Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Jewish Women's Work for Charity


Theodore Roosevelt once paid the following tribute to Jewish citizenship

"I am glad to be able to say that, while the Jews of the United States, who now number more than a million, have remained loyal to their faith and their race traditions, they have become indissolubly incorporated in the great army of American citizenship, prepared to make all sacrifices for the country either in war or peace, striving for the perpetuation of good government and for the maintenance of the principles embodied in our constitution. They are honorably distinguished by their industry, their obedience to law, and their devotion to the national welfare."

Sadie American | Bertha Kahn Elkers | Rebecca Gratz  | Grace P. Mendes | Annie Nathan Meyer | Mrs. Caesar Misch | Rose Mordecai | Bertha Floersheim Rauh | Julia Schoenfeld | Rose Summerfield

And Simon Wolf, in his notable volume, "The American Jew, as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen" gives the names of nearly eight thousand Jews who served, on both sides, in the Civil War. It is after all in the grand fabric of Jewish charity, whose broad expanse extends throughout the land, that the Jewish people and pre-eminently the women, have been able to prove them-selves patriots and worthy citizens. Indeed in the field of philanthropic efforts the Jewish citizens of America may unhesitatingly claim to have built for themselves monuments more numerous and larger by far than their proportionate share, and their forces have been directed not to saving souls by a chance or creed but by bettering the conditions of human existence. The ideal of the Jewish religion, the universal fatherhood of God and the direct responsibility of every human being to the Maker of all, has steadfastly been upheld. But in the Jewish charity, as in such work under the direction of no other religious body, its forces have not been exerted in striving to make good the seeming shortcoming of the divine nature, but in striving to make good the essential shortcomings of our human nature, by alleviating the distresses arising from the constitution of society and by lessening the sufferings that are inevitably incident to the conditions of life. To this end the American Jewish citizens have organized a widely diversified system of relief for the sick and needy, and while so doing have not restricted their efforts within denominational bounds but have opened their doors and stretched out their hands towards all humanity. And not alone in dealing with conditions that are inseparable from the social system, but also in dealing with such as are removable, in educating and lifting up those of the community who are in need of fostering care and in furthering the spread of intelligence, have the Jewish women been unceasingly active in their charitable organizations.

Moreover, it was remarked in the recent political campaign of the Jewish voters, "Their quiet critical analysis of political nostrums is most disheartening to the district leaders of Tammany Hall," and the Jewish women in their careful investigation, their sound sense and their zeal to instill and foster independence in every individual should be an inspiration and not a discouragement to the women of wealth and careless thought who rush into hysterical benevolence.

How efficient the efforts of these Jewish charity workers has been is amply demonstrated by a glance at public charitable institutions. In the House of Refuge on Randall's Island there were found, according to a recent official report, only two hundred and sixty Jewish boys and girls. In the Juvenile Asylum there were two hundred and sixty-two Jewish children under sixteen years of age committed for various misdemeanors. Compared with the entire Jewish population of New York City this number is insignificant, and the ratio will probably be found to be considerably lower than in the general population. Furthermore, the records of the department of charities in the city of New York showed that out of the Jewish population approximating seven hundred thousand in greater New York, in the almshouse in Blackwell's Island there were only twenty-six pauper Jews, of whom the majority were blind, idiotic, or possessed of some peculiar defect, which prevented admission to existing Jewish charitable institutions.

And there is no indiscriminate alms-giving among Jewish charity workers. The work of the United Hebrew Charities of New York is typical of similar Jewish organizations throughout the United States, and it is organized and run as accurately and scrupulously as any large business house. It is in their auxiliaries to these organizations that the Jewish women have accomplished a work which richly deserves mention in an account of what women are doing for America's welfare. The sisterhoods in various districts co-operate with the United Hebrew Charities. They give material relief, have developed day nurseries, kindergartens, clubs and classes of various kinds, employment bureaus, mothers' meetings and in fact have become social centers for the poor of their neighborhoods. Since a large percentage of the distress which is met with is occasioned by illness, medical relief of all kinds has been organized, each district as a rule, having its physician and its nurse.

The Home for Aged and Infirm at Yonkers, New York, is managed by well-known philanthropists but all the kitchen utensils, linen and all household articles are provided by a Ladies' Auxiliary Society composed of twelve hundred members.

Of all the problems which confront the average charity organization, possibly the most perplexing is the one of the family where the mother must be wage earner. The kindergarten and the day nursery have done something to solve the problem, but the Chicago Women's Aid, an organization of Jewish women for literary and philanthropic purposes, has thrown much light on the most creditable way of helping these women. This society has for three seasons supported a work-room for women. The workroom is in charge of a paid superintendent but the members of the society take an active part in the executive and personal service departments. Work is provided for about five months each year during the winter, and the rooms are within walking distance of Hull House, thus being convenient for women who wish to leave their young children at the Hull House Day Nursery. The hours are from nine a. m. to twelve m. and from one to four p. m. The superintendent is assisted by one permanently employed cutter and several who work part of the time. In extreme cases work is supplied at home, but it is preferred to have the women come to the workroom. All sorts of garments are made, the workers receiving seventy-five cents a day. The beneficiaries of the workroom are such women as would ordinarily be entitled to the benefits of relief societies, especially the United Hebrew Charities, but in this way, by requiring them to give at least a partial equivalent for what they get, their self-respect is retained even though the charities are in reality helping them. It has proved far superior to the old-time method of unconditional giving, tending to keep them away from relief agencies and is in many ways a most wholesome substitute for alms. It gives those who ordinarily spend their days in dingy unclean tenements an opportunity to leave the crowded quarters for seven hours a day, to breathe purer air, to learn the value of cleanliness, and to live in an atmosphere of cheerfulness and refinement. And this is far from being the only successful experiment by the Jewish women of America.

In Philadelphia, besides the main bureau of the United Hebrew Charities, various organizations of women have been formed as auxiliary to the United Charity, such as the Ladies' Auxiliary Committee, the Ladies' Volunteer Visiting Committee, and the Personal Interests Society, whose activity has aided to a great degree in mitigating the suffering among the Russian Jews. Another of the older charities of Philadelphia, the Esrath Mashim, or Helping Women, is to be noted in this regard. This society was organized in 1873 in aid of lying-in women at their homes, and after the year 1882 devoted its effort chiefly to the needs of the refugee immigrants from Russia. In 1891 the demands on this charity as on all others grew beyond the confines of the organization, and the society was reorganized as the Jewish Maternity Association, establishing a hospital known as the Maternity Home, which has grown to be one of the large charitable institutions. A training school for nurses was added in 1901, and at the same time a branch of the work inaugurated at Atlantic City as the Jewish Seaside Home for invalid mothers and children. This splendid work has enlarged immensely in the more recent years. In Philadelphia, too, we find a loan society conducted by Jewish women, which makes loans without interest to deserving persons in amounts of from five dollars to twenty-five dollars, repayable in installments. So we find in every city these evidences of the intense vitality of the Jewish women's spirit for uplifting unfortunates. We find Jewish women on the committees for improved housing in the congested sections of our cities. We find Jewish women serving on the boards of trade schools, figuring in the organization of bureaus and federations of the United Hebrew Charities, opening public baths for the poor and investigating tirelessly the conditions of health and sanitation among them. It is with great regret that we are obliged to curtail the list of individual endeavor, for certainly many of the names of the Jewish women of America belong on the honor roll of her womanhood:

There is Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer, a niece of Jefferson Davis, whose benevolences are famed; Kate Levy, well-known worker for health and sanitation in Chicago; Henrietta Szold, secretary of the Jewish Publishing Society of America, with others too numerous to mention.

Annie Nathan Meyer 1867 ~ 1951
Simon Wolf gives in his "Jew as an American Citizen, Soldier and Patriot," the names of nearly eight thousand Jews in the Civil War. There has been made unfortunately, no such muster of the Jewish women who have shown such public spirit for the good of American citizenship. But near the head of such a roll call would appear the name of Mrs. Annie Nathan Meyer, author and worker for the advancement of women. She was born in New York City in 1867, the daughter of Robert Weeks Nathan. She belongs to a prominent Jewish family and is a cousin of the late Emma Lazarus. She was educated at home in her childhood and afterward entered the School for Women, a branch at that time of Columbia College. She was one of the first to enter the women's course when it was opened in Columbia College in 1885, and eventually she became one of the founders of Barnard College, affiliated with Columbia College, and the first women's college in New York City. After this institution had received full sanction and recommendation at the hands of the faculty of the brother college she became one of the trustees and at the same time edited "Women's Work in America," a volume containing the result of three years earnest work and research. She married Dr. Alfred Meyer of New York, in 1887. Mrs. Meyer is opposed to women's suffrage, unless the franchise be restricted by laws providing for educational qualification. It is her theory that legislation should follow in the footsteps of education. She is a gifted woman, a poet and essayist, though most of her activities have been expended in philanthropic reform and charitable work. Her home is in New York City.

Mrs. Caesar Misch 1869 ~ 1941
At fourteen years of age organized and taught a Sabbath school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a community too small to support a Rabbi. She was the first president of the Providence Section Council of Jewish Woman; has bees auditor and chairman of religious school. Commander of National Council of Jewish Women; president of various charitable societies; member of board of directors Providence Society for Organizing Charity; member board of managers Providence District Nursing Association; member Sex Hygiene Committee of Rhode Island State Conference of Charities; first woman appointed on Providence Playground Committee, having been appointed by both Republican and Democratic mayors, and having entire charge of purchasing all the supplies. Chairman of North End Free Dispensary, which she organized under auspices of Providence Section, Council of Jewish Women. Has lectured in various cities and has written newspaper articles on Jewish topics and on White Slave Traffic. Has written a "Children's Service" for use in the synagogue and compiled a book of ''Selections for Homes and Schools."

Rose Mordecai 1839 ~ 1936
Prominent Jewish woman. Miss Mordecai says of herself, that she is simply Miss Rose Mordecai "without either romance or mystery, but one who loves his fellow men." She was born in Washington, D. C, February 14, 1839. Her father was Major Alfred Mordecai Sr., a distinguished officer of the old army before the war, who resigned in preference to fighting in the Civil War, opposed to the idea of brother against brother. He went to reside in Philadelphia where Miss Mordecai, with two sisters, kept a private school for forty years. Her father was an intimate friend of Mr. W. W. Corcoran the great philanthropist, of Washington, and Miss Mordecai now resides in the Louisa Home; established by Mr. Corcoran. Her mother's aunt was Miss Rebecca Gratz, the noted Jewish beauty of Philadelphia, whose beautiful character is believed to have been portrayed by Sir Walter Scott in his Rebecca of Ivanhoe.

Bertha Floershelm Rauh 1865 ~ 1952
Bertha Rauh was born June 16, 1865, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Daughter of Samuel Floersheim and Pauline Wertheimer. Educated in the Pittsburgh public schools. Graduated 1884 with second honor degree, Pittsburgh Central High School. Married Enoch Rauh, president Milk and Ice Association, and of the Juvenile Court Aid Society; vice-president Ladies' Auxiliary, Gusky Orphanage; member of board, Columbian Council School Settlement; board of visitation for institutions in state of Pennsylvania; visiting board of the Pittsburgh and Allegheny Free Kindergarten Association; Civic Club of Allegheny County and of Permanent Civic Committee of Pittsburgh. Member Juvenile Court Committee of the Juvenile Court Association of Allegheny County. Chairman finance committee and member advisory board, Soho public bath. Was member of board of Humane Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, and of ladies' auxiliary of the Allegheny General Hospital. Organizer and leader of reading circle, in existence nine years, for study of literature. Articles: "The Advantages of the Higher Education"; "A Trip up the Allegheny Valley"; "Benefits of the Sunday Concerts"; "A Tribute to Christopher Lyman Magee"; "Justice to the Jew"; ''Reform in Confirmation"; "Woman's Place on Judaism," in local papers. Her address is 5857 Bartlett Street, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Grace P. Mendes ~ 1930
Was born at St Croix, Danish West Indies. Her father was Jacob Osino De. Castro and an active Confederate. When New Orleans fell he fled to Mobile, Alabama. Her mother was Hannah De Sola. Miss De Castro was educated in the public schools of New Orleans, Louisiana. Married Reverend Isaac P. Mendes, an Englishman. She labored shoulder to shoulder with her husband for twenty-seven years, working in the interest of the Jewish people in Savannah and gave them a standing second to none in the South. She has been president of the Savannah Section of the Council of Jewish Women since its organization in 1895, and is affiliated and does active work in the following organizations: First vice-president of the Ladies' Hebrew Benevolent Society; honorary president of the Savannah Branch of the Needle Work Guild; second vice-president of the Association for the Education of Georgia Mountaineers; treasurer of the committee on Health and Sanitation; a member of a committee of the Associated Charities; one of the Georgia Joint Committee of the Department of School Patrons of the National Educational Association and honorary president of the Temple Guild of "Mickve Israel" Congregation.

Bertha Kahn Elkers 1863 ~
Mrs. Elkers was born in New York City in 1863. Parents were Israel and Sarah Kahn, both natives of Germany, and of the Hebrew race. They with their family moved to California in 1877. Mrs. Elkers was married in Oakland to Albert Elkers of Sacramento in 1882. They have two sons, both graduates of the University of California. At the beginning of the Spanish War, in April, 1898, Mrs. Elkers founded the Sacramento Red Cross branch. Was its president from 1898 to 1908. Sacramento raised about $12,000 in money, food and supplies for the Red Cross work during the few months of the war. The Galveston disaster also received the attention of this branch and it did much to help the refugees from the earthquake and fire of 1906, which visited San Francisco. Mrs. Elkers was on the California State Red Cross Board from 1898 to 1904, and she is a charter member of the Saturday Club, 1893, one of the largest musical clubs in the United States, having a membership of fourteen hundred. She has done active musical work (piano), and has served on its board since 1894, and was president of the same from 1901 to 1905; honorary president since 1907. Assisted in starting four other musical clubs Pacific Musical Society of San Francisco, Fresno Musical Club, Auburn and Berkeley, and is honorary member of the two first named. She has been treasurer of the Hebrew Women's Benevolent Society for twenty-three years; secretary for the women's auxiliary of Congregation B'nai Israel for past five years; is one the board of the Sacramento City Mission; member of Home of the Merciful Saviour; Young Woman's Christian Association; Society for Homeless Children; San Francisco Auxiliary to Hebrew Orphan Asylum; Tuesday Club; Museum Association; Golf Club and has been on the board of the University of California Extension work. Her husband, Albert Elkers, is a native of Sacramento, where they have continued to reside.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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