On January 2, 1933, political adviser Belle Lindner Israels Moskowitz, who served as advisor to U.S. presidential candidate Al Smith, died. In a front-page obituary in The New York Times, that paper noted that in her role as a Democratic Party strategist, Moskowitz had “wielded more political power than any other woman in the United States.”
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Moskowitz was born on October 5, 1877, in Harlem, New York, the daughter of two Jewish immigrants from East Prussia (today Germany), who owned a Manhattan jewelry shop. Although she briefly attended teachers college, Moskowitz never earned an academic degree and instead became a social worker. She took a job in 1900 at the Educational Alliance, a Jewish settlement house on the Lower East Side. (Settlement houses were part of a movement of community centers intended to foster social reform among impoverished populations and their integration with more well-off groups.)
Although Moskowitz resigned the job when she married Charles Israels in 1903, she remained active in community work; as she wrote in an essay in The American Hebrew in 1917, “To think of others is as natural to the Jewish woman as to breathe. She gives and has been trained for generations to give with all her heart.” And when her husband died in 1911, she returned to social work to support her three children, pioneering efforts to regulate working conditions for young urban women, to improve access to recreational activities for children, and later as a grievance clerk for the Dress and Waist Manufacturers Association, where she helped resolve thousands of conflicts with laborers – until the association fired her for being too pro-labor.
Lindner met her second husband, Henry Moskowitz, a former social worker and labor mediator serving as the city’s civil service commissioner, while working to close down New York’s brothels and fight police corruption. The pair, who shared a commitment to many of the same progressive causes, married in 1914. Together in 1918, they decided to support the gubernatorial candidacy of Alfred E. Smith, even though he was closely connected to Tammany Hall, New York State’s corrupt Democratic machine. Women in New York had received the franchise a year earlier, and Moskowitz was in charge of organizing the female vote for Smith.
During Smith’s first two-year term as governor, from 1918 to 1920, it was Moskowitz who proposed setting up a “Reconstruction Committee” to plan the state’s future in the post-World War I era: It focused on such meat-and-potatoes issues as labor and industry, economics, health, education and government organization.
Smith lost re-election in 1920, but then was elected governor three more times, serving 1923 through 1928. That year, he was the Democratic candidate for president, but was defeated in a landslide by Herbert Hoover. All the while, Moskowitz was one of Smith’s closest advisers, without ever accepting an official government position. She handled publicity and voter organization for his 1928 presidential bid, and served in a similar role in 1932, when he lost the Democratic nomination to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Her strength was her combination of public-relations savvy and her grasp of the issues, as well as a lack of ambition for personal power for herself.
In December 1932, Moskowitz suffered a fall at her home, and while recovering, on January 2, 1933, she suffered an embolism and died.