Esther Levy organizes the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, predecessor of Jewish Family Service, on March 7, 1892.

  • By Lee Micklin
  • Posted 10/30/1998
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 100

On March 7, 1892, Esther Levy (1839-1920) calls together 37 women to form the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, Seattle's first Jewish welfare society. She and her daughter, Lizzie Cooper (d. 1915), are the prime movers of the society. The society incorporates and is predecessor of the Puget Sound area's Jewish Family Service. In 1900 Lizzie Cooper will succeed her mother as president of the board.

In 1895, the Seattle Hebrew Benevolent Society men’s group was founded. The men’s group and women’s group began to work together to “minister to the needs of new-comers who arrived penniless and without possessions” (The Jewish Experience). On January 19, 1926, the two groups merged and the name became the Hebrew Benevolent Society.

In 1921, the society hired its first paid executive worker, Bernice Degginger Greengard. Mae Goldsmith followed her. Gradually the organization shifted its activities from traditional charity work -- delivering food baskets, meeting immigrants at the boat -- to professional family case work under the auspices of an agency. The Hebrew Benevolent Society was one of the first organizations to join the Community Fund, now United Way. In 1929, the society changed its name to the Jewish Welfare Society. In 1947, it became Jewish Family and Child Services. In the 1970s, the organization undertook the resettlement of several hundred Soviet Jews.

Today (2004) the organization is named Jewish Family Service. True to its original mission, volunteers remain at the heart of the organization’s efforts to serve those in need. Contemporary services include counseling, children’s services, emergency assistance, vocational guidance, refugee resettlement, family life education, senior services, and aid to the Jewish disabled.


Sources:

The Jewish Experience in Washington State: a Chronology (Washington State Jewish Historical Society); WSJHS editors, “Jewish Family Service at 90,” Nizcor: Washington State Jewish Historical Society Newsletter, May 1982; The Jewish Transcript staff, The Guide to Jewish Washington (Seattle: The Jewish Transcript, 1998); Mildred Tanner Andrews, Woman’s Place (Seattle: Gemil Press, 1994); Jewish Family Service Website (http://www.jfsseattle.org/index.html); "Articles of Incorporation, Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Association," Box 1, Folder 2, Cooper and Levy Family Papers, Accession 2366, University of Washington Special Collections, Seattle. 
Note: This essay was expanded and its date corrected on November 29, 2011. A widely repeated error holds that the group helped to open a free dispensary in the Arcade Building in downtown Seattle in 1903. Lizzie Cooper was on the board of this clinic but it was not a project of the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society. See "To Heal the Sick," The Seattle Daily Times, February 1, 1903, p. 12.


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