Death of Hadassah activist Alice Seligsberg
August 27, 1940
Alice Lillie Seligsberg was a social worker and Zionist who helped to found Hadassah: The Women's Zionist Organization of America. Born on August 8, 1873, Seligsberg was raised in New York City, where she earned a B.A. at Barnard College in 1895. She did graduate work at Columbia University and in Berlin, and then began a career working with poor children and orphans in New York. She worked at the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society, and then established Fellowship House, an institution that found homes for poor and orphaned children; she served as president of the House from 1913 to 1918. From 1922 to 1936, she was Executive Director of the Jewish Children's Clearing Bureau, which also worked to place children in appropriate settings. Fellowship House and the Clearing Bureau were later merged into the New York Association for Jewish Children.
In tandem with her professional life, Seligsberg was active in Jewish and Zionist activities. In 1913, she joined the first board of directors of Hadassah: The Women's Zionist Organization of America, then only a year old. In 1917, she helped to organize a large medical effort of nurses, doctors, and supplies sent to Palestine under Hadassah auspices. When the group's business administrator suffered a heart attack, Seligsberg joined the mission. In Palestine, she helped the unit to open hospitals in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Tiberias, Safed, and Haifa; begin a campaign to eradicate malaria; and establish a nurses' training school. She was also asked, in 1919, to become Executive Director of the Palestine Orphan Committee. In this position, Seligsberg established group homes for children who had lost or been separated from their parents during the First World War.
Returning to the U.S. in 1920, Seligsberg founded Junior Hadassah, then served as national president of Hadassah in 1921 and 1922. In 1925, she became senior advisor of Junior Hadassah; she would hold that position for 15 years. Under Seligsberg's leadership, Junior Hadassah devoted its energies to work for war orphans, and then to projects for children in Palestine more generally. Among the group's notable successes was the revitalization of the Youth Aliyah village of Meier Shefeyah. The hospital there was named in Seligsberg's honor.
Alice Seligsberg died on August 27, 1940. Hadassah immediately announced that $10,000 would be allocated to carry on emergency child welfare projects in her name. Hadassah also allocated $25,000 to build a memorial to Seligsberg in Palestine. That memorial, a medical clinic named for her, was dedicated by Henrietta Szold on October 15, 1940.
To learn more about Alice Lillie Seligsberg, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: This Week in History for February 24, 1912 "Founding of Hadassah: The Women's Zionist Organization of America"; Building the "Yishuv" - Henrietta Szold, 1860–1945 and Letter from Henrietta Szold to Alice Seligsberg, October 8, 1931."; Alice Lillie Seligsberg in the Virtual Archive; Rose Viteles.
Sources:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 571-583, 1227-1228; New York Times, August 29, 1940.