Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1960s
Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.
The Baltimore Jewish community has produced many leaders who have worked to make the world a better place. The range of issues they have addressed is impressive: from women’s suffrage to civil rights, labor relations to helping the elderly, refugee resettlement to eliminating poverty, and much more.
This chronology traces the careers of ten Baltimoreans who stood up for social change, with each person’s entry revolving around a turning point—one for each decade of the twentieth century. This is by no means a “Ten Best” list. The people included here are remarkable for what they accomplished, but others, equally remarkable, could have been chosen as well. These profiles should be seen as representative of a larger group of Baltimore Jews who have made major contributions to their communities and to the broader society in myriad ways.
The 1960s: Rosalie Silber Abrams
1966: Rosalie Silber Abrams (1916-2009) is elected to the Maryland House of Delegates; she becomes a state senator four years later. During her productive eighteen-year career in the legislature, she helps pass legislation focused on patient rights, child welfare, mental health care reform, environmental protection, and women’s rights.
Abrams’s legislative accomplishments included the creation of the state’s Health Service Cost Review Commission, a groundbreaking initiative to control hospital rates and enhance the quality of patient care. Selected Senate Majority Leader in 1979, she was the first woman to hold a major leadership post in the Maryland General Assembly and also became the first female chairman of the state’s Democratic Party. Abrams retired from the Senate to head the state Office on Aging in 1983, where she served until retiring in 1996.
Abrams grew up working in the popular East Baltimore bakery owned by her parents, Ike and Dora Silber. A graduate of the Sinai Hospital School of Nursing, she served as a nurse in the U.S. Navy before marrying and raising a family. Though she began her political career relatively late in life, her background in health care, confidence, and practical political skills gained her the respect of her colleagues and made her an exemplary advocate for health and welfare issues.