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.

Click here to start from the beginning.

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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

Click here to start from the beginning.

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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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

Click here to start from the beginning.

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Next Page »