Who was Rebecca Gratz?
March 4, 1781 — Rebecca Gratz was born today in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (she died on August 27, 1869) in Philadelphia.
A preeminent Jewish American educator and philanthropist, at age 20 (in 1801), she helped establish the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, which helped women whose families were suffering after the American Revolutionary War.
In 1815, after seeing the need for an institution for orphans in Philadelphia, she was among those instrumental in founding the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum. Four years later, she was elected secretary of its Board. She continued to hold this office for forty years. Under Gratz’ auspices, a “Hebrew Sunday School” was started in 1838. Gratz became both its superintendent and president, and assisted in developing its curriculum, resigning in 1864.
Gratz was also one of the founding members of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, on January 16, 1837. In 1850, she advocated in The Occident, over the signature A Daughter of Israel, for the foundation of a Jewish foster home. Her advocacy was largely instrumental in the establishment of such a home in 1855. Other organizations that came about due to her efforts were the Fuel Society and the Sewing Society.
The seventh of twelve children born to Miriam Simon and Michael Gratz, her mother was the daughter of a preeminent Jewish merchant of Lancaster, while her father immigrated to America in 1752 from Langendorf, in German-speaking Silesia. He was descended from a long line of respected rabbis, and Miriam were observant Jews and active members of Philadelphia’s first synagogue, Mikveh Israel.
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