Rebecca Gratz, 1781 - 1869
As the founder and secretary of Philadelphia's earliest women's philanthropic organizations, Rebecca Gratz helped define a new identity for American women. Like other women of her era, Gratz believed that benevolent work was an appropriate extension of women's roles so long as it was done quietly. She devoted her adult life to providing relief for Philadelphia's underprivileged women and children and securing religious, moral and material sustenance for all of Philadelphia's Jews. An observant Jew living in a predominantly Christian nineteenth century culture, Gratz integrated her American experience and Jewish identity to establish the first American Jewish institutions run by women, including the first Hebrew Sunday School and Jewish Orphanage. She believed that women were uniquely responsible for ensuring the preservation of Jewish life in America and worked to create an environment in which women could be fully Jewish and fully American.