Freed from domestic duties by her husband’s success in business, Henrietta Gittelson Blaustein, like many other wealthy Jewish women, was able to give generously of her time to charitable, religious, and civic organizations. The Blausteins were active in the Oheb Shalom Congregation of Baltimore, which had been founded in 1853. Henrietta Blaustein was a member of the Oheb Shalom Sisterhood, and in 1956, contributed five hundred thousand dollars to the synagogue building fund to construct the Blaustein Auditorium. Blaustein was also a member of many other Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and the Baltimore Council of Jewish Women.
Born on January 16, 1871, Henrietta was only fourteen years old when in 1885 she left her native Riga in Latvia and immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland, where she joined members of her family who had been living there for more than one hundred years. She was part of the larger migration of Jews from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to American in the late 1880s that transformed Baltimore’s small predominantly German Jewish community. In 1891, six years after arriving in the United States, she married Louis Blaustein, two years her senior, who had emigrated in 1888 from Russia. Within a year of their marriage, Henrietta gave birth to their first son, Jacob. The couple had three more children: two daughters, Fanny and Ruth, and a second son who died at a young age. In 1892, Louis Blaustein began to work as a kerosene peddler for Standard Oil in Baltimore, and by 1910, he had become an executive in the company. That year, he left Standard Oil, and with his son Jacob, he founded the American Oil Company. Innovations in oil distribution and experiments with new types of gasoline made the new company highly successful. In 1924, Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company paid five million dollars for a half interest in American Oil, and the two merged in 1933.
This wealth allowed the Blausteins to contribute generously to both secular and Jewish charities. When Louis died in 1937, his will stipulated that five hundred thousand dollars be used to endow the Louis and Henrietta Blaustein Foundation. She served as chairperson of the board of the foundation from its creation until her death on December 8, 1965, at age ninety-four, and played an active role in its grant-making endeavors. In 1951, the Foundation awarded one million dollars to the Sinai Hospital at the Jewish Medical Center in Baltimore to build an obstetrical and gynecological building, a gift that at the time was the largest individual contribution ever made to a Jewish organization.
In addition to being involved with Jewish concerns, Blaustein was a devotee of the arts and contributed both time and money to the Baltimore Museum of Art. She also loved symphony music and, until the last two years of her life, never missed a performance of either the Baltimore Symphony or the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Henrietta and Louis Blaustein inculcated their children with their priorities to Jewish community work and charitable enterprise. All three of their children and their spouses are actively involved in Jewish and civic organizations and established private charitable foundations.
Cahn, Louis F. The History of Oheb Shalom, 1853–1953. Baltimore, MD: Oheb Shalom Congregation, 1953
Baltimore Evening Sun, December 9, 1965
“The Forbes Four Hundred.” Forbes (October 16, 1995): 284
News American, December 9, 1965
Obituaries. Maryland Jewish Historical Society
NYTimes, December 9, 1965, 47:2.
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Goldberg, Idana. "Henrietta Gittelson Blaustein." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 28, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/blaustein-henrietta-gittelson>.