1862 – 1928
Caring for the needs and problems of her fellow beings was an early experience in the life of Henriette May (née Lövinson), the oldest of numerous siblings. Although she herself remained childless, the upbringing of children and care for needy adults became her life’s mission. She was quoted as saying that “Only by making others happy can one achieve happiness.” This view was based on the conscious Judaism which her religious parental home implanted in her.
Henriette May was born in Berlin on March 25, 1862. She attended the Royal Augusta School and thereafter a teacher’s seminary, later working as an educator in Berlin and London. In retrospect she perceived herself as having been equipped for life by a “good Prussian drill at home, at school and at the seminary.”
When the Jüdischer Frauenbund was established in 1907, Henriette May became very active as a board member and editor. Above all, she was concerned with the protection of women and children; her major activities were in combating trafficking in women, establishing homes for children orphaned by pogroms or war and forming a travel-expenses fund for mothers in need of vacation (which after her death was named in her memory).
Formerly herself a teacher, she felt strong sympathy for Jewish women teachers who were unemployed or unprovided for in old age. This led her to establish a home for Jewish women teachers in Berlin. In addition, she was a prominent member of numerous welfare institutions: the Berlin association for shelters for the homeless (board member); the Society for Assisting German Jews (member of the business-operating subcommittee); the Jewish Support Society for Women (chairwoman); Jewish Children’s Aid Fund (co-founder). She was a founder, board member and, from 1918, an honorary member of the Central Union of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith (Central Verein Deutscher Staatsbürger Jüdischen Glaubens, where she was the first female board member.
Numerous mourners attended her funeral at the Jewish cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee, while institutions and societies held meetings to commemorate their connection with Henriette May’s life and work.
Kaplan, Marion. Die judische Frauenbewegung in Deutschland (The Jewish Women’s Movement in Germany). Hamburg: 1981, 143f.
Tetzlaff, Walter. 2000 Kurzbiographien bedeutender deutscher Juden. Lindhörst: 1982, 228.
Walk, Joseph. Kurzbiographen zur Geschichte der Juden. München: 1988, 259.
Lexikon Jüdische Frauen. Edited by Jutta Dick and Marina Sassenberg.