Works by Scott D. Seligman

   


Too early to pre-order the book!

The Great Christmas Boycott of 1906: An Untold Story of Antisemitism and the Battle Over Christianity in the Public Schools

Scott D. Seligman                        

Potomac Books

University of Nebraska Press

 

Forthcoming in November, 2025

 

In December, 1905, when Frank Harding, the Presbyterian principal of an elementary school in Brownsville, Brooklyn, urges his overwhelmingly Jewish student body to be more like Jesus, it is just the trigger Albert Lucas, secretary of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, has been waiting for. Fresh from doing battle with Christian settlement houses that make no bones about their intent to convert young Jewish children to Christianity, Lucas and company fear that the public schools are also being used as a vector for proselytizing. The local Jewish community quickly takes Harding to task and calls for his ouster.

Religion has never been absent from American public schools, and the Harding case raises the perennial issue of how much of it – if any – should be permitted. The Great Christmas Boycott of 1906 fills in an important chapter in the history of this debate, which until then had been an intramural scrimmage pitting established Protestants against later-arriving Catholics. It tells the story of the entry of the American Jewish community into this messy dispute.

When the Board of Education lets Harding off with a slap on the wrist, Lucas and a delegation of rabbis from all branches of Judaism demand clear guidelines about what sorts of celebrations will be permitted in the future. When the board fails to act on their request, the Jewish community, fearing a repeat of the Harding incident, raises the stakes. They organize a boycott of the public schools on the day of the school Christmas pageants. In schools in Jewish neighborhoods as many as 75% of the students stay home.

Pressured by the boycott, the board finally moves to exclude sectarian hymns and compositions on religious subjects, but the ban generates an an enormous antisemitic backlash among the general public. Jews are accused of launching an attack on Christmas, of conspiring to deprive Christian children of their legitimate rights and of being something less than true Americans. Where Lucas and company wish to fight a battle over the law, which they are convinced is squarely on their side, their detractors rely on condescension, patriotism, antisemitism, tradition and outright falsehood. The conflict-averse board rescinds most of its order.

The issue not only divides Jews and Christians, but also the Jewish community itself, since many Jews doubt the wisdom of pursuing the boycott. The book traces the dispute over school Christmas celebrations to the present day and describes how today’s Jewish community, persuaded that politics are unlikely ever to permit a victory, still less a long-lasting one, has adapted to the status quo.

 

Other Books

The Chief Rabbi's Funeral: The Untold Story of America's Largest Antisemitic Riot

Murder in Manchuria: The True Story of a Jewish Virtuoso, Russian Fascists, a French Diplomat, and a Japanese Spy in Occupied China

A Second Reckoning: Race, Injustice and the Last Hanging in Annapolis

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots that Shook New York City

The Third Degree: The Triple Murder that Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice

Tong Wars: The Untold Story of Vice, Money and Murder in New York's Chinatown

The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo

The Cultural Revolution Cookbook

Chinese Business Etiquette

Mandarin Chinese At a Glance

Articles
 
In the 1800s, New York’s Jewish Elite Dined at ‘The Kosher Delmonico’

Justice for the Dead

The Franklin Prophecy

When Jewish Wives Beefed With Butchers and Changed the World

He Was the Father of Anti-Semitic Publishing in America

The Triple Homicide in D.C. That Laid the Groundwork for Americans’ Right to Remain Silent

The Nasty, Little-Known Turf Wars of Chinatown, NYC

Joseph Thoms: Defending America's Chinese

Rediscovered: An Eloquent Chinese Voice Against Exclusion

Everything But Rats and Puppies

Echoes of the Chinese Exclusion Act in Immigration Debate

The Forgotten Story of the First Chinese American

The Hoosier Mandarin

The Night New York's Chinese Went Out for Jews