Connecting to the Collections

Posted on June 21st, 2019 by

Blog post by JMM intern Elana Neher. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

In these first few weeks of my internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I have learned about the JMM’s collection in a variety of ways. I have researched parts of the collections, inventoried others, and spent time in collections storage. Through this, I have started to become familiar with Jewish community of Maryland through the objects, documents, and photographs that have found their way to the JMM. For my first blog post, I would like to share the story of two of the people I have gotten to know through my research here.

Some of the sweetest people that I have come across in the JMM’s collection are Aaron and Lillie Straus, a married couple who lived during the late 19th century and the early 20th century and became beloved philanthropists in Baltimore. (Image: Lilie and Aaron Straus, Cohen Family Camp Airy Collection, JMM 1993.59.40.)

Aaron was a German Jew who was born in Baltimore and Lillie was born in St. Louis, MI. After Aaron graduated Baltimore City College, he ran a furniture store that grew into a chain of nearly one hundred large furniture stores throughout the country, primarily on the East Coast and in the mid-West. On one of his business trips, Aaron met Lillie and they moved to Baltimore after they married on June 9, 1889. Throughout their time in Baltimore, they lived in hotels; they lived at the Rannert Hotel then moved to the Belvedere Hotel. The couple was married for sixty-four years until Lillie passed away.

Lillie and Aaron had no biological children but became “Aunt Lillie” and “Uncle Airy” to hundreds of children. They created Camp Louise and Camp Airy, two Jewish summer camps for under-privileged children. Camp Louise, the camp for girls, was founded at Cascade in 1922 and Camp Airy, the boys’ camp, was founded at Thurmont in 1924. These two camps were located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Maryland. Aaron and Lillie frequently visited the camps and knew every camper by name. Aaron led services at the camps until he became blind and the library at Camp Louise was dedicated to Lillie after her death. Each and every camper had fond memories of the couple as evidenced by the letters they wrote to their Uncle Airy after Lillie’s death. The letters were filled with stories of Lillie’s kindness and care for each and every camper and showed what an immense impact that Aaron and Lillie had on the childhoods of so many people in the community.

Aaron & Lillie with campers at Camp Louise. JMM 2018.7.106.14c.

The couple were not just known for their summer camps, but for their philanthropic endeavors as well. They set up the Aaron and Lillie Straus Foundation in 1926 to facilitate their philanthropic work and continue it after their deaths. They were active members of and large benefactors to the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. The auditorium at the synagogue was even named the “Straus Auditorium” in their honor. In addition, they donated $100,000 to the Johns Hopkins Hospital Campaign to memorialize an operating floor. They also donated to the Associated Jewish charities and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House Association, and they took interest in the YMHA and YWHA, now the JCC. In Aaron’s will, he left large amounts of money to many Baltimore-based charities.

Through the letters, newspaper clippings, and anniversary albums about the Strauses that are in the JMM collection, I began to feel connected to Aaron and Lillie. I found myself wondering what it would be like to wave at them at summer camp, to meet them at the hotel they were living in, or to hear them tell the story of how they first met in St. Louis. Through the stories of people like Aaron and Lillie Straus, I have come to feel connected to the Jewish community in Baltimore and it is only because of the time I get to spend with the collection at the JMM that I was able to learn about such amazing people.


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Camp Louise

Posted on May 1st, 2019 by

Blog post by JMM archivist Lorie Rombro. You can read more posts by Lorie HERE.

Aaron and Lillie Straus at Camp Louise with campers. JMM 2018.7.101.

Last week I was processing photographs that were a gift of Camps Airy & Louise. These incredible images were telling the story of a camp I had heard of many times but (until recently) did not know much about their long and interesting history. From my research into the history of the Associated, I knew that Camp Louise began in 1922 when the Daughters in Israel and the Young Ladies Benevolent Society (both part of the Associated Jewish Charities) joined together to operate a camp for young working women in the mountains.

Daughters in Israel was founded in1896 and was a residence home for young working woman. It was first located at 121 Aisquith Street, and would later move to 1111 East Baltimore, then 1200 East Baltimore Street. The young woman, who were either new immigrants or without family, were provided a room in the home, a weekly excursion, a day for friends to visit, and were offered courses in dressmaking and cooking. The cost for this was $2 a week which included housekeeping, room, and board. Most of the young woman were employed in Baltimore’s teeming textile industry where the conditions were difficult and the hours long. (You can learn more about Baltimore’s history with “The Needle Trades” this weekend, when the Museum hosts Jack Burkert of the Baltimore Museum of Industry – more info on his program here.)

The other organization involved in the beginnings of Camp Louise was the Young Ladies Benevolent Society. The Society “gives relief to girls suffering from illness, furnishes maternity care, acts as guide and mentor to girls and young women in need of advice; started in 1900 by a group of 300 working girls, it was an organization that helped care for sick girls over the age of 16 and women in confinement.” “What Your Contribution Accomplished” Pamphlet, 1921; Associated Jewish Charities 1916-1925 Scrapbook. JMM 2017.68.1.14.

These two organizations would join together to operate a camp for young working women in the mountains. It began when they rented a house in Highfield, Maryland, in the Blue Ridge Mountains called Sand-Mar House. “The Associated Jewish Charities provided a budget of $500 for the project. From this amount, $300 had to be paid for rent. The remaining amount of $200, and the very minimal fee that each vacationer paid, if any, comprised the funds for all other necessities. There were ‘counselors’, more fortunate young women from Baltimore, who volunteered their time and interest to make the Sand-Mar House vacation relaxing and attractive. The important responsibilities of management and operation were given to Miss Ida” The Story of Louise by Sara Yudlson. For more than 50 years Ida Sharogrodsky, known as Miss Ida, would run the early camp for working girls and Camp Louise.

Ida Sharagrodsky (Miss Ida) and Lillie Straus (Aunt Lillie) from the Cohen Family Camp Airy Collection, JMM 1993.59.33d.

After several years the Ida Sharogrodsky was told that Sand-Mar could no longer be rented and the Associated Jewish Charities could buy the home if they wished to continue using it. Miss Ida went to one of the active board members who had been a great supporter of the camp, Lillie Straus. She suggested that her husband Aaron Straus buy the building for the Associated so the women could continue having their summer vacations. The story is that Miss Ida decided to take a walk in the area and passed the Melview House, a hotel for sale.

She would ask Mr. and Mrs. Straus to come and look at the hotel and after a journey with quite a few set backs they finally arrived at Melview House. After a tour of the hotel, which offered additional space and the ability to serve more young women, Aaron Straus bought the building and gave it to the Associated Jewish Charities. It was around this time that his sister, Louise Straus passed away. In honor of her they named the new camp, Camp Louise. “It Started with that Big White House,” 1922. Gift of Camps Airy & Louise, JMM 2018.7.107.4.

On June 22, 1922 Camp Louise would officially open with twelve campers. Sara Yudlson wrote, “Activities were leisurely. To just sit on the front porch and rock in a chair, and to look out on green grass and young trees, was rewarding and restful enough for many of the young women.” That summer Aaron and Lillie Straus would visit Camp Louise and made a decision to take the camp on as a personal project and relieve the Associated Jewish Charities of all financial responsibilities and management. They created a new non-profit organization which continues to this day as Camp Louise. Lille and Aaron Straus, who would be known as Uncle Airy and Aunt Lillie, would continue to spend summers at Camp Louise, interacting with the campers and assisting in caring for the camp they loved.

Over time the camp would become a sleep away camp for girls as the needs of a country vacation for young working women became less. The generosity of Aaron and Lillie Straus would allow many Jewish children who would have otherwise never been able to afford sleep away camp a chance to experience a summer of fun. “Syme Inn – one of our original bunks.” Gift of Camps Airy & Louise, JMM 2018.7.106.5.

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Once Upon a Time…02.10.2017

Posted on November 7th, 2017 by

The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church by email at

JMM 1993.37.32

JMM 1993.37.32

Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: February 10, 2017

PastPerfect Accession #: 1993.37.32

Status:Partially identified – the counselor on the left of this Bais Yaakov Day Camp photo from 1958 is Sandy Blumberg Engelman. Do you recognize any of the campers?

Thanks To: Ilene Singer, Judy Silverstein


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