Camp Louise

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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1 reply on “Camp Louise”

The warm and friendly relationship show to the campers in the first picture above of Aaron and Lillie Straus at Camp Louise with campers. JMM 2018.7.101 reminds me of the way I felt when I would go see my grandmom on her farm in WV. She was so happy to see us and her wonderful smile and hugs still warm me in my memories. Thank you for the walk down memory lane.

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