Skip to main content

Freedom Benevolent Society Collection

 Collection
Identifier: AR 11099

Scope and Content Note

The Freedom Benevolent Society was a mutual aid and fraternal organization founded by Jewish immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1882, on the Lower East Side of New York City. Originally known as the Erster Kaiser Franz Josef Kranken Unterstützungs–Verein, or the First Franz Joseph Sick and Benevolent Society, it was incorporated in 1883, and remained active until 1991. Its main purpose was to provide its members with sick benefits, and relief in times of need, as well as fellowship and entertainment. Eventually it also functioned as a burial society, and maintained cemetery plots.

The collection documents the society's activities over more than a century, from 1884 until its initiation of dissolution proceedings, in 1991. Included are membership applications from the early decades of the society's history (1884-1927); anniversary programs spanning fifty years (1932-1982); a visitors' register for the 1500th meeting, in 1950; meeting notices and other fliers (1976-1991); two account books (1886-1893, 1966-1971); and two cemetery plans. No copy of a constitution or by-laws was found with the collection, although membership applications make reference to such a document.

One of the cemetery plans, dated 1939, relates to the society's female counterpart, the Franz Joseph Ladies Sick and Benevolent Society. The anniversary programs of 1932, 1942 and 1947 contain references to an address by a representative of the ladies' society, and the 1947 program carries an ad listing its officers.

Items dating from before 1940, when the society was still known by its original German name, or the English-language equivalent, are found in Series I. Items dating from the period from the 1940s on, when it was known as the Freedom Benevolent Society, are found in Series II. While Series I includes German-language records dating from the late 19th to the early 20th century, the post-1940 records in Series II are entirely in English.

Dates

  • 1884-1991

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English and German.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Historical Note

The Freedom Benevolent Society was a mutual aid and fraternal organization founded by Jewish immigrants in the fall of 1882, in the Golden Rule Hall, at Rivington and Essex Streets, on the Lower East Side of New York City. Its main purpose was to provide its members with sick benefits, and relief in times of need, as well as fellowship and entertainment. Eventually it also functioned as a burial society, and maintained cemetery plots. The society received a charter from the State of New York in December 1882 and was incorporated in May 1883.

The early members presumably hailed from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Austria-Hungary), since the original name of the organization makes reference to the emperor: Erster Kaiser Franz Josef Kranken Unterstützungs–Verein, or the First Franz Joseph Sick and Benevolent Society. According to the brief histories published in the society's anniversary programs, there were 14 founding members: Dr. Bleier, Louis Fishel, Louis Fleigel, Louis Fried, Mr. Fuchs (the first president), M. Heidenreich, William Klein, Johann Krauss, Max London, Mr. Luft, Dr. Price, Mr. Reich, Mr. Rottenberg, and Adolph Schroeder.

Early in its history the society held meetings and kept records in the German language. It officially changed its name to the Freedom Benevolent Society on March 27, 1940, and by that time was apparently conducting its business exclusively in English.

At its 50th anniversary, in 1932, at what was probably the peak of its size, the society had close to 300 members. At the 70th anniversary, in 1952, approximately 120 members had attended a meeting in the past year; and at the centennial, in 1982, there were approximately 75 members.

Meetings were held in public venues such as hotels. The Riverside Plaza Hotel on 73rd Street was a regular venue in the 1940s to 1950s, and the Prince George Hotel, on 28th Street, in the 1970s.

In the 1940s to 1950s the society sent delegates to the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and the Austrian Hungarian Hebrew Free Burial Association.

The society had only male members. For at least a time, in the 1930s to 1940s, there was a women's auxiliary, the Franz Joseph Ladies Sick and Benevolent Society.

For most of its history the society had a Relief Committee; a Sick Committee; and a Shiva Committee, or, later on, a Cemetery Board. Until around 1950 it had its own physician. The Relief Committee received no requests for aid after 1970; and the Sick Committee was dissolved, and sick benefits eliminated, in 1974. The cemeteries associated with the society, and the years of acquisition of the plots, were: Mount Zion (1905); Mount Hebron (1920), Cedar Park (1938), and Beth El (1947).

In 1950 the society established a memorial award in honor of one of its past presidents, Hugo Kraus (died May 3, 1945); the "Hugo" award continued to be presented to members for their service on the occasion of anniversary dinners through 1977.

The society began liquidation proceedings in December 1991; burial permits continued to be issued by a designated party, and the proceedings were finally closed in 2013.

Extent

.75 Linear Feet (2 boxes + 2 oversize folders)

Abstract

The Freedom Benevolent Society was a mutual aid and fraternal organization founded by Jewish immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1882, on the Lower East Side of New York City. Originally known as the Erster Kaiser Franz Josef Kranken Unterstützungs–Verein, or the First Franz Joseph Sick and Benevolent Society, it was incorporated in 1883. Its main purpose was to provide its members with sick benefits, and relief in times of need, as well as fellowship and entertainment. Eventually it also functioned as a burial society, and maintained cemetery plots. The collection documents the society's activities over more than a century, from 1884 until its initiation of dissolution proceedings, in 1991. It includes membership applications from the early decades of the society's history (1884-1927), anniversary programs spanning fifty years (1932-1982), and a visitors' register for the 1500th meeting, in 1950, as well as account books, meeting notices, and two cemetery plans, one of which relates to the Franz Joseph Ladies Sick and Benevolent Society.

Arrangement

The collection is organized chronologically into two groupings corresponding approximately to the earlier and later parts of the society's history, with Series I covering the period when it was known as the Erster Kaiser Franz Josef Kranken Unterstützungs–Verein, or the First Franz Joseph Sick and Benevolent Society; and Series II, the period, from the 1940s on, after the change of its name to the Freedom Benevolent Society.

Processing Information

The older records of the society, corresponding to Series I, were previously processed as a separate collection, under the name Kaiser Franz Josef Kr. Unterst. Verein Collection (AR 11100). During the present processing those records were integrated into the present collection; one oversize item (plan of burial ground of the ladies' society) was moved to an oversize folder. The second part of the collection (Series II) was re-foldered into new acid-free archival folders; two large screws that had been used to bundle meeting notices were removed.
Title
Guide to the Freedom Benevolent Society Collection 1884-1991 AR 11099
Author
Processed by LBI staff / Additional processing and finding aid compiled and encoded by Violet Lutz.
Date
© 2015
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
Made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation.

Revision Statements

  • July 2016:: dao links added by Emily Andresini.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States