Hannah Marks Solomons
1835 – 1909
Hannah Marks Solomons was an influential San Francisco educator and civic worker, as well as the wife of a leading member of the Jewish community.
She was born in Bromberg, Germany, on September 29, 1835, to Gertrude and Lewis Fleishman, who were en route from Poland to the United States, where they changed their name to Marks. The family, including three-year-old brother Bernhard, settled in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where Lewis worked as a furrier. However, the children were soon orphaned, and Hannah was raised by her uncle and aunt, David and Judith Solis-Cohen, in Philadelphia. In 1852, Bernhard joined the California gold rush, becoming in succession a merchant, miner, teacher, school principal, and farmer. Hannah traveled to California in 1853 for an arranged marriage, but decided against entering into a loveless union. Instead, she began teaching at Temple Emanu-El and at a public elementary school. She became the youngest and only woman principal in San Francisco. Living in a kosher boardinghouse, far from her place of work, Hannah, like many Jews in the West, had to struggle with her commitment to Jewish law.
In 1862, Hannah married Gershom Mendes Seixas Solomons. Born in 1828 to Selina and Lucius Levy Solomons, he was an heir of the well-known Sephardi family; his maternal grandfather, Gershom Mendes Seixas, participated in the 1789 inauguration of George Washington. Seixas Solomons came to San Francisco in 1852. Highly respected, he was a founding member of many Jewish organizations, the secretary of Congregation Emanu-El, an accountant, and a journalist. They had seven children: Selina (b. 1862) became a writer and advocate for woman suffrage; Lucius Levy (b. 1863) became a lawyer and public speaker; Gertrude Marks (b. 1866) died at a young age; Adele Rosa (b. 1868) became a doctor; Theodore Seixas (b. 1870) became an explorer and journalist; Leon Mendes (b. 1873) became a scholar; Frank Benjamin (b. 1875) died as an infant. When the marriage failed, possibly due to Gershom’s alcoholism, Hannah was forced to support the family. She returned to teaching in the public schools and at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum.
Admired for her community involvement, Solomons was president of the Ladies Fair Association of Temple Emanu-El (1868, the first Jewish fair in San Francisco), one of the founders and president of the Woman’s Educational and Industrial Union of San Francisco, and the representative of San Francisco’s Jewish women at an 1888 meeting to decide if women should be allowed on the Board of Education.
Hannah Marks Solomons died on August 4, 1909. Her independence and her accomplishments as an educator and mother were amplified in the West, where family support was limited. Although Judaism had been important to her for most of her life, in her later years she became a follower of Theosophy.
“Noted Educator Passes Away.” Emanu-El, August 13, 1909, 10; Rochlin, Harriet, and Fred Rochlin. Pioneer Jews: A New Life in the Far West (1984); Sargent, Shirley. Solomons of the Sierra (1989); Seixas Family Genealogy. Archives. Western Jewish History Center, Berkeley, Calif.; Solis-Cohen, J., Jr., ed. “A California Pioneer: Bernhard Marks.” PAJHS 44 (1954): 12–57; Stern, Norton B., and William M. Kramer. “The Historical Recovery of the Pioneer Sephardic Jews of California.” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 8 (1975): 3–25; Voorsanger, Jacob. “Leon Mendez Solomons (1873–1900).” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 10 (1978): 138–145.