A Baltimore Girlhood
Henrietta Szold, 1860 - 1945
Henrietta Szold grew up amidst a rich confluence of European, Jewish, and American traditions. Throughout her life, Szold viewed her days in her family's Baltimore home as a sweet and golden era.
Her parents, Benjamin and Sophie Schaar Szold, had emigrated from Hungary in 1859, so that Benjamin could become the rabbi of Baltimore's Congregation Oheb Shalom. Born the following year, Henrietta, the oldest of five surviving sisters, became her father's most prized student. He shared with her his love and much of his knowledge of the texts and traditions of the Jewish people as well as his determination to create an updated form of Judaism that could be respectful of both the past and the present.
Conversant in many languages and at home in classical Jewish texts and thought, Henrietta attained an erudition that was atypical of the young women of her circle. As a teenager she taught Hebrew, Jewish history and Bible at Oheb Shalom's religious school.
Despite her academic bent, Henrietta, upon her 1877 graduation as valedictorian of Western Female High School, did not enter the newly emerging world of higher education for women. None of the recently founded women's colleges were found in Baltimore, and Henrietta did not consider the possibility of leaving home. Nor, although she absorbed the standards of bourgeois refinement that defined prosperous Jewish Baltimore of her era, did she express much interest in the world of courtship and fashion. Rather, she focused upon extending the roles she had already developed: teaching, helping out at home, assisting her father with his research, and watching over her sisters.