Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1900s
Article by Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.
The Baltimore Jewish community has produced many leaders who have worked to make the world a better place. The range of issues they have addressed is impressive: from women’s suffrage to civil rights, labor relations to helping the elderly, refugee resettlement to eliminating poverty, and much more.
This chronology traces the careers of ten Baltimoreans who stood up for social change, with each person’s entry revolving around a turning point—one for each decade of the twentieth century. This is by no means a “Ten Best” list. The people included here are remarkable for what they accomplished, but others, equally remarkable, could have been chosen as well. These profiles should be seen as representative of a larger group of Baltimore Jews who have made major contributions to their communities and to the broader society in myriad ways.
The 1900s: Sidney Hollander
The century begins with Sidney Hollander (1881-1972) being denied his diploma from City College high school. His transgression? He and the other yearbook staffers insisted on printing a cartoon criticizing the faculty, despite administration threats. The episode did not deter Hollander from standing up for what he believed in, all his life. He later said, “In my time I’ve been labeled socialist, radical, subversive, communist—whatever happened to be in disfavor at the time; and that will happen to you, too, if you’re so foolhardy as to challenge things as they are.”
But Hollander was no wild-eyed radical. After building a successful pharmaceutical business by the 1920s, he devoted the next fifty years to civic and philanthropic pursuits. His outspokenness made him a leader in social welfare and reform activities locally and nationally. He helped found the Americans for Democratic Action and the Baltimore Urban League; he presided over the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Jewish Children’s Society, and the national Council of Jewish Federations. He personally challenged segregation by bringing African American friends with him to concerts at the Peabody Conservatory, and was instrumental in bringing the first black performer, Marian Anderson, to the Lyric.
When he died, the Baltimore Sun praised him as the “Champion of the Dispossessed.” He received many accolades and awards during his lifetime, but one stands out as particularly significant: fifty years after the yearbook incident, City College awarded him his diploma—and inducted him into the City College Hall of Fame.