Ten in the Twentieth: Baltimore Jews and Social Justice 1940s

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 1940s: Rose Zetzer

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1941: Rose Zetzer (1904-1998) and her colleague Anna Carton open the first female law firm in Maryland. For Zetzer, it is the culmination of a hard-fought struggle to establish herself in her profession.

Rose Zetzer, at the time of her graduation from Eastern High School. Photograph by Columbia Art Studio, Co. JMM 1998.86.112
Rose Zetzer, at the time of her graduation from Eastern High School. Photograph by Columbia Art Studio, Co. JMM 1998.86.112

In 1925 Zetzer became one of only five woman lawyers in Maryland. Unable to get a job at an established firm—though some offered to hire her as a secretary—she worked on her own until partnering with Carton. (Two other women later joined the partnership.) Zetzer also waged a campaign to join the male-only Maryland State Bar Association, which finally admitted her as its first woman member in 1946. She and other female lawyers had formed the Women’s Bar Association in 1927; she served as president for several years.

Rose Zetzer, portrait by Underwood & Underwood. JMM 1998.86.122
Rose Zetzer, portrait by Underwood & Underwood. JMM 1998.86.122

Zetzer was also a champion of legal aid for the poor, becoming the first woman to serve on the board of the Legal Aid Bureau. She devoted herself to Jewish causes as well, including Hadassah and the Jewish Big Brother League.

Continue to The 1950s: Walter Sondheim Jr.

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