In Her Own Right

Hebrew Sunday School Society of Philadelphia Records

Date created 1802-2002 (bulk 1888-1980)
Creators Hebrew Sunday School Society of Philadelphia
Abstract In 1838, Rebecca Gratz (a Jewish philanthropist in Philadelphia), along with the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, founded a Sunday School in Philadelphia that was open to all Jewish children regardless of parental financial standing or synagogue affiliation. Founded in 1819, the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society was the first Jewish charitable organization in Philadelphia, and the first such organization in the United States to offer free basic Jewish religious education. In the first year of operation, attendance at the school grew to 80 students, a number which represented nearly 90 percent of the Jewish children in Philadelphia at the time. The Female Hebrew Benevolent Society operated the Sunday School until 1858 when it was incorporated as the Hebrew Sunday School Society (HSSS). Rebecca Gratz served as president of the organization until she was 80 years of age. The Hebrew Sunday School Society records house the organizational records of HSSS. This collection, which dates from 1802 to 2002, consists of minutes, reports, correspondence, budgets and financial statements, staff and student lists, event programs, clippings, books and research materials, photographs, lantern slides, pins, plaques, and other memorabilia. These records and materials document the history and evolution of HSSS and evidence an organization concerned with the betterment of Jewish children through religious education, including those with special needs. The collection is a unique and rich example of the growth and establishment of the first Hebrew Sunday schools that existed outside of any synagogue, with records that provide a look into how decisions were made over the course of the Society's existence regarding what and how to teach, as well as a look into Jewish life in Philadelphia.
Description The pre-1920 materials in this collection shed significant light on the operations of the school. Minutes and annual reports describe academic activities and procedural matters, and there is also some insight into the school's educational philosophy. Students were to be as quiet as possible, stay in their desks, and repeat their teachers' words, and teachers were to be "kind" but "strict." Also of interest are materials produced about students. For the school's 75th anniversary in 1889, administrators solicited notes from former students listing their dates of attendance. A list of those who responded appears in the event's program. The Northern School's record of pupils is also extant between 1890 and 1903. It includes students' names, ages, and addresses, as well as their fathers' (occasionally mothers') names and occupations, pointing to class and residential patterns.
Research interest These records are important for the history of Jewish institution building in Philadelphia, but they have less to say about the history of women's rights, although the very existence of the school reflects Rebecca Gratz's dedicated activism. Later remembrances of Gratz included in this collection do include some biographical information about her, but they shed more light on how she functioned as a symbol than on who she was as a person or activist.
Size 35 lf
Geographical location
Full collection description Home repository description for Hebrew Sunday School Society of Philadelphia Records
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Contributing institution Temple University Libraries
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