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.