On this day: Golda Meir is born

May 3 1898: Teacher, kibbutznik, leader

By Libby Galvin, May 3, 2011

The first female prime minister of Israel wasn't known as "the only man in the Cabinet" for nothing. Golda Meir, the woman who led Israel after the death of Levi Eshkol and during the 1973 war, personified the Israeli spirit with her rugged outlook and forthright honesty.

She was born in Kiev where her earliest memories were of her father boarding up their front door having heard rumours of an imminent pogrom. They moved to America when she was eight, and at the age of 14 she went to live with her married sister in Denver, Colorado. Her life there was punctuated by the debates hosted at her sister and brother-in-laws home, which took in Zionism, women's rights, and trade unionism. It was at one of these events that she met her husband Morris Meyerson.

After the First World War the newly married couple made aliyah, and joined kibbutz Merhavia where she became their representative to the Histadrut. By the mid 1930s she was at the top of the Histadrut's political department, and ploughed her energy into public service with the same energy she had tended the fields of the kibbutz.

In 1946 she was appointed by the Jewish Agency to head policy regarding the migration of Jews to Palestine, and two years later she shocked the treasurer of the Jewish Agency by going to the US and raising $50 million towards funding the nascent state – far in excess of the $8 million he felt they would be lucky to make from their American supporters. Ben Gurion described her act as having made the State of Israel possible.

Her other feats included entering secret talks with King Abdullah after crossing the border to Transjordan disguised as an Arab woman, where she tried without success to persuade him from entering the forthcoming war.

She was one of 24 to sign the declaration of independence that year and became prime minister in 1969, coming out of retirement to do so at the age of 70.

What the JC said: As statesman, politician and Labour pioneer she won international acclaim: by her courage, devotion and integrity in leading her people at one of the most testing eras in their history, she earned the affection and admiration of Jews the world over. ...she was indeed a remarkable woman, often compared with her illustrious forebears in the Bible. She was a legend in her life time - and as "Golda" she was the universal grandmother.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 10:28am, May 3 2011