Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1930s

Posted on February 15th, 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 1930s: Lee Dopkin

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1935: Through the efforts of Lee Dopkin (1895-1968), the Maryland legislature passes the Old Age Pension Law, a model for the Social Security Act that FDR would sign later that year. Chairman of the state’s Old Age Pension Commission, Dopkin helped draft the legislation and campaigned strenuously for it, mounting petition drives, giving speeches and radio broadcasts, and lobbying legislators. It was the crowning achievement of a life in communal and public service.

Lee. L. Dopkin, 1955, photo by Blackstone Studios. JMM 2004.63.3

Lee. L. Dopkin, 1955, photo by Blackstone Studios. JMM 2004.63.3

As a young man, Dopkin had served as advisor to the JEA Champion Club, mentoring boys who, like himself, came from struggling East Baltimore immigrant families. After joining the board of the Hebrew Home for Incurables (a predecessor to Levindale), he became interested in the problems of the elderly. Believing that seniors who could live on their own should not be institutionalized solely because of financial need, in 1931 he began speaking out in favor of government-funded pensions. He served as Levindale’s president from 1931 to 1934.

The Jewish Educational Alliance Champion Club, with advisor Lee Dopkin standing in the center, c. 1920. JMM 1992.231.95. Click here for more information about this photo.

The Jewish Educational Alliance Champion Club, with advisor Lee Dopkin standing in the center, c. 1920. JMM 1992.231.95. Click here for more information about this photo.

After passage of the pension law, Dopkin continued his involvement with Levindale and other communal organizations, while also serving on government commissions to establish unemployment insurance and to develop the federal social security system. A Republican-turned-New Dealer in reaction to the devastation of the Great Depression, he came to believe that security was the cornerstone of public welfare.

Continue to The 1940s: Rose Zetzer

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Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1920s

Posted on February 13th, 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 1920s: Dr. Bessie Moses

Click here to start from the beginning.

1927: After meeting with national reproductive rights leader Margaret Sanger, Dr. Bessie Moses (1893-1965) opens the first birth control clinic in Baltimore, the Bureau for Contraceptive Advice, at 1028 North Broadway. Though many of the Bureau’s activities were illegal at that time, Dr. Moses and her staff “managed to subvert the federal Comstock laws” banning the interstate traffic of contraceptives by “performing research on the efficacy of birth control methods,” mainly diaphragms and condoms, according to a Planned Parenthood profile (in the 1940s the clinic became  Planned Parenthood of Maryland). Moses served as the clinic’s medical director until her retirement in 1956.

Dr. Bessie Moses. JMM 1980.29.31b

Dr. Bessie Moses. JMM 1980.29.31b

Committed from an early age to women’s health, Moses had been the first female obstetrical intern at Johns Hopkins. She became a prominent figure, mentoring students and speaking before groups. A compassionate physician as well as a rigorous scientist, she spoke out against restrictive birth control laws, testifying with Sanger at Congressional hearings. Her clinic served blacks as well as whites (although on segregated days, as local custom demanded). In 1938 she established the Northwest Maternal Health Center to serve black patients, the first in the nation staffed by African American physicians.  In 1950, Moses and Sanger were the first women honored with Planned Parenthood’s Lasker Award.

Continue to The 1930s: Lee Dopkin

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Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1910s

Posted on February 8th, 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 1910s: Jacob Moses

Click here to start from the beginning.

1915: During a time of intense labor turmoil, Jacob Moses (1873-1968) is named arbitrator in Baltimore clothing industry disputes, selected jointly by union leader Sidney Hillman and manufacturer Sigmund Sonneborn. It is but one important facet of the career of this quintessential Progressive.

Jacob Moses. From Isidor Blum, The Jews of Baltimore (1910).

Jacob Moses. From Isidor Blum, The Jews of Baltimore (1910).

His concern with fairness made Moses not only a sought-after arbitrator, but an advocate for the rights of those he felt were treated unequally. As an attorney, state senator, Juvenile Court judge, and civic leader, Moses championed the principle of fair treatment under the law. He proposed juvenile justice reform because delinquent children did not have recourse to the legal protections of adults. He sought to establish a detention center for indigent defendants who could not make bail, because they were unfairly forced to languish in jail before being proved guilty. In 1924, he led a delegation that lobbied (unsuccessfully) for equal pay for female high school teachers.

Fragment of a newspaper cartoon about a strike by railroad shop workers in western Maryland. JMM 1963.42.15

Fragment of a newspaper cartoon about a strike by railroad shop workers in western Maryland. JMM 1963.42.15

Above all, Moses was a staunch feminist. He remained a vocal proponent of women’s suffrage after the premature death in 1918 of his wife Hortense, a suffragist and leader of Jewish women’s groups. In the 1920s he endorsed a national equal rights bill, proclaiming, “I believe that men and women should be equal in every respect before the law.” Moses also dedicated himself to Jewish causes. As a young man he presided over the Maccabeans, which aided Jewish youth; in the 1920s he became a leading Zionist—unusual for someone from a privileged German Jewish family.

Continue to The 1920s: Dr. Bessie Moses

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