Women of Valor


Religious Tolerance

Rebecca Gratz, 1781 - 1869

Gratz remained actively involved in the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum for more than forty years. Deeply committed to the cause, she served not only as secretary of the board, but was also an active fundraiser for the organization. In addition Gratz advised on the subject of running an orphanage, Gratz advised other women, including her sister-in-law, Maria Gist Gratz in Lexington, KY, on establishing their own institutions.

As a respected member of the benevolent community Gratz was afforded special status. Kind, charitable and hard working, she was accepted on the boards of charitable institutions in spite of her Judaism. Gratz was conscious of such distinctions and was put off by the sectarianism of the asylum managers. Things came to a head one day when Gratz's application for her friend Mrs. Furness to adopt a child was denied. As she wrote: "You know I promised our friend Mrs. Furness to apply for a little girl out of the asylum for her—well there is a good little girl I have kept my eye on and she is ready for a place—and my application is rejected because it is for a Unitarian— (but 'Ladies, said I, there are many children under my special direction—you all know my creed—suppose I should want to bring up one in my family?'— 'you may have one, said a church woman—because Jews do not think it a duty to convert.') I am ashamed of such an illiberal spirit.... What a pity that the best and holiest gift of God...should be perverted into a subject of strife."

  1. "You know I promised..." From a letter from Rebecca Gratz to Maria Gist Gratz, 1832. From Letters of Rebecca Gratz, edited by David Philipson. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1929)145.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Rebecca Gratz - Religious Tolerance." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/gratz/religious-tolerance>.