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Records of the Columbia Religious and Industrial School for Jewish Girls (New York, N.Y.)

Identifier: I-24

Scope and Content Note

The Records of the Columbia Religious and Industrial School for Jewish Girls include annual reports, correspondence, financial records, officers' lists, publicity information, program of events, and a script for a play performed by the Alumnae Club of the school.

Financial records include records of donations, bequests, investments, and teachers' salaries and other expenses. Two entertainment programs, each provided by the Alumnae Club, date from 1908 and 1941. Correspondence primarily relates to Treasurer Napthali Taylor Phillips and his wife, President Rosalie Phillips. Annual reports are limited to 1907, 1910, and 1911. A large portion of the records between the mid-1910s to the early 1930s are lacking in the files.

The records are valuable for researchers interested in Jewish religious and vocational education for girls, women in charitable organizations, americanization of immigrants, the Lower East Side, and missionary work. Significant correspondents include Rosalie Solomons Phillips, Adolphus Solomons, and Naphtali Taylor Phillips. Other figures involved with the school are Mathilde (Mrs. Solomon) Schechter, Rosalie Rebecca (Mrs. H. Pereira) Mendes, Esther Ruskay, and Mrs. Jacob Schiff.


  • undated, 1905-1944


Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Historical Sketch

Founded in 1888 by Adolph Benjamin and Adolphus Solomons, the Columbia Religious and Industrial School for Jewish Girls was created as a protection against the many Christian missionaries on the Lower East Side of New York. It was originally located at 120 Columbia Street, but it went through numerous changes of location, including East 3rd Street, East 5th Street, and Eldridge Street. Lack of space is mentioned several times as a reason for turning away hundreds of children, and in the President's Annual Report for 1910, Lewis Isaacs, Acting President, simply states that none of the residences were "wholly satisfactory," and that he hopes that their current location will "invite a broadening of [the school's] sphere of influence."1

In 1907, the school claimed to serve a total of 1,000 pupils per week in its Sunday School, Saturday afternoon services, and Industrial classes held four afternoons every week. Most of the students were described as being "from the poorest elements of [the Lower East Side], and… of Gaelican and Hungarian parentage."2

The Industrial branch of the school taught sewing by hand as well as by machine, mending, embroidery, cutting, and garment-making to about 200-300 girls per afternoon. These classes were held in two sessions in order to have enough space to accommodate all the students. At the end of each class, the girls were dismissed with a hymn, a prayer, or a short uplifting talk. The girls were apparently eager to learn, and were described as "clean and neat."3 One of their assignments included sewing their own graduation gowns. The Industrial classes were meant to occupy girls' time so that they would not have time to be ensnared by Missionaries, and to teach them the skills they would need to run a Jewish home, as well as to create a Jewish female network to bind future Jewish women to the Jewish community.

The Religious branch of the school, headed by students from the Jewish Theological Seminary, served about 120 pupils. This branch consisted of Saturday afternoon services and Sunday School classes in which students learned the "tenets of Jewish doctrine, Bible history, and Hebrew."4 There were nearly two times as many students attending the industrial classes than the religious activities of the school.

The Jewish Theological Seminary supplied the teachers for the school and Solomon Schecter's wife, Mathilde Schecter, was active on the Columbia School Board of Directors. In the 1907 Annual Report she wrote the Annual report of the President under the title of Vice President and Acting President, in which she discusses the virtues of the school's efforts to "keep sacred and alive every little flame of Jewish home life, the holiness, the reverence for authority and religion, and harmonize the old and the new elements in [the children's] lives."5

Other benefits pupils received through their participation in the Columbia School include: instruction in singing, exposure to nature and the wilderness during July outings and excursions, ice cream treats in the summer, help in finding employment for the family members of the students, and after graduation, involvement in the Alumnae Club.

The Alumnae Club was composed of about 500 women and girls, both graduates of and teachers at the school, who met regularly for "religious and educational uplift."6 Many alumni taught at the school. The School found it important to keep close ties with the Alumnae Club and the graduates "during their young womanhood, that subtle period of life when girls develop the best of the worst instincts of their future." 7 The Alumnae Club sponsored evenings of entertainment, a Purim dance, anniversary celebrations, and other "occasional social meetings [that] serve to strengthen the bond of union and devotion to the School."8

Not only were graduates and members of the Alumnae Club supportive of the Columbia Religious and Industrial School. Though Lewis Isaacs, in his Annual report of 1910, claimed that the school was proud to be "unobtrusive and little known among the uptown Jews of the city," 9 the school was well-loved by the neighborhoods it served and the families of the students. Poor workers, parents of the pupils, would often contribute 5 or 10 cents of their earnings regularly to pay their share of the school's expenses from books, repairs, and holiday celebrations. Mothers of the students cooked food for these celebrations, met once a month in social gatherings, and supported the "practical good their daughters derive[d] from the industrial instruction." Fathers of the students supposedly supported the school because of "the thoroughly Jewish spirit prevailing throughout [the school], which [made] it a safeguard against the surrounding missionary activities."10

By 1911, President Pauline Sternberger wrote in her Annual Report that "the school has been very successful in offsetting the Christian missionaries, as the children comprehend the evil of the mission." The 1907 report also states that the school "so effectually performed its work that the missionaries have for the most part ceased their efforts at conversion, and have left the school free to pursue more constructive work."11

The Columbia School acknowledged that for the poor Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York, "with their crowded, unattractive homes, it is natural that the children grasp eagerly at the kind treatment, beauty, and entertainment held out to them by the Mission Schools."12 The founders of the Columbia School hoped that by giving children a strong connection to Judaism, they would be able to resist Christian missionary's tactics in which Jewish children were "urged to forsake the Faith of their parents."13 In a scene in the "Vignettes From the Life of the Alumnae Club" performed at a pageant in honor of the Club's 35th anniversary, students demonstrate their own fear of missionaries, as a young girl, upon meeting her new teacher, whispers to a friend, "I'll bet she's a Chrischt! I'll bet she's pretending she's the leader, but she's only one of those Missionaries who want to fa-fier us… I told you she's a Chrischt! That's how all Missionaries begin. First they fool you in with bible stories, then they take you someplace and they burn a cross on your chest."14 Indeed, the fear of Missionaries influencing Jewish children was great and induced action to counter the threat. An interesting tactic of the school, mentioned briefly in the 1907 President's Annual Report by Mathilde Schecter, was to imitate the way in which the Missionaries got the attention of Jewish children. Schecter describes how Reverend Lewis B. Michaelson, Superintendent of the School, works in "the manner of a Jewish Salvation Army officer,"15 copying the discipline, methods, and speech of missionaries. In general, the School educated its students on the belief that "[We must not], the largest Jewish community in the world, allow little, innocent souls to be neglected, especially where there are so many watching for the opportunity of profiting by such neglect. Our children must be made conscious that they are under the loving care of Jewish eyes and Jewish guardians."16

By educating Jewish girls and keeping them in contact with the Jewish community even after their graduation through the Alumnae Club, the Jewish community will be guaranteed active Jewish mothers and wives who will keep Judaism alive in the home. Indeed, the school often measured its success by how many of its graduates married respectable Jewish men. Pauline Sternberger, in her 1911 Annual President's Report, notes the four marriages that year of Columbia School graduates to "estimable young men, proving the good training given to those girls during their school life at the Columbia School."17 In the Vignettes from the Alumnae Club, a whole scene is dedicated to the marriages of Columbia School girls, in which the commentator notes with pride that "more of our girls married between 1930 and 1931, than half a dozen years before and after, combined."18 The Columbia School strived to create desirable American Jewish girls who would marry well and keep Judaism alive, or as Lewis Isaacs put it, to "develop respectable, religious, and industrious Jewish women."19 Mathilde Schecter connected this goal to another goal of the school, the Americanization of Jewish immigrants, when she wrote: "They will be good, clean, moral Jewish girls, and by keeping the Jewish ideals they will naturally become most desirable Americans. The Jew, and the Jewess more so, is quick and adaptable, and through the wonderful American school, they get at the channel of what is best in American institutions. The Columbia School for Jewish Girls enters into this new patriotic interest of the immigrant child wisely, not hysterically."20

During the mid-1930s and 1940s, the school experienced serious financial difficulties, owing to a combination of the Depression and the long-held view that Jews in America should keep quiet and take care of themselves without asking for outside help, a view that the school internalized through its pride that "our work is quiet and unobtrusive… the community at large hardly knows of our existence."21 Several supporters of the school had died and left some money for financing the school, but by 1943 these funds were exhausted. In an anonymous rough draft of a letter dated 1943 asking former contributors and their descendants for annual contributions, the author writes that the school was originally supported by voluntary contributions and dues until the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies was organized, at which point the income of the school was derived from assorted legacies, which were invested, but now depleted. The author stated that owing to "present conditions," it was unwise to ask the public for the funds needed to keep the school open, but that unless the school received financial assistance, it would close on May 31, 1944. Later, however, in a note dated after June 1944, to the Honorary President in 1944, (Mrs. N. Taylor Phillips, daughter of founder Adolphus Solomons), President Rose Kaye wrote, "Thank God the school will live."22 The latest date of anything in the files is July 1944.

The establishment of the Columbia Religious and Industrial School for Jewish Girls attests to the seriousness of the threats to the Jewish community during the crisis of the late 19th century. The possibility of losing too many Jewish immigrant children and families to Christian missionaries was very real to Jews on the Lower East Side of New York. The fact that the Jewish community chose to respond to this crisis through educating the Jewish girls, providing for them a network of caring and dedicated Jews to serve as role models and to encourage them to keep close ties to their Jewish community, and maintaining the school despite financial difficulties, exemplifies a clever and meaningful strategy for preserving American Judaism.


  1. Folder 9, Item 2. All subsequent quotations are from the Columbia Religious and Industrial School for Jewish Girls collection (*I-24) in the American Jewish Historical Society.
  2. Folder 9, Item 1: Mathilde Schecter
  3. Folder 9, Item 3: Pauline Sternberger
  4. Folder 9, Item 3: Pauline Sternberger
  5. Folder 9, Item 1
  6. Folder 2, Item 1
  7. Folder 9, Item 1: Mathilde Schecter
  8. Folder 9, Item 2: Lewis Isaacs
  9. Folder 9, Item 2
  10. Folder 9, Item 1: Mathilde Schecter
  11. Folder 9, Item 1
  12. Folder 2, Item 2
  13. Folder 2, Item 1
  14. Folder 8, Item 1
  15. Folder 9, Item 1
  16. Folder 9, Item 1: Mathilde Schecter
  17. Folder 9, Item 3
  18. Folder 8, Item 1
  19. Folder 9, Item 2
  20. Folder 9, Item 1
  21. Folder 9, Item 1: Mathilde Schecter
  22. Folder 7, Item 3


0.25 Linear Feet (1 one-half manuscript box)

Language of Materials



This collection contains correspondence, financial data and reports (some published) on the work and activities of the School. Among the officers were N. Taylor Phillips, treasurer, and his wife, Rosalie Solomons Phillips, president and first vice president.


The collection consists of a single series arranged by topic.

Related Material

Rosalie Solomons Phillips Papers, P-17.

Guide to the Records of the Columbia Religious and Industrial School for Jewish Girls (New York, N.Y.), undated, 1905-1944  
Processed by Abigail Lawrence and Felicia Herman
© 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.

Revision Statements

  • December 2020: RJohnstone: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States