Thanksgiving Eve Festivities in Baltimore, 1920s-30s

Posted on November 21st, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Happy Thanksgiving Eve! It’s traditionally the busiest travel day of the year in the US (though the Sunday afterward has taken the top spot in recent years), and apparently it is now a big party night, too.  I feel like “Thanksgiving Eve” wasn’t really a thing when I was younger, but as our archives attest, many decades ago it was definitely an occasion for partying.

The large clipping is from the Baltimore Sun, Nov 30, 1922; the smaller one is likely from the Jewish Times. Gift of Adelaide Altman Habel. JMM 2013.27.10-.11

Miss Hilda Brager was presented at the 65th (!) annual Harmony Circle Thanksgiving Eve Ball on Wednesday, November 29th, 1922, at the Hotel Belvedere, Baltimore.  She saved two newspaper clippings about the event and, even better, her teeny-tiny, much-folded dance card, in which her partners for each dance were noted in pencil:

Not a lot of variety in the dances – simply the fox trot, one-step, waltz, and “combination,” no tango or lindy hop on offer here! But Miss Brager did not lack for partners. The unidentified “JHS” appears twice.  Dance card interior, gift of Adelaide Altman Habel. JMM 2013.27.11

The Harmony Circle was a German Jewish social club founded in 1860 (though if the Sun article headline is correct, they’d been holding the deb ball since 1857), largely for the purposes of introducing young ladies to society and, ideally, to a nice Jewish boy to marry.  (For what it’s worth, Hilda did not marry any of her dance partners from this evening; her eventual husband’s name was Nehemiah Altman.)


The Harmony Circle was not the only game in town. On November 23, 1927, B’nai B’rith hosted the “event of the season” at the Southern Hotel (only two dollars a couple!) on Thanksgiving Eve.

Flyer for the B’nai B’rith ball, 1927. Anonymous gift. JMM 1990.108.3

Unfortunately, at the moment little else is known about this event, but I hope it was a good time.


The Junior Assembly of Baltimore joined the festivities by the late 1930s, hosting their Thanksgiving Eve Ball at the Hotel Belvedere on November 22, 1939.

Program for the Junior Assembly ball, 1939. Gift of Isaac Hecht (who served as Treasure of the organization that year). JMM 1993.179.18

This event sounds quite fancy, with “the Beau Brummel of Dance America, Charles Barnet” and “the glamorous Judy Ellington” providing the music, and a breakfast served starting at 1:30 a.m. Please note, if you’re thinking of joining in, tickets are $1.50 per person, and “Full Evening Dress is Obligatory.” I must admit, if I had to choose one of these three parties to attend tonight, this would be it.


So, however you choose to celebrate the night before Thanksgiving – be it on the road, quietly at home, or on the town – stay safe and have fun!

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Hours of Devotion: A 19th Century Prayerbook for Women

Posted on October 18th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

As often happens, I blithely signed up for a blog post without having any real idea of what I was going to blog about. The fated morning arrived – today! – and I got to work still without a clue. I have a handy list of possible blog-worthy artifacts, arranged by accession number, so I pulled that up: top of the list is 1965.2.5, a 19th century book of prayers for women in various circumstances. Aha, I thought – I heard on the radio this morning that October 18th is World Menopause Day!  That’s a day for women in a circumstance, for sure. Let’s investigate!

Stunden der Andacht, by Fanny Neuda. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice T. Annenberg. JMM 1965.2.5

Object number 1965.2.5 is Stunden  der Andacht, a small hardbound volume published by Jacob B. Brandeis in 1880. Fanny Schwiedl Neuda first published Stunden der Andacht: Ein Gebet- und Erbauungsbuch für Israels Frauen und Jungfrauen zur öffentlichen und häuslichen Andacht (Hours of Devotion: Book of Prayer and Edification for Jewish Wives and Young Women) in 1855, a year after the death of her husband Rabbi Abraham Neuda. Researchers note that it was “the first collection of Jewish prayers known to have been written by a woman for women, and the first collection of women’s teḥinot (supplicatory prayers) to be offered in German rather than Yiddish.”

Our copy is part of a small collection of religious texts related to Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore. Although we don’t know the circumstances – if it belonged to a congregant or was on hand in the synagogue for multiple users – it is well worn, and clearly was considered a helpful resource.

The table of contents shows a comprehensive list of Gebete (prayers) for the days of the week, various holidays, and various circumstances and events: for brides, mothers of brides, women about to deliver a baby (and shortly afterward), childless marriages, women with sons in the military, women with ailing parents, during a severe illness, taking a sea voyage, at the gravesite of a child or a parent… (And yes, I did have to pull out my trusty college-era Langenscheidt dictionary; my German is, ah, shall we say, eingerostet (look it up!)).

Alas, I can find no prayer specifically for menopausal women, at least not with my rusty language skills. The closest thing is the Gebet im höheren Alter, or prayer in advanced age. The actual prayer is beyond my quick-what-does-that-say abilities, but if it turns out it does in fact address the Wechseljahre, I’ll be sure to update everyone.

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Torah Mantles on a Field Trip

Posted on October 4th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

This week, Trillion and I had the pleasure of taking some of our Torah mantles and binders on a little field trip, to help the Hinenu: Baltimore Justice Shtiebel develop ideas for a new mantle of their own.  As I told the group, our collections – fabulous as they are! – are not often called upon for general research purposes, so I was delighted for the opportunity to share some of our pieces with them.  We met in a cozy room at Homewood Friends Meeting and spent an hour poring over a selection of 19th and 20th century mantles, binders (or wimples), and other related Torah dressings – made of silk, linen, velvet, and cotton, and embellished with a wide variety of colors, materials, and symbols.

Annie Sommer Kaufman, a textile artist and member of Hinenu, will be making a mantle for their recently welcomed Torah scroll, loaned by Congregation Adath Jeshurun (Philadelphia).

After the show-and-tell portion of the evening, she and the other attendees ‘circled up’ to start discussing what they want on their mantle, inspired (at least in part) by the historical examples from our collection. To prepare for the visit, I took the chance to delve into these meaningful and beautiful pieces – so look for some Torah textile-related blog posts in the near future! In the meantime, here are a few glances at our collections field trip.

I can’t wait to see what the Hinenu members come up with for their own meaningful, beautiful piece.

Huge thanks to Annie, Rabbi Ariana Katz, and the whole congregation for inviting the JMM to participate in the process!

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