Philadelphia Orphan Asylum
Rebecca Gratz, 1781 - 1869
"You have heard of the more dreadful calamity we have experienced in the destructive fire of the Orphan Asylum, and I am sure have sympathized with our distress—poor little souls how sad their fate!"
Gratz's work with the Female Association exposed her to the plight of poor widows and orphans in her community. In 1815, she helped found the Philadelphia Orphan Society, a private non-sectarian organization that sheltered and educated poor orphaned children until they were old enough to be apprenticed to families. Gratz soon became secretary of the board, a key leadership position that she held for more than 40 years. Through her work, Gratz gained community respect and admiration, and became an important figure in her own right. Shortly after the institution's founding, however, it suffered a terrible tragedy. In 1822, twenty-three of the 106 children who were living in the facility were killed in a fire. Gratz helped raise funds to rebuild a new asylum. As a fundraiser, she understood that "misfortunes... lose us friends" and worked hard to restore public faith in the institution and in the value of women's benevolent work. Gratz's success was well known, and she and the POA became consultants to other women who hoped to establish similar asylums. She commented in 1834, "How abundantly the good seed spreads when planted."
- "You have heard..." From a letter from Rebecca Gratz to Maria Gist Gratz, February 9, 1822. From Letters of Rebecca Gratz, edited by David Philipson. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1929)53.
- "misfortunes...lose us friends" Rebecca Gratz to Maria Fenno Hoffman, April 6, 1823, Rebecca Gratz Papers, Manuscript Collection no. 236. Courtesy of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center at the American Jewish Archives Cincinnati Campus, Hebew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, OH.
- "how abundantly the..." From a letter from Rebecca Gratz to Maria Gist Gratz, October 12, 1834. From Letters of Rebecca Gratz, edited by David Philipson. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1929) 210.