1895 – 1961
Librarian, social activist, and founder of National Jewish Book Week, Fanny Goldstein helped institutionalize national pride in ethnic and immigrant backgrounds through her work in libraries and settlement houses, and in her lectures and writing.
Born in Kamenets-Podolsk, Russia, on May 15, 1895, Goldstein immigrated to Boston’s North End with her family in 1900. After attending Hancock Grammar School and taking classes at Simmons College, Boston University, and Harvard University, she became a librarian in the Boston Public Library’s (BPL) North End branch in 1913. Her experience there among the broad mix of immigrant children convinced her that knowledge of one’s own ethnic background—and that of one’s neighbors—was as important for successful acculturation as was knowledge of American language, job skills, and social customs. In 1914, she helped organize the Saturday Evening Girls Club for immigrant girls and edited the group’s magazine. The club provided recreation, socialization and job skills, but most important to Goldstein, it motivated the immigrant girls to learn about their own ethnic backgrounds and to respect one another’s cultural backgrounds.
In 1922, Goldstein transferred to the BPL’s West End branch in Boston’s other major immigrant neighborhood, where she served until her retirement in 1957. There she refined her focus on teaching Americans about themselves and one another. Goldstein built and published collections of books with specific ethnic concentrations, ran weekly book clubs for children and adults, pioneered library exhibitions on immigrant cultures, and created, among other specialty programs, Negro History Week, Jewish Music Month, Catholic Book Week, and Brotherhood Week. Goldstein founded Jewish Book Week in 1925, which grew to become National Jewish Book Week and the Jewish Book Council of America, of which Goldstein served as lifetime honorary president.
Goldstein was the first Jewish woman to direct a branch library in Massachusetts. Her work developing the BPL’s Judaica collection created the state’s second-largest Judaica holdings after Harvard University’s and culminated in Goldstein’s 1954 appointment as the first Jewish woman curator of Judaica in the BPL. She retired from the BPL in 1957, after forty-four years of service to Boston book lovers. She contributed articles to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge, the American Jewish Year Book, and the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, and lectured widely on Jewish literature, Americanization, and library administration. After retiring, she served as literary editor of Boston’s The Jewish Advocate.
Fanny Goldstein died in Boston on December 26, 1961.
“A Bibliography of Foreign Books and Authors in English Translations as Library Aids in Work with Foreign Born.” Boston Public Library (n.d., probably 1940s); “Judaica: A Selected Reading List of Books in the Public Library of the City of Boston.” The Trustees [of the Boston Public Library] (1931–1940).
AJYB 64 (1963): 493; Goldstein, Fanny. Papers. Boston Public Library, Boston, Mass.; Sarna, Jonathan D., and Ellen Smith, eds. The Jews of Boston (1995); Saturday Evening Girls’ News. Boston, 1914–1917; reunion issues 1952 and 1954.