Rebecca Gratz, 1781 - 1869
"Have you received Ivanhoe? When you read it tell me what you think of my namesake Rebecca."
In 1820, Sir Walter Scott published the novel, Ivanhoe, whose heroine Rebecca, was a beautiful Jewess who refused to marry out of her faith. Soon after the book was published, it was rumored that Rebecca Gratz was the model for Scott's dashing medieval Rebecca. Although there is no direct evidence linking Gratz to the novel and no indication that Gratz was ever romantically involved with anyone, Jewish or Christian, the legend has persisted. The origin of the myth lies in a rumored conversation between Washington Irving (a friend of Gratz's) and Scott. Supposedly, Scott sent Irving a copy of the novel with a letter asking Irving if he recognized "his Rebecca." This letter has never been found.
Like Scott's Rebecca, however, Gratz was beautiful and talented and chose to remain single in a world that regarded marriage as a woman's primary role. The Ivanhoe legend has given generations of Jewish-Americans a way to explain the accomplishments of a woman who defied traditional notions of achieving status in the Jewish community. Whether or not the legend is true, Gratz herself found Scott's work gratifying. In 1829, she wrote to her old friend Maria Fenno Hoffman, "I felt a little extra pleasure from Rebecca's being a Hebrew maiden. It is worthy of Scott in a period when persecution has re-commenced in Europe to hold up a picture of the superstition and cruelty in which it originated."
- "Have you received ..." From a letter from Rebecca Gratz to Maria Gist Gratz, April4, 1820. From Letters of Rebecca Gratz, edited by David Philipson. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1929)29.
- "I felt a little extra..." From a letter from Rebecca Gratz to Maria Fenno Hoffman, March 25, 1813 Gratz Family Papers, p29. Courtesy of The American Jewish Historical Society, Waltham MA & New York, NY.