Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1960s

Posted on February 24th, 2017 by

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

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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.

Rosalie Silber Abrams. JMM 1984.37.1.9

Rosalie Silber Abrams. JMM 1984.37.1.9

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 (standing, left) at the signing of a bill she co-sponsored, c. 1971. Governor Marvin Mandel is seated at left. JMM 1983.8.17.1

Abrams (standing, left) at the signing of a bill she co-sponsored, c. 1971. Governor Marvin Mandel is seated at left. JMM 1983.8.17.1

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.

Continue to The 1970s: Harry Greenstein

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Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1950s

Posted on February 22nd, 2017 by

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 1950s:Walter Sondheim Jr.

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1954: In its Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court famously urges the desegregation of the nation’s schools “with all deliberate speed.” The Baltimore City school board, under the leadership of its president, Walter Sondheim Jr. (1908-2007), is one of the few in the nation to take this directive seriously. With Sondheim’s quiet urging and careful guidance, the board votes unanimously to desegregate, and the school district prepares to open an integrated system by the fall, becoming “the first school district south of the Mason-Dixon line to move on the court order,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

School desegregation was just one example of Sondheim’s leadership, as the Sun noted in front page coverage of his death in 2007 at age 98: “When Baltimore mayors, Maryland governors and other civic leaders needed sage advice, inevitably they sought it from a man widely admired for integrity and uncommon warmth and graciousness.” Sondheim played a major role in the development of Charles Center in the 1960s and the Inner Harbor in the seventies and eighties. He headed the housing authority and chaired a governor’s panel on school performance. Involved in civic life well into his nineties, his death seemed like the end of an era.

Continue to The 1960s: Rosalie Silber Abrams

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Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1940s

Posted on February 20th, 2017 by

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 1940s: Rose Zetzer

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1941: Rose Zetzer (1904-1998) and her colleague Anna Carton open the first female law firm in Maryland. For Zetzer, it is the culmination of a hard-fought struggle to establish herself in her profession.

Rose Zetzer, at the time of her graduation from Eastern High School. Photograph by Columbia Art Studio, Co. JMM 1998.86.112

Rose Zetzer, at the time of her graduation from Eastern High School. Photograph by Columbia Art Studio, Co. JMM 1998.86.112

In 1925 Zetzer became one of only five woman lawyers in Maryland. Unable to get a job at an established firm—though some offered to hire her as a secretary—she worked on her own until partnering with Carton. (Two other women later joined the partnership.) Zetzer also waged a campaign to join the male-only Maryland State Bar Association, which finally admitted her as its first woman member in 1946. She and other female lawyers had formed the Women’s Bar Association in 1927; she served as president for several years.

Rose Zetzer, portrait by Underwood & Underwood. JMM 1998.86.122

Rose Zetzer, portrait by Underwood & Underwood. JMM 1998.86.122

Zetzer was also a champion of legal aid for the poor, becoming the first woman to serve on the board of the Legal Aid Bureau. She devoted herself to Jewish causes as well, including Hadassah and the Jewish Big Brother League.

Continue to The 1950s: Walter Sondheim Jr.

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