Jewish Educational Alliance: The Library

Posted on December 26th, 2016 by

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Side Bar 2: The Library

Missed parts 1 – 6? Start from the Beginning.

Enoch Pratt Free Library Central Building, c. 1933. Photo by  Harry B. Leopold, courtesy of the Library of COngress.

Enoch Pratt Free Library Central Building, c. 1933. Photo by Harry B. Leopold, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Progressive-era reformers prized and promoted self-improvement. Ideally, education took place outside of the classroom as well as inside and the expanding public library system offered important resources for self-education. In Baltimore, the Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL) brought books to a wide range of citizens, opening branches throughout the city. In neighborhoods where building a branch was not economically feasible, the EPFL set up small “stations” in rooms within existing buildings. The station was a temporary measure until demand and financial resources allowed the construction of a local branch.[1] In East Baltimore the EPFL arrived in the form of Station 11, due to the efforts of the Jewish community.

The Maccabean House, the JEA’s predecessor, took the initiative to draw the Enoch Pratt Free Library into the neighborhood. The Maccabeans offered the books and the space if the EPFL would supervise, and in 1904 Station 11 opened with about 500 books in its collection. Library statistics clearly demonstrate the local demand – in the first two weeks, 121 people had registered and borrowed 666 volumes. Over the next year, 599 people registered and 17,291 books circulated.[2]

Station 11’s first librarian, Mrs. Bloch, shared the Progressive views of the settlement house movement. Like many librarians throughout the U.S., she saw the library as a major force in Americanization. She once wrote in a report to her superiors at the EPFL that “we have an opportunity to teach the half acclimatized foreigner to think American thoughts and so become Americans in spirit, which is of more benefit to them, and in the end to the people among whom they are destined to live, than all other means used to Americanize foreigners put together.” Mrs. Bloch communicated easily with her constituency, since she spoke English, German, Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew – the main languages spoken by the patrons. Station 11 also offered books in all of those languages.[3]

Inside the Enoch Pratt Free Library Branch, c.1940. Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library, mdaa064.

Inside the Enoch Pratt Free Library Branch 11, c.1940. Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library, mdaa064.

Debate raged within the larger library community over the inclusion of books in foreign languages, but for librarians like Mrs. Bloch it was more important to have immigrants reading good, wholesome, intelligent books, than to force English on them immediately. It seems, however, that as the immigrants learned English, they also craved information on their adopted country. According to EPFL records, American biographies, especially on George Washington, circulated more than other kinds of books at Station 11. However, the library books covered more than just American subjects. Patrons checked out volumes on physics and classical literature. Mrs. Bloch did not leave the influence of the library to the passive lending of books, she also established book clubs and lectures.[4]

In 1909, when the Maccabean House and the Daughters in Israel merged to form the JEA, Station 11 continued under the JEA until the end of the year as the settlement house negotiated with the EPFL to maintain the station elsewhere within the neighborhood. In 1910, the books moved into rented rooms across the street from the JEA at 1119 East Baltimore Street. Two years later, the librarian once again packed up the books and moved, this time to 1208 East Baltimore, not far from the lot where construction would begin on the new JEA house.

The residents of the neighborhood understood the importance of a larger, established branch library. In 1914 the JEA’s newsletter the Alliance Citizen put out a call for fundraising and published a list of clubs that had already contributed to the cause. In August of 1916, Station 11 once again crossed the street and reopened inside 1123 East Baltimore Street. “The quarters were cramped. Of the two-room facility, one and a half rooms were needed to house stacks.”[5] This would be its last temporary home. That same year, with the help of JEA head worker Isaac Aaronson, the EPFL obtained $10,000 from the city for the construction of Branch 11, just one block down Central Avenue from the JEA. World War I delayed construction, but eventually East Baltimore got its own branch library, which opened on November 23, 1921.[6] The building, now a private residence, still stands today.

Continue to Side Bar 3: The Countryside

Notes:

[1] Amy A. Begg, “Enoch Pratt Free Library and Its Service to Communities of Immigrant Residents of Baltimore during the Progressive Era, 1900-1914,” available from comm-org.wisc.edu/papers96/pratt.html.

[2] Annual Report for the Year 1904: Circulation Table, quoted in W. E. Jackl, “Station Number Eleven of the Enoch Pratt Free Library,” Journal of Library History (1972): 147.

[3] Annual Report for the Year 1909, quoted in Jackl, “Station Number Eleven,” 147.

[4] Begg, “Enoch Pratt Free Library,” 5.

[5] Annual Report for the Year 1916, quoted in Jackl, “Station Number Eleven,” 150.

[6] JEA meeting minutes, December 1916, MS 170, Folder 213; Jackl, “Station Number Eleven,” 151.

 

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A “Children’s Playground” and “Centre for Adults:” The Story of Baltimore’s Jewish Educational Alliance, 1909-1952 Pt 5

Posted on December 19th, 2016 by

Article by Jennifer Vess. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Part V: End of an Era

Missed parts 1 – 4? Start from the Beginning.

The JEA maintained a strong settlement house for over forty years. During its first decade it applied the latest theories on social services and moral uplift espoused by Progressive reformers. Its workers pushed for Americanization in much the same way as other settlement houses throughout the U.S. while emphasizing the Jewish nature of the organization. But the country and Baltimore were changing, and the JEA had to change with them. By the 1930s and 1940s, older immigrants had learned to function in American society, their children had grown up as Americans, and the restrictive immigration laws of the 1920s had greatly reduced the number of new immigrants, thus diminishing the perceived need for an intensive Americanization process. All over the country new ideas and new needs led settlement houses to shift their purposes, often becoming more like the community centers we think of today.[1]

Members of the JEA's Orion Club on a hike at Orange Groce, April 1933. JMM 1992.231.282

Members of the JEA’s Orion Club on a hike at Orange Groce, April 1933. JMM 1992.231.282

In addition to these nationwide trends, the JEA faced other changes specific to Baltimore. While still loved and popular, by the late 1940s the JEA building on Baltimore Street was no longer the center of a Jewish community. Families had been moving away from East Baltimore since the 1920s, mostly to northwest Baltimore, and the JEA had responded by opening northwest and southwest branch locations.

With its core neighborhood changing, the city’s Jewish population maturing, and ideas about social services evolving, the JEA no longer played the same critical role in meeting the needs of the Jewish community. As had happened forty years before when the JEA was formed, community leaders saw a need to consolidate activities in order to provide the best services. Despite the strong affection boys and girls in Baltimore still held for the JEA, it closed down in 1952 when the Associated Jewish Charities merged the JEA, the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Hebrew Association, and Camp Woodlands into the Jewish Community Center, which opened on Park Heights Avenue – the demographic center of the Jewish community in the 1950s.

The JEA had been the center of many East Baltimore lives for forty-three years.  At its height monthly attendance rose into the tens of thousands – 22,000 children and adults per month, according to one report of the early 1920s.[2]  But the impact of the JEA went far beyond numbers. To this day, its loyal members keep it going through the JEA Fellowship Association.  Those who visited and loved the JEA in their youth continue to interact with one another through regular newsletters and alumni meetings. Even without a building the JEA endures.

Continue to Side Bar 1: The Levy Building

Notes:

[1] Judith Ann Trolander, Professionalism and Social Change: From the Settlement House Movement to Neighborhood Centers, 1886 to the Present (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).

[2] January, 1922 meeting minutes, MS 170, Folder 213.

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Let’s Hit the Beach

Posted on August 24th, 2016 by

Julia Friedenwald making sand castles, Atlantic City, circa 1911. Gift of Julia Friedenwald Straus Potts. JMM 1984.23.789

Julia Friedenwald making sand castles, Atlantic City, circa 1911. Gift of Julia Friedenwald Straus Potts. JMM 1984.23.789

Late August means back-to-school sales, county fairs, friends posting on social media about how much they’re looking forward to fall, and – in my case – last-minute vacations. I myself grew up going to Bethany Beach, Delaware, but us mid-Atlantic residents are lucky in that we have many beaches and resorts to which we can pledge our loyalties.  A highly unscientific survey of our photo collections shows that Atlantic City, New Jersey, was a favorite for many Jewish Marylanders in the early 20th century.  I enjoy holiday snaps like these because, though the bathing costumes and boardwalks change, in some ways they don’t look all that different from the photos we might take on vacation today. If you, like me, will be going down the ocean* one last time before the summer ends, try recreating some of these views at your beach of choice.

Rosa and Pereth Cohen of Baltimore on the beach, Atlantic City, August 20, 1924.  Gift of Milford Siegel. JMM 1987.97.1

Rosa and Pereth Cohen of Baltimore on the beach, Atlantic City, August 20, 1924. Gift of Milford Siegel. JMM 1987.97.1

Members of the Jewish Educational Alliance clearly enjoying their time on the beach, Atlantic City, circa 1920. Gift of Jack Chandler. JMM 1992.231.247

Members of the Jewish Educational Alliance clearly enjoying their time on the beach, Atlantic City, circa 1920. Gift of Jack Chandler. JMM 1992.231.247

A page of the Weinberg family scrapbook, showing a variety of beach and boardwalk activities from a 1911 trip to Atlantic City.  Gift of Jan L. Weinberg. JMM 1996.50.27o

A page of the Weinberg family scrapbook, showing a variety of beach and boardwalk activities from a 1911 trip to Atlantic City. Gift of Jan L. Weinberg. JMM 1996.50.27o

Leonard Weinberg poses in front of the Steel Pier, Atlantic City, July 1918.  Gift of Jan L. Weinberg. JMM 1996.127.35

Leonard Weinberg poses in front of the Steel Pier, Atlantic City, July 1918. Gift of Jan L. Weinberg. JMM 1996.127.35

Hopefully these kids had fun during their beach day, but they look like they’re kind of over it now.  From a Friedenwald family trip to Atlantic City, circa 1925.  Gift of Julia Friedenwald Straus Potts. JMM 1984.23.631

Hopefully these kids had fun during their beach day, but they look like they’re kind of over it now. From a Friedenwald family trip to Atlantic City, circa 1925. Gift of Julia Friedenwald Straus Potts. JMM 1984.23.631

And finally, what may be my favorite beach snap in the collection – Harry Friedenwald asleep on the beach, under his straw hat. Unfortunately it’s not clear whether or not he requested that someone bury him in the sand. Atlantic City, circa 1911.  Gift of Julia Friedenwald Straus Potts. JMM 1984.23.807

And finally, what may be my favorite beach snap in the collection – Harry Friedenwald asleep on the beach, under his straw hat. Unfortunately it’s not clear whether or not he requested that someone bury him in the sand. Atlantic City, circa 1911. Gift of Julia Friedenwald Straus Potts. JMM 1984.23.807

*Confession: this is not a phrase that I grew up with (though I am a native Marylander, I promise!) – apologies if I am using it incorrectly.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

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