Husbands,” which the Forward printed regularly to solicit the community’s help in locating husbands who had deserted their wives and children.

While evidence suggests that desertion in Jewish families was never an incredibly widespread phenomenon in the early twentieth century, the problem was common enough that it gained the attention of Jewish charities. The Forward cooperated with Jewish welfare organizations, primarily the National Desertion Bureau established in 1911, to address desertion and alleviate the plight of the abandoned wives and children. Organizations like the United Hebrew Charities provided monetary support to families of deserters while the National Desertion Bureau sought to locate and retrieve the husbands. Wives submitted photographs and information about their husbands to the National Desertion Bureau or sometimes directly to the Forward, which published them in the “Gallery of Missing Husbands.” The “Gallery” encouraged readers who knew these men to inform their wives of their whereabouts through the Forward. The National Desertion Bureau went further and sometimes even conducted full-scale investigations that impoverished families could not afford to do themselves.

"A Gallery of Missing Husbands" printed in the Forward, Sunday, June 9, 1912. The subtext underneath the headline reads: If you recognize them and know where they are, let their wives know through “Forward.”

The majority of desertion cases featured in the “Galleries” were husbands who abandoned their families within the United States. However, some of the cases dealt with men who had come to the United States from Europe by themselves and had stopped communicating with their wives back home. In other instances, the family suspected that the husband had left them in the United States and traveled abroad by himself. This complicated the search because many governments such as the Russian Empire and Canada did not allow for extradition of men for family abandonment.

In addition to economic hardship, desertion also posed a religious problem for these wives. A Jewish divorce requires a get, a document that the husband formally presents to his wife. This concludes the divorce process and allows both parties to remarry under Jewish law. Thus, these women who wanted to divorce their husbands could not proceed with the customary divorce. The Hebrew word agunah (plural: agunot) refers to a “bound” woman who is unable to leave her marriage on the grounds that her husband is not physically present to give her a get. Some of the entries address this issue, and explain that the wife seeks to “become unbound.” This means that the wife is looking for her husband so that they can divorce in accordance with Jewish law.

Database

The “Gallery of Missing Husbands” appears to have been most prominent in the Forward between 1909 and 1916, after which the paper printed it sporadically. The older entries were often one to two paragraphs. Around 1914, the entries shortened and were generally each a short paragraph. In addition to photographs, entries generally include the following information about the husband:

  • Full name and aliases, if any
  • Age
  • Place of origin
  • City of disappearance
  • Year or time frame of disappearance
  • Occupation
  • Year or time frame of immigration

Some later entries also include the husband’s height and weight, distinguishable scars or characteristics, and names of spouse and children. 37 States are mentioned within this collection of entries, most frequently New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland and Michigan. In addition to the “Gallery of Missing Husbands,” the Forward printed appeals in other sections of the paper from wives, children and other relatives imploring absent individuals to return home. There were also cases of wives abandoning their husbands. However, the “Gallery of Missing Husbands” was the most cohesive section full of such requests, and the one with the most genealogically relevant data.

As of January 2021, there are 1,048 translated entries from 1908-1914. Translations for 1915 and later are in progress.  

Source

The National Library of Israel contains almost every edition of the Forward printed in New York from 1897 to 1979 as a part of the historical Jewish newspaper collection. This database includes links to editions of the Forward in which a “Gallery of Missing Husbands” (usually located on the last page) was printed, along with extracted data and full translations of each entry.

Click here to browse the Forward online through the National Library of Israel.

Translator’s Note

I translated these entries to the best of my ability. Some of the scans are poor quality, probably from already faded original newspapers. This made some of the entries harder to read than others. I found that among the scans that were too dark or faded, these following letters were sometimes difficult to distinguish:

This might assist in your search. For example, if you are looking for the surname GORDON, you might also search for NORDON or even GODRON, NODRON, etc.  If you have any questions about this database, contact Michael Morgenstern here.

Suggested Reading

  • Fridkis, Ari Lloyd. "Desertion in the American Jewish Immigrant Family: The Work of the National Desertion Bureau in Cooperation with the Industrial Removal Office." American Jewish History 71, no. 2 (1981): 285-99. Accessed December 7, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23882036.
  • Friedman, Reena Sigman. "Send Me My Husband Who Is in New York City": Husband Desertion in the American Jewish Immigrant Community 1900-1926." Jewish Social Studies 44, no. 1 (1982): 1-18. Accessed December 7, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4467152.

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