Official documents can seem dull. But once you get to know them, they often have interesting stories to tell. Each month, this column will dissect one object from the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives to reveal insights about Jewish history.
Take this ballot. Ask the right questions about its names, dates and terminology, and you’ll find that this strip of paper marks a turning point in local Jewish history.
Every object has a “provenance,” or a history of its creators and owners. This ballot first belonged to Bertha Rauh. Her grandson Richard E. Rauh gave it to us between 1999 and 2001, when he began donating materials to the Sen. John Heinz History Center.
The Richard E. Rauh Collection is one of hundreds of collections stored at the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives. It’s big, filling about 28 boxes. It contains information about the Rauh family, as well as its many organizational affiliations.
This ballot comes from one of those organizations. That’s the first noteworthy detail. The Federation of the Jewish Philanthropies of Pittsburgh was the original name of the organization we now call the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
The original name had two definite articles. It was the Federation of the Jewish Philanthropies because the organization intended to consolidate all legitimate fundraising activity within the Jewish community.
In its constitution, approved in 1912, the Federation announced its mission: “to remove the evil of indiscriminate and unauthorized forms of solicitation, together with ticket selling, bazaars, benefits, fairs, and the annoyances incident to the frequent and constant appeals made for the same.”
Another curious detail is the phrase “For Trustees.” Today, the Federation uses “directors” to describe members of its board. What does the change mean?
A third detail is the list of names. The candidates seem homogenous. They range in age from 44 to 62. All but one were congregants at Rodef Shalom. All but two were American-born, mostly first-generation children of German-born immigrant parents.
But something is up. Only the first eight candidates are listed alphabetically. And the final three have the condition “unexpired term” attached to their names.
An explanation can be gleaned from the early minutes of the Federation, stored on reels of microfilm in the Archives & Special Collections of the University of Pittsburgh.
In the two years preceding this election, the Federation lost three long-serving trustees to death, illness or other commitments. It also expanded, adding three seats.
A complex shuffle ensued. Six newcomers joined the 24-member board between January and April 1922. Some finished the “unexpired terms” of vacated seats. Some started terms for new seats. This ballot marks the first election after those appointments.
Bertha Rauh (“Mrs. Enoch”) and Leah Finkelpearl (“Mrs. Henry”) were the first women on the board. Unlike the industrialists, distillers and professionals who served alongside them, they were experienced in social work.
Rauh led the National Council of Jewish Women-Pittsburgh Section from 1903 to 1918. She was appointed Director of Charities for the city in late 1921, making her the first woman on a mayoral cabinet in Pittsburgh. Finkelpearl was the newest president of the Hebrew Ladies Hospital Aid Society, which oversaw health care activities at Montefiore Hospital.
Rauh and Finkelpearl preferred social service to charity. They wanted to solve problems rather than simply meet needs. Rauh even changed her title to “Director of Public Welfare” to reflect her desire to address the root causes of persistent social ills.
The two women helped remake the Federation. A clearinghouse of charitable giving soon became a social service agency as well. It created programs for needy children, juvenile delinquents and the unemployed. It funded community health programs. A new “Auxiliary Council” promoted the emerging field of social work.
The Federation also democratized, somewhat. Elsewhere in the papers of the Rauh family is language for a change to the Federation bylaws instituted in late 1923. The change required members to cycle off the board for at least one year after completing a three-year term. It was a way to keep “fresh blood” circulating through the leadership.
To honor its founders, the board instituted two classifications. Older members remained “trustees.” Newer members became “directors,” as they are still known today. PJC
Eric Lidji is director of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Sen. John Heinz History Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-454-6406.