Faced with an extortionate rise in the price of kosher meat, Jewish women in New York’s Lower East Side employed protest tactics borrowed from the radical political movements that prospered in their neighbourhood.
Between 1881 and 1924 over 2.5 million Jews emigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe. Over a third of them settled in New York’s Lower East Side, dubbed the ‘Jewish Plymouth Rock’. For this community, the United States represented economic opportunity and the founding principle of religious freedom. Even in the New World, Jews could still maintain ancient traditions, which included the purchase and consumption of kosher meat.
By 1900 the Lower East Side was home to over 131 kosher butcher shops. The meat was delivered by rail from meat houses in Chicago. In 1902, the largest of these meat houses merged to form the National Beef Trust of America. Through the trust, the meat houses could control the price of meat at their discretion. Like the steel and oil barons, the Beef Trust was just one of many Gilded Age monopolies operating without any checks or regulations. In early May 1902, the Beef Trust raised the price of kosher meat by 50 per cent, from 12 to 18 cents a pound.