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Jennie Grossinger Day!

June 16, 1968
Jennie Grossinger
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Jennie Grossinger being kissed by Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. Public domain.

Jennie Grossinger, who helped make the Catskills resort Grossinger's into the most famous retreat of its kind, was born in Austria on June 16, 1892. At age eight, she immigrated with her family to New York, where she struggled to learn English and succeed in school. At thirteen, she left school to work in a garment factory, providing her family with much-needed income. In 1914, her father bought a piece of land in the Catskills, intending to leave factory work and return to farming. It soon became clear that the rocky soil would never support a prosperous farm, and Jennie suggested that the family take in boarders. The first year, the family charged $9 a week and cleared a net profit of $81. From that modest beginning, Grossinger's was born.

Although the initial farmhouse lacked heat, electricity, and indoor plumbing, its other amenities helped to make it a success. Jennie Grossinger's mother, Malka, was a good kosher cook, and Jennie's warm personality was credited with making guests feel at home. In addition, Jennie's husband Harry (a cousin with the same last name), who had stayed in New York, was able to send guests their way. By 1919, the family had made enough money to sell the original farmhouse and buy a nearby hotel. Grossinger's thrived in the 1920s, becoming an opulent resort with tennis courts, a children's camp, crystal chandeliers, and an auditorium that featured world-class entertainers. It was in this decade that Grossinger's became a destination of choice for upwardly mobile East Coast Jews.

Although the decade of the Great Depression brought hard times, Grossinger's managed to stay open. One innovative development was the establishment of a training camp for boxers. The boxers provided much-needed income, while Grossinger's provided a Jewish atmosphere and facilities. In the years after the Second World War, Grossinger's fame spread from Jews to non-Jews. While maintaining its kosher kitchen, the resort began to attract a non-Jewish clientele. Part of this was due to the successful national distribution and marketing of "Grossinger's Rye," accompanied by Jennie Grossinger's image and signature. By 1970, non-Jews were estimated to make up one third of the 150,000 annual guests. In the post-war years, such prominent figures as Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy, and Nelson Rockefeller visited the resort.

In addition to providing what the New York Times called "the tone of the place" at Grossinger's, Jennie Grossinger was active in a variety of philanthropic endeavors. She endowed a clinic and a convalescent home in Israel. In 1955, she was recognized by the Jewish War Veterans for "devoted service to the Jewish community and to the promotion of interfaith understanding." The same year, she was honored by the South Hudson, NJ, Women's Division of the American Jewish Congress "for her humanitarianism and her contributions to the happiness and welfare of others." In 1968, Governor Nelson Rockefeller designated June 16, Grossinger's birthday, as Jennie Grossinger Day in New York State. It was the first time such an honor had ever been bestowed on a living woman.

Although she turned over the administration of Grossinger's to her children in 1964, Jennie Grossinger remained the soul of the resort. According to her obituary, she fostered "an atmosphere that combined urgent family solicitude for guests with an elegance that gave to many an opulent feeling they never enjoyed at home." She continued to live in a cottage on the resort property until her death on November 20, 1972. In 1985, Grossinger's was sold to a group of investors, passing permanently out of the family hands. The resort has been closed ever since, as it has passed from one investor to another, none of which has succeeded with renovation plans. Only the Grossinger's golf course remains open to the public.

To learn more about Jennie Grossinger, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: Advertising and Consumer Culture in the United States; "Some #jwapedia favorites," Jewesses with Attitude.

Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 556-558; New York Times, March 16, 1955, May 19, 1955, November 21, 1972, October 19, 1985; www.brown.edu/Research/Catskills_Institute/hotelnews/grossinger4.html; www.brown.edu/Research/Catskills_Institute/hotelnews/grossinger2.html; Joel Pomerantz, Jennie and the Story of Grossinger's (New York, 1970); Antler, Joyce, You Never Call! You Never Write!: A History of the Jewish Mother (New York, 2007), pp. 116–121; Gale’s Encyclopedia of Biography.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Jennie Grossinger Day!." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jun/16/1968/jennie-grossinger>.