1960s issues show how times have changed

Robert A. Cohn, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Many significant changes have been made at the St. Louis Jewish Light since it became an autonomous Jewish community newspaper with its own Board of Trustees on April 3, 1963. Thumbing through the now-yellowed pages of those earliest issues, one is struck by some very major changes of the times, including:

• The names of women. On Page One of the May 29, 1963 issue, there is a photograph of Mrs. Lawrence S. Lees installed as president of the Maccabean Women’s Club. “Other newly elected officers included Mmes. Norman Shatz, Reuben Balk, Irving Harris, Stanley Schneider, David Jacobson, Lee Baris, David Petrofsky, Jerry Fadem, Herman Schneider, Irving Cassel, Louis Adelstein and Harvey Gershenson.” It was not until the mid-1970s that the Light began to publish the first names of women in the news.

• Bridal photographs. For many years, only the bride’s photograph appeared with engagement and wedding announcements in the Light. Why? Because that’s the way it was done in those days. Policy was changed after Arlene Stiffman called to ask why the Light did not provide the option for both brides and grooms to appear in the photograph. As editor at the time, I could not come up with a logical answer, so we started accepting publishing bride-and-groom photographs. In addition, almost a decade ago, the Light’s Board of Trustee adopted a policy to publish birth, engagement and wedding announcements submitted by same-sex couples.

• Cigarette advertisements. On Page Eight of the May 15, 1963 issue appears a quarter-page ad for Viceroy filter tip cigarettes: “Viceroy’s got the taste that’s right” shouts the ad, which depict a young, ultra-healthy looking couple enjoying their Viceroys while strolling on an immaculate golf course. Back then, there was no Surgeon General’s warning – his report linking smoking to cancer would not be published until 1964. But Light Board member Dr. Jerome Flance, a prominent local physician associated with Jewish Hospital who was well aware of research done in the 1930s that strongly linked smoking to cancer, demanded that the Light stop accepting or seeking cigarette ads. Some of the died-in-the-wool chain smokers on the Light Editorial Committee strongly insisted that the ads continue, but eventually the strong-willed Flance prevailed. The cigarette ads were snuffed out once and for all.

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Of course, as the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same, and that, too, is evident by looking at the early Light issues of 50 years ago. In a JTA story that appears in the August 7, 1963 edition, headlined, “Kennedy Acts To Liberalize Immigration,” the story reports “President Kennedy has made a sweeping move to liberalize the McCarron-Walter Immigration Act, including the elimination of the national origin quota system and other forms of discrimination.”

The Jewish community warmly embraced JFK’s reforms since they eliminated the harsh quotas imposed on East Europeans, including thousands of Jews, who came to these shores from 1880 until 1920. Under the restrictions of the McCarron-Walker Act, adopted by Congress in 1920, prevented Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany and the nations Hitler’s Army occupied from seeking refuge in the United States.

Now, 50 years later, President Barack Obama is putting forward a comprehensive immigration reform act. Members of both parties in Congress are attempting to craft a bipartisan “Dream Act,” which would provide a path to citizenship to 11 million unregistered aliens in the United States.