Anna Pavitt Boudin
1883 – 1959
Upon her death in 1959, Anna Pavitt Boudin was remembered by the Women’s American Ort as “a woman of searching mind, of dignity, of true feeling for the Jewish people throughout the world on whose behalf she gave her energies and her talent.” Her granddaughter Janet Neschis described Boudin as a pioneer—an elegant but imposing woman with an independent spirit whose interest was in helping others learn to help themselves. Boudin exemplified those qualities in her work in the field of dentistry and, most significantly, in her role in the founding and operation of ORT.
Anna Pavitt Boudin was born into a Jewish household in Mariampol, Poland, on July 15, 1883. In 1904, at age twenty-one, she joined thousands of other Jews emigrating from Russia and Eastern Europe to the United States to escape rampant prejudice and persecution.
Shortly after her arrival, she enrolled in the dentistry program at Columbia University, graduating in 1907. At the end of the nineteenth century, women were still largely excluded from dentistry because they were considered physically too weak. It is notable, therefore, that Boudin overcame that stereotype, but it is even more remarkable that she attained this professional status so quickly after immigration. She was one of eight women in her graduating class of thirty-nine students, and she went on to have a successful career as a dentist. In addition to maintaining her own private practice, Boudin was an active member in many professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Dental Medicine and the American Academy of Periodontology. She established the dental clinic at the New York Infirmary in 1924, and remained in charge of its dental division until 1956, when she became attending dentist emeritus, holding that post until her death in 1959.
Soon after her graduation from Columbia, she fell in love with Louis B. Boudin, a well-known leftist labor lawyer who wrote extensively on American constitutional law and Marxist economic theory. Boudin’s first wife, Leah Kanefsky, had died of tuberculosis in 1906, leaving him a widower with two small children. On May 1, 1909, Louis Boudin married Anna Pavitt, who took over the role of mother to eleven-year-old Eleanor and five-year-old Vera. The new family’s first years were spent in Brooklyn and, later, in midtown Manhattan. The Boudins spent their summers in a cottage in Cold Spring, New York, where they cooperatively owned land with several friends.
Through her husband, Boudin became acquainted with ORT, an organization that was first established in Russia in the 1870s and 1880s to help address the precarious economic condition of the Jewish population by promoting agricultural and industrial work through vocational training. However, pogroms and political reaction limited the work and success of the organization, and it was not until 1906, after the first Russian Revolution, that ORT was able to grow. It spread beyond Imperial Russia, following the Jewish diaspora into Europe and finally, in 1922, to the United States, where the American ORT Federation was organized in Manhattan. Among its founders was Louis Boudin. Five years later, in 1927, several American ORT Federation wives gathered in Anna Boudin’s Brooklyn living room to start the Women’s American ORT, with Boudin as its founding president. The organization focused on fund-raising for ORT, establishing schools for Jews in the United States and abroad, discouraging antisemitism, and promoting health care.
The Women’s American ORT grew to be one of the largest Jewish women’s organizations in the United States and the largest membership group within ORT worldwide. Boudin remained an active member throughout her life, serving on the national executive committee and the advisory board, even within weeks of her death. She was also an important contributor to the Bramson ORT Trade School in New York, which was established during World War II to help unskilled Jewish immigrants assimilate into the American economy by teaching them viable trades.
Anna Pavitt Boudin was diagnosed with cancer a few years after her husband’s death in 1952. She chose to travel in Europe, rather than dwell on her illness. This decision, her granddaughter remembered, was indicative of her desire to be independent and active. When she finally became too ill to travel any longer, she returned to New York City, where she died on October 25, 1959.
AJYB 62:449; Boquist, Constance, and Jeanette V. Haase. An Historical Review of Women in Dentistry: An Annotated Bibliography (1977); Louis B. Boudin Papers, Columbia University, NYC; Buhle, Paul. “Boudin, Louis B.,” Encyclopedia of the American Left, ed. Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas. 2d ed. (1992); “Dr. Anna Boudin, Founding President.” Women’s American ORT News 10, no. 2 (1959): 8; Eighty Years of ORT: Historical Materials, Documents, and Reports (1960); Neschis, Janet. Interview by author (October 9, 1996); Obituary. NYTimes, October 26, 1959, 29:5; “ORT America.” ORT Yearbook, 1987 (1987); Shapiro, Leon. The History of ORT: A Jewish Movement for Social Change (1980); U.S. Bureau of the Census. Census Descriptions of Geographic Subdivisions and Enumeration Districts, 1920 (1978); “Women’s American ORT Education for a Lifetime” (1995); WWWIA 3 (1960).