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Golda Meir | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Meir, Golda (1898-1978)

Israel's First Female Prime Minister

Golda Meir | Wisconsin Historical Society
Golda Meir.

Golda Meir

Israel's first female prime minister (and only the third in world history), Golda Meir was one of the most visible women in international affairs from the 1950s to the 1970s. Born in Kiev, Russia, on May 3, 1898, Golda Mabovitch's family fled Russian pogroms for the United States in 1906. They settled in Milwaukee with the help of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

Graduating at the top of her grade-school class in 1912, Meir enrolled in Milwaukee's North Division High School against her parents' wishes. Their opposition caused her to run away to Denver to join her sister. She did not return to Milwaukee until late 1914 or early 1915. Upon her return, she re-entered high school and graduated in 1916. Meir soon entered the teacher-training program at the Wisconsin State Normal School but left after one year.

In 1917 Meir took a teaching position at a Yiddish-speaking school in Milwaukee, which put her more closely in contact with the ideals of Labor Zionism that would mark the rest of her career. On December 24, 1917, she married Morris Meyerson. She did not Hebraicize her name to Meir until 1956, at the urging of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.

Meir, now a committed Labor Zionist, and her husband, a dedicated socialist, moved to British Mandate Palestine in 1921 and settled in Kibbutz Merhaviah. They later moved to Tel Aviv where their son, Menachem, was born in 1924, and then to Jerusalem, where a daughter, Sarah, was born. Meir became more involved in the Zionist movement and took part in the creation of the state of Israel after World War II.

In 1948 Meir participated in the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence and was appointed Minister to the Soviet Union. The following year she became the first Minister of Labor, a position she held until 1956, when she was appointed Foreign Minister. As Foreign Minister she helped to establish good relations with African nations and launched a variety of aid programs to help these nations emerge from decades of European colonialism. Meir became Secretary-General of Mapai, Israel's dominant political party in 1965.

When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died on February 26, 1969, members of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, urged Meir to return to politics, and, with the Labor Party's support, she became Prime Minister.

Meir's greatest challenge came during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, beginning with the Egyptian and Syrian attacks on October 6, 1973. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped to broker the peace negotiations that ended the war. Meir spent much of her time in office cultivating Western support for Israel. When the war ended in 1974, Meir resigned from office, turning the job over to party colleague Yitzak Rabin. Suffering from leukemia, she died four years later, on December 8, 1978.