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Rosanna Dyer Osterman helps Confederacy retake Galveston

January 1, 1863

Rosanna Dyer Osterman, born in Germany, was living in Galveston, Texas, in 1862 when Union forces captured the city. She had come to Texas in 1838 to help her husband run his mercantile business. Eventually, she became a leading member of the Jewish community, helping to bring the first rabbi to Texas in 1852. When the Civil War broke out, Osterman, by then a widow, remained in Galveston. While many others left for the mainland, she stayed to nurse the sick and wounded, turning her home into a hospital. After the city was captured by Northern troops, she provided military information to Confederate officers in Houston. This information helped them to successfully recapture Galveston on January 1, 1863.

Just three years later, Osterman was killed in a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi River. In her will, she left her considerable fortune, over $200,000, to a host of Jewish and benevolent institutions. Gifts went to Jewish hospitals in New York, New Orleans, and Cincinnati, and enabled the establishment of a Hebrew Benevolent Society in Galveston, which cared for poor and sick people of all faiths. Osterman's bequests also funded synagogues in Houston and Galveston, a Widows and Orphans Home and a Sailors Home in Galveston, as well as a Jewish Foster Home in Philadelphia. In an obituary, the Galveston News lauded Osterman for her "unselfish devotion to the suffering and the sick" and said that "the history of Rosanna Osterman is more eloquently written in the untold charities that have been dispensed by her liberal hands than any eulogy man can bestow."

To learn more about Rosanna Dyer Osterman, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

Sources: Jewish Women in America, An Historical Encyclopedia, pp 1016-1017; Natalie Ornish, Pioneer Jewish Texans (Dallas, 1989), pp. 246-247.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Rosanna Dyer Osterman helps Confederacy retake Galveston." (Viewed on April 18, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jan/01/1863/rosanna-dyer-osterman>.