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Sat May 24, 2014, 05:33 AM

Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls opens

(Generally I post articles like this in the HOF, but The Jewish woman archive is such a great resource I thought I'd start here)
Funded by a bequest from the British Baroness Clara de Hirsch, the Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls opened its doors on New York's East 63rd Street on May 22, 1899. Two years in the planning, the Home was designed "to benefit working girls ... to improve their mental, moral, and physical condition, and train them for self-support." With bedrooms for 100 young women, the Home was designed to shelter both American-born and immigrant young women either working or preparing to work.

In addition to lodging, the Home provided meals, physical exercise, and classes in housework, millinery, laundry, dressmaking, and other "domestic" and "industrial" skills. Reflecting the anxieties of its time, the Home sought as much to protect the girls' morals as to ensure their physical health. The Home's initial Board of Directors, composed mostly of women of German-Jewish heritage, believed that positions as domestic servants would be safe and appropriate for their charges, and that all the girls should ultimately marry and be homemakers. Therefore, they sought to train them in the skills that would serve them well in both roles.

In addition, the Home provided educational and social opportunities. Because it was meant to serve mainly Eastern European immigrants, the Home offered English language classes as well as elementary education classes. In addition, basic Jewish religious instruction was offered for one hour a week. Outside of these classes, residents were offered literary and social clubs, access to a library, and trips to museums, parks, and concerts. Finally, the Home sponsored regular dances in an effort to keep girls away from the corrupting influence of the public dance hall.

Mirroring similar efforts by Jewish and non-Jewish clubwomen around the country, the Clara de Hirsch home combined two distinct but related aims. Supporters hoped to aid and support newcomers who might struggle to survive and thrive in the harsh urban conditions faced by immigrants. In addition, they sought to Americanize their charges and teach them a well-defined version of middle class respectability.


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