A proud United States citizen and active civic leader, Barbara Ochs Adler was a committed advocate for social welfare. Her life’s work, which combined important contributions to both Jewish and American social service organizations, paints a portrait of a woman who strongly identified herself as both Jewish and American.
Barbara (Stettheimer) Adler was born on January 14, 1903, daughter of Walter Stettheimer of San Francisco. Her father was a prominent businessman, and her parents were quite active in the San Francisco social scene. Adler grew up in California and attended Stanford University, where she studied theater and drama.
In 1922, six months before graduation from Stanford, she left school and married Julius Ochs Adler, who at the time was a major in the army reserve and the vice president and treasurer of the New York Times Company. The marriage brought Barbara Adler to New York City, where she developed many new interests and was profoundly influenced by her husband’s illustrious military career. Julius Adler, born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1892, traced his southern origins to Captain Julius Ochs, who came to the United States from Bavaria, and fought in the Mexican and Civil Wars, later migrating to Tennessee from Ohio in 1865. Major General Adler saw active duty in both world wars, received many honors and awards, and served as adviser to President Theodore Roosevelt. His father, Harry Clay Adler, was chair of the board of directors and general manager of the Chattanooga Times. His mother, Ada Ochs Adler, was the sister of Adolph S. Ochs, who founded the New York Times.
Adler and her husband were members of Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Adler was a member of the executive committee of the Jewish Board of Guardians, which is presently the Jewish Board of Family and Child Services. For many years, she represented this agency on the board of trustees of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York. Her work with these important Jewish philanthropic organizations revealed her great concern for the social betterment of Jews in need.
However, Adler also extended her philanthropic and civic efforts toward institutions and organizations that were not specifically Jewish in scope. During World War II, she served as chair of the New York City Defense Recreation Committee, a group that provided free entertainment to military servicemen passing through the city. She took great pride in her affiliation with this committee, and derived much satisfaction from its activities.
Adler was also fascinated by criminology, possessing a special interest in prison management and the treatment of criminal offenders. She was vice president of the Correctional Association of New York, which was successor to the Prison Association. As well, she served as a board member of the National Probation and Parole Association, and worked with the Social Service Bureau of the old magistrate’s courts of the city. Through her involvement with these organizations, which were responsible for overseeing various aspects of the criminal justice system, Adler was able to participate actively in prison reform. In 1935, New York governor Herbert H. Lehman appointed her to the board of visitors of Westfield State Farm, a reformatory for girls at Bedford Hills, New York. In 1941, she was elected president of the correctional facility, and served in that capacity until approximately 1955.
Major General Adler died on October 3, 1955. The couple had three children: two daughters, Barbara A. Katzander and Nancy J. Adler, and a son, Julius Ochs Adler, Jr. After her husband’s death, Adler continued her own philanthropic projects and took on some that were especially important to him, most notably the Lafayette Fellowship Foundation, which provided grants to selected French students to study in American universities.
Barbara Ochs Adler died in New York City on June 3, 1971, several days after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage at her home at 834 Fifth Avenue. She was sixty-eight years old. Her accomplishments as a civic leader and philanthropist bear witness to a life that, through social action, brought together both American and Jewish ideals.
AJYB 73 (1972): 629; Current Biography (June 1948).
Current Biography Yearbook (1956).
Obituary. NYTimes, June 4, 1971, 38:1.
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Lieber, Andrea. "Barbara Ochs Adler." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 22, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/adler-barbara-ochs>.