Rebecca Gratz, 1781 - 1869
Rebecca Gratz was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on March 4, 1781. She was the seventh of twelve children born to Miriam Simon and Michael Gratz. Miriam Simon was the daughter of Joseph Simon, a preeminent Jewish merchant of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Michael Gratz descended from a long line of respected rabbis. Orphaned at an early age, he and his brother Barnard immigrated to Philadelphia from Silesia (now Germany), and amassed considerable wealth as merchants.
At the end of the 18th century, Philadelphia, the nation's capital, was the most religiously and ethnically diverse American city; the Gratz family traveled in its top social circles. Miriam and Michael were observant Jews who were also active members of Philadelphia's earliest synagogue, Mikveh Israel, and their small Jewish community. They were very concerned about their children's education and acquired a considerable library for them. Their efforts were well rewarded; Rebecca's older sister, Richea, was the first woman to attend college in America. As a child, Rebecca read avidly and particularly enjoyed history and literary classics. Her formal education is not well documented, but she may have attended the Young Ladies Academy, a well-known girl's school in Philadelphia.