Golda Meir (1898-1979) was born in Kiev and immigrated to the United States with her family in 1906. She grew up in Wisconsin, where she joined the Poalei Zion youth movement in 1915. In 1921, she and her husband Maurice Meirson moved to Palestine. The couple settled on Kibbutz Merhavia, and eventually divorced. In 1928, Golda was elected chair of the workers' union. Throughout the 1930s she advanced in the organization until, in 1936, she became head of the Histadrut's political division. Golda Meirson, who Hebraized her name only after the establishment of the State of Israel, often traveled to the U.S. and England as an emissary and fundraiser. She was a persuasive and strong speaker.
In 1946, when Jewish Agency officials were arrested by the British, Golda replaced Moshe Sharet as head of the Jewish Agency's political division. Before the War of Independence, she met with Jordan's King Abdullah in an attempt to dissuade him from joining the imminent hostilities. After the establishment of the state she was appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union. In 1949, she came back to Israel and was elected the Knesset as a Mapai representative and appointed Minister of Labor. In 1956, David Ben Gurion appointed her foreign minister, a position she held for nine years. After the 1965 elections she resigned from the government and was elected secretary general of Mapai. In 1968, around the time the Labor party was established, Golda Meir was appointed general secretary of the party. With the death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in early 1969, Golda was appointed temporary acting prime minister. This was largely the result of an internal power struggle in Mapai between the dovish Yigal Alon and hawkish Moshe Dayan. She subsequently headed the party in the 1969 elections, achieving a resounding success.
Golda Meir achieved worldwide fame for being a female head of state, one of only three women to have achieved this in the entire world, and the only one to do so by free democratic election. Golda took an emphatic and uncompromising political stance, claiming that there was no partner on the Arab side with whom to reach agreements. This line was reinforced by the need to fight the wave of Palestinian acts of terror that had struck Israel and Israeli and Jewish institutions abroad. After the murder of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, Golda Meir instructed Israeli intelligence operatives to hunt down those responsible for the massacre.
The Yom Kippur War, which broke out on October 6, 1973, marked the end of Golda Meir's public and political career. After the report of the commission of inquiry headed by Chief Justice Agranat was published in 1974, Golda resigned from the government and from public life. Factors in this decision were the deteriorating public atmosphere, personal accusations leveled against her with regard to the war, and her failing health. She passed away on December 8, 1978.