Jeannette Gabriel: Building an Archive of Jewish Women in Iowa

Spoon collection typical of Jewish women in Sioux City during the 1960s.

Jeannette Gabriel is a graduate research assistant at the Iowa Women’s Archives working on discovering and documenting the history of Jewish women in Iowa. This special project was initiated by Joan Lipsky, a former Iowa state representative, attorney and heir to Cedar Rapid’s famous Smulekoff’s furniture business. Lipsky believed that Jewish women have made important and unnoticed contributions throughout Iowa, especially in small towns where only one or two Jewish families resided.

Jeannette faced a challenge of building a collection from a disappearing community. Most of the Germany and Russian Jewish families that settled in Iowa have long since left. The project began with historical research to document the historic Jewish population trends in Iowa and seek out ancestors who have family collections of photographs, diaries, letters, family trees, scrapbooks, recipes and much more.  Jeannette has sought out these stories and in the process she built strong connections to Jewish communities in towns and cities throughout Iowa. She has also followed the migration of Jews out of Iowa to trace relatives in Minneapolis, Omaha, and throughout the country.

Based on her own Jewish background growing up in a Catholic town in Wisconsin, Jeannette has connected to and developed deep personal relationships with a group of amazing women and dedicated families who have established rich collections to keep the memories of their loved ones alive and participate in documenting a previously unknown history.

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