Monda Halpern

- Professor
image of Monda Halpern
PhD, Queen's University, 1997
Telephone: 519-661-2111 ext. 84980
Office: Lawson Hall 2266
Office Hours: First Term: Wednesdays, 9:30 am - 11:00 am (both in-person and via Zoom)                                                          Second Term: Thursdays, 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm

Special Appointments

  • Affiliated with
    • American Studies
    • The Jewish Studies Program
    • The Collaborative Graduate Program in Migration and Ethnic Relations

Research Interests

Professor Halpern specializes in nineteenth and twentieth-century Canadian and American Women's History and Jewish History. She welcomes inquiries from potential Master's and PhD students interested in pursuing work in these areas.

Teaching Philosophy

"At the start of every academic year, I make a bold promise to my undergraduate students - one which defines my teaching philosophy and goals. I inform them that my course will change their world view - that in eight months, they will see the world, and therefore themselves, in a new way. By the end of the year, they eagerly tell me of their personal evolution, and I respond that this is what learning should be - transformative."

Major Research Projects

Bessie Starkman (1889-1930) was one of the most notorious crime bosses in 1920s Canada. With the 1916 Ontario Temperance Act, and the advent of American prohibition after 1920, she and her common-law husband Rocco Perri exported liquor throughout the provinces and into the United States, establishing the Perri mob as preeminent in the world of Canadian organized crime. In the last several decades, true-crime writers and journalists have been attentive to Bessie Starkman, demonstrating particular interest in her criminal exploits alongside Perri and her brutal assassination. Not surprisingly, these writers have expressed less interest in Starkman prior to her chance 1912 encounter with Perri when she was the wife of a Toronto Jewish bakery driver and the mother of two daughters. Several of her biographers, including Robin Rowland in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, have simply summarized that when she ran off with Perri that year, “Bessie had abandoned her husband, children, and Jewish faith.” My work will explore the complex issues behind this assertion, including those related to the Jewish immigrant experience, poverty, desertion, divorce, the status of women, intermarriage, and crime in order to assess the extent to which Starkman defied female and Jewish social conventions. Her story will help shed light on the available ways that early twentieth-century Jewish women rebelled against oppressive social prescriptions, and will illuminate the sometimes devastating impact of their actions.

Selected Publications


Alice in Shandehland (2015) Alice in Shandehland: Scandal and Scorn in the Edelson/Horwitz Murder Case. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press
And on that Farm He had a Wife (2001) And on that Farm He had a Wife: Ontario Farm Women and Feminism, 1900-1970. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press

Book Chapters:

Behind Our Doors (2011) "Foreword" (co-authored with Rev. Michael Bechard), pp. i-ii, and "Introduction" (co-authored with Sonia Halpern), pp. vii-x, in Esther Warmerdam as told to William Butt, Behind Our Doors (Holocaust memoir). London, Ontario: The Althouse Press (in cooperation with the Centre for Jewish-Catholic-Muslim Learning, King’s University College
Living Legacies (2010) "Baggage Claim." pp. 65-68. Living Legacies: A Collection of Writing by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women, Volume II. Edited by Liz Pearl. Toronto: PK Press
Framing Our Past (2001) "'Such Outrageous Discrimination': Farm Women and Their Family Grievances in Early Twentieth-Century Ontario," pp.116-23. Framing Our Past: Canadian Women's History in the Twentieth Century. Edited by Sharon Anne Cook, et al. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press

Refereed Journal Publications:

  • (2023) “A ‘Ghoulish Jamboree’: The Not-So-Jewish Jewish Funeral of Mob Boss Bessie Starkman.” Canadian Jewish Studies, 36 (Fall 2023): 51-78.
  • (2019) “The 'Malestrom' at Christie Pits: Jewish Masculinity and the Toronto Riot of 1933.” Canadian Jewish Studies, 28 (2019): 12-33.
  • (2017) "'A spectacular incident…had somehow eluded my attention': The Impact of Cyril Levitt and William Shaffir’s book, The Riot at Christie Pits (1987)." Histoire sociale/Social History, L, 102 (November 2017): 421-31.
  • (2015) 'Are you people Jewish?': The Mistaken Identity of Mary Rosenblatt in the 1952 Harry Lee Murder Case." Canadian Jewish Studies, 23 (2015): 68-91.
  • (2011) "'Art Should Always Ennoble': Emma Griesbach and Art Appreciation in the Women’s Page of The Farmers’ Sun, 1917-1922” (co-authored with Sonia Halpern). Ontario History, CCII, 1 (Spring 2011): 42-59.
  • (2008) "JAP – Jewish And Passed-over: The Invisibility of Single Jewish Women in Issues of Intermarriage and Conversion” (co-authored with Sonia Halpern). Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal (Spring 2008) [online journal].
  • (2007) "'This Ambitious Polish Jew': Rethinking the Conversion and Career of Bishop Isaac Hellmuth." Ontario History (Autumn 2007): 221-46.

Recent Presentations

  • (2022) "'Suffering a Slow Death' in a 'Comfortable Concentration Camp': The Post-War Housewife in Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique." Ontario Women's History Network (OWHN) Annual Conference, October 22, 2022 (ZOOM)
  • (2021) “3 Changes over 3 Decades: Reflections on the Evolution of Women’s History.” Roundtable Panel on New Approaches to Women’s and Gender History, Ontario Women’s History Network (OWHN) Annual Conference, October 23, 2021 (ZOOM)
  • (2021) "'She just vanished': Mob-Boss Bessie Starkman and Family and Religious 'Abandonment.'" Association for Canadian Jewish Studies, May 25, 2021 (ZOOM)
  • (2021) "Leaving Harry for Rocco Perri: The Ambiguous Identity of Jewish Mob-Boss Bessie Starkman." JEM, Jewish Adult Education, London, Ontario, January 18, 2021 (ZOOM)

Awards and Distinctions

  • 2018 Samuel Clark Research Fund, Faculty of Social Science, The University of Western Ontario, for When Harry Met Bessie and Bessie Met Rocco (awarded requested amount $4653) 
  • 2016-17 USC Teaching Honour Roll
    for Teaching Excellence (seventh time receiving honour also received in 2015-16, 2010-11, 2008-09, 1997-2000)

  • 2016 Dean's Award of Excellence (awarded to the top performers in a Department, 2012-2015)

  • 2014 J.B. Smallman Publication Fund and the Faculty of Social Science, The University of Western Ontario, for Alice in Shandehland: Scandal and Scorn in the Edelson/Horwitz Murder Case ($5000)

  • 2009-10 Nominated, Award of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching
    USC/Alumni Association/Bank of Nova Scotia (third nomination also in 2006-07, 2001-02)