Posted on July 19th, 2013 by Rachel
Those of you who follow our blog posts may have noticed the accent this summer on Civil War stories (June 28, July 2, July 3). This reflects not only the 150th anniversary commemorations but our own work in preparing for next fall’s exhibit. I have asked curator, Karen Falk, to tell you a bit about her take on what makes this exhibit important.
Insights from the Civil War
It may come as a surprise to some, but all American Jews can find a connection to the Civil War, whether or not they have ancestors then in the country and in the conflict.
At least, that’s our observation, based on our work with the upcoming exhibition, Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, which will open at the JMM on October 13. (Thank you to the organizers of the exhibition, the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum.) Here are some ways that I’ve connected with the story.
The Jewish debate over slavery. Daughter of the sixties that I am, I was brought up to believe that social justice was a central tenet of Judaism. I’ve learned, however, that such thinking was not as common among the Jewish immigrants of the mid-19th century as it became for later generations. Jews were divided on the question of slavery: they tended to gravitate towards the opinions of their neighbors, North and South. As new immigrants (of 150,000 Jews in America on the eve of the Civil War, 100,000 had been in this country for a decade or less) struggling to make a living and unsure of their place in American society, most Jews preferred neutrality.
Lloyd Street Synagogue, home of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1864. Photo by D.R. Stiltz & Co. photographers. Used with permission from Ross Kelbaugh. JMM 1997.71.1
There were those, however, who expressed strong opinions, among them, the rabbis of Baltimore. Rabbi Bernard Illoway, who served Baltimore Hebrew Congregation from 1859 to 1861, defended slavery from the pulpit saying, “Why did [Moses] not, when he made a law that no Israelite can become a slave, also prohibit the buying and selling of slaves from and to other nations? Was there ever a greater philanthropist than Abraham, and why did he not set free the slaves which the king of Egypt made him a present of?”
Rabbi David Einhorn of Har Sinai Congregation (1855-1861) was incensed by this biblical justification of slavery by Rabbi Illoway and other rabbis. A staunch defender of human rights, he also used the Torah to support his position: “The ten commandments, the first of which is: “I am the Lord, thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt,—out of the house of bondage” can by no means want to place slavery of any human-being under divine sanction….”
Rabbi David Einhorn, c. 1860, artist unknown. JMM, L1987.018.001.
Rabbi Einhorn’s views enraged the secessionist-leaning population of Baltimore and he fled the city, taking a pulpit in Philadelphia. Rabbi Illoway also left Baltimore soon after his speech, for a pulpit in New Orleans.
The attempt to expel the Jews. The Civil War era was not without anti-Semitism. There were commonly-repeated canards about the Jews: they didn’t fight in the military; they were profiteers; they were cunning cheats. At its worst during the war years, these doubts about the Jews translated into General Ulysses S. Grant’s infamous Orders No. 11, whereby “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the Department [including Kentucky and parts of Tennessee and Mississippi] within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.”
Grant issued his order on December 17, 1862. Fighting in his area delayed dissemination of the order throughout the whole of the territory he governed, but enforcement began immediately in Paducah, Kentucky. (Kentucky was a border state: slave-holding but part of the Union.) Jews throughout the country raised an outcry. One man ousted from his home, Cesar Kaskel, immediately traveled to Washington, DC, seeking an audience with President Lincoln. He was seen and supported by the president, who directed Grant to revoke his order.
Telegram announcing the revocation of Grant’s General Orders No. 11, January 6, 1863. Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society.
All of this happened quickly; the order was officially rescinded by Grant on January 17, 1863. American Jews had learned something very important about their home. As historian Eli Evans observes, “the Northern Jewish community had stood beside the Jews in the South, demonstrating a sense of community that transcended sectional bitterness. Jews [in the Union] had publicly petitioned their government to revoke an order by its most popular general in the midst of a war, and the head of the nation had agreed.” Jews had come together to protest an injustice, had been heard, and been protected.
It’s personal. Civil War stories often illuminate difficult personal decisions. One such story is told by one of the most remarkable documents in the exhibition, a draft of a will for Benjamin Owens Cohen. Cohen, his Jewish father, Barnet Cohen, and non-Jewish mother Catharine Owens, a “free woman of color,” lived in South Carolina. As a free person of mixed race, Benjamin Cohen would have had limited potential marriage partners, so he purchased his wife and owned their children. By 1841, when he was thinking about a pathway to freedom for his family, South Carolina was passing laws that made it nearly impossible to simply emancipate one’s slaves. His will thus bequeaths his wife and children to his white half-brother. On advice from his lawyer, Cohen stated in his will that while “it may be thought that this devise is intended to avoid and defeat the laws of this commonwealth, which affords me protection….I therefore declare…that I intend no such unlawful act. I know that by the law, [my family] are slaves and must remain so….”
Draft of a will for Benjamin Owens Cohen, 1851. Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society.
This draft of Cohen’s will is part of an AJHS collection documenting Cohen’s situation. Scholars have been unable to find a legally-filed will for Benjamin O. Cohen, and we do not know how the family resolved the problem. Historian Bertram Korn suggests that “perhaps Benjamin Owens Cohen outlived the institution of slavery and was able to spend his last days with a family freed from involuntary servitude.” I hope so, too.
Posted on June 26th, 2013 by Rachel
Sometimes the curator feels as though every new exhibition requires a personal “passage through the fire.” The range of subjects exhibited at the JMM is always broad; the move from comic book superheroes to Civil War commemoration is dizzying.
But it’s fun. There are always fascinating new stories to learn. This week, we visited with Lance Bendann, descendant of Civil War era photographers David and Daniel Bendann, and current owner of the Baltimore gallery the brothers founded in 1859.
Soldiers of the Maryland Militia, 53rd Infantry Regiment, Company G, known as the Zouaves. Following the outbreak of the Civil War, the federal government placed Maryland under martial law and disbanded the state and local militias. Due to strong southern sympathies among Marylanders, an estimated 80% of the 53rd “crossed the Potomac” and joined the Confederacy, forming the nucleus of the 1st Maryland Confederate line. Image courtesy of Lance Bendann, Bendann Art Galleries, Baltimore.
David and Daniel were young men when they moved to Baltimore from Richmond in the turbulent years before the war began. Among the first to bring the carte de visite format to Baltimore, they took advantage of the “cardomania” (in which cardboard-mounted portrait photos were used as visiting cards and avidly traded among friends and collected into albums) sweeping Europe and America.
The brothers were artists, posing their subjects with an eye for pleasing composition, and creating elegant backgrounds for the sitters. These backgrounds were much admired by other photographers, so the Bendanns invented a process that allowed studios to purchase negatives for the “Bendann Brothers Backgrounds” to incorporate into their own photos. In 1872 the brothers were awarded a National Photographic Association Holmes Medal for this invention. A detailed explanation of the process can be found at http://photohist.classyarts.com/tag/bendann-backgrounds/.
As was not uncommon among Baltimore Jews, the Bendann men were Confederate sympathizers, having retained alliances dating to their years in Richmond. As a result, both brothers had a brush with the law. In 1862, David Bendann was arrested after an altercation with an unpleasant customer who was also a Union army captain. He was arrested, refused to take a loyalty oath, and served a three-month sentence, after which he signed a statement agreeing that he would “in no wise aid or encourage the Rebels.” Daniel Bendann was charged in April 1865 on a charge of disloyalty, described in the complaint as “a Jew” and a “notorious, violent, and dirty sneaking Rebel.”
Image courtesy of Lance Bendann, Bendann Art Galleries, Baltimore.
After the war, both Union and former Confederate leaders continued to seek out the Bendann Brothers studio for a portrait while visiting Baltimore. They photographed Jefferson Davis, John S. Mosby, Chief Justice Taney, General Sheridan, Illinois governor Richard Yates, and more.
The Bendann Brothers story is just one among many that will be told in the upcoming Passages Through the Fire: Jews and the Civil War, originated by the American Jewish Historical Society and Yeshiva University Museum and augmented at the JMM with narratives from Jewish Maryland. The exhibition will open at the JMM on October 13, 2013.
A blog post by Curator Karen Falk. You can read other posts by Karen and additional exhibition related posts by clicking here.
Posted on June 11th, 2013 by Rachel
A blog post by summer intern Elaine Hall. Elaine is working in our exhibitions department with curator Karen Falk.
This summer I am lucky enough to be an intern doing research for an exhibit at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I specifically applied to this position because of my interest in the topic of an upcoming exhibit on Jewish Health and Healing. Due to my background in both anthropology and biology as well as my future in public health, this topic seemed like a perfect way to put my education to use and gain some interesting experience relating to health.
The exhibit is in its very beginning stages, which gives me an interesting opportunity to be involved in the design of the overall concepts to be included. However before I can really dive into planning and brainstorming it is important that I become familiar with the topic. I am attempting to get to know this subject by looking through the related collections at the museum, articles that have been gathered on the subject as well as on Jewish doctors, and interviews that the museum and others have conducted. I especially enjoy reading through the interviews of prominent Jewish doctors, nurses, and community members that have been collected. Listening to individuals tell their personal stories always ends up being both emotional and educational, in the best ways.
The women of the Sinai Hospital nursing school from the mid 1800’s to the mid 1900’s were facing discrimination and limitation of opportunities because they were Jewish AND because they were women. They describe going into nursing as a natural choice, since there were not many other options as far as higher education and good career opportunities were concerned and because they were drawn towards service.
Tobi Mower, a former Sinai Hospital nurse gave her stories of Nursing School in an interview conducted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Tobi Mower graduated from Sinai Hospital Nursing School in 1963 and is a fascinating and passionate woman. She is well known for her pursuance of women’s rights and her rule-breaking attitude. The Sinai Hospital was created in the mid 1800’s to provide a place where Jewish patients could eat Kosher food, be a part of holiday rituals, and be given appropriate care. However it also served as a place for Jewish nurses and doctors to do their internships and residencies in a time when they were blocked from many opportunities.
Nursing School graduating class of 1963.
“It was more or less like sink or swim, and if you didn’t swim, you sunk, and you were kicked out.” Tobi Mower
Instructor and student nurses around 1959.
“I was picked out as a troublemaker early from my training… Because I was an older girl and I thought some of the rules were really, really stupid” Tobi Mower
A nurse, possibly Molly Roseman, pinning a cap on a student nurse in a capping ceremony.
“If you had a wrinkle in your uniform, you found out about it from Molly, or if you had a scuff mark on your white shoes, you found out about it from Molly, or if your starched nursing cap was disheveled, you found out… she scared everybody, except me…She was screaming at the top of her voice. And I just looked at her, and I said to her, ‘Ms. Roseman, are you finished?’ And she said ‘yes,’ in a very harsh voice. I said ‘fine,’ and as nice- as polite as I could be, but as forceful as I could be, I said, ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again. I don’t allow my mother to yell at me like that anymore, and I will not allow you to do that to me anymore.’ And she just looked at me like I slapped her in the face, but I never had another problem with Molly after that. She loved me, and I think that’s the way when we stood up for ourselves, those of us that felt comfortable with it, we were treated with more respect.” Tobi Mower
Student nurses and doctor with a patient.
“And I remember one doctor asked me for scissors, and I gave him a scissor, and he threw it across the room. And I started crying- well, I wasn’t about to let him see my tears. And he said ‘Young lady, didn’t anybody ever teach you that when we do a breast, we use a [curved or straight] instead of what you gave me?’… And I said ‘no sir, I’m here to learn and be taught.’… While we were waiting for the results of the biopsy, I walked away from the table and broke scrub… ‘I’m not going to have that man [meaning the surgeon] abuse me anymore.’ … And never had a student broken scrub on a private doctor … That doctor did come over to me and apologized, and asked me if I’d rescrub. Yeah. Once again I stood up for myself.” Tobi Mower
Student nurse and doctor with a young patient.
“And then there was- you know, there was a lot of sexual harassment in those years… But in those years it wasn’t considered sexual harassment. In fact, I reminded this guy, who’s now an old man, that if he had done the same thing 20 years later, he would’ve had his rear end hauled to court a lot of times.” Tobi Mower
- Kellman, Naomi. “The Origins of Health Care for the Hebrew Poor.” Generations (Spring 1988): 13.
- Mower, Tobi and Morton. Interview By Barry Lever. Jewish Museum of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, 2001.
- Umansky, Paul I. “The Story of Sinai Hospital, 1866 to 1959.” Generations (Fall 1998): 12-16.