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Sara Landau

1890 – 1986

by Lee Shai Weissbach

“I’m determined to amount to more than one row of pins some day,” Sara Landau wrote in her diary in 1912, and by the time she died three-quarters of a century later, she had indeed earned a reputation as a talented economist, a devoted teacher, and a tireless community activist.

Sara Landau was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 4, 1890, to Morris (Fred) and Frieda (Shapiro) Landau, who had married in Poland before coming to America in the early 1880s. Sara was the first surviving child of the Landaus, who later had two other daughters, Minnie and Mathilda. She spent part of her early life in Louisiana, graduating from high school in Crowley in 1906, attending Southwest Industrial Institute in Lafayette, and teaching business courses for several years. Around 1914, she and her family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where her father operated a boys’ clothing factory until the Depression of the 1930s.

In Kentucky, Landau continued her formal education. She graduated from the Bowling Green Business University in 1916 and, after interrupting her studies to serve as a Red Cross volunteer in France in 1918–1919, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville in 1920 and a master’s degree in economics from the same institution in 1921. While still a student, she began teaching at the University of Louisville, and continued on the faculty after earning her master’s degree, taking a leave from 1924 to 1926 to pursue doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania, although she never completed her Ph.D. She was promoted from instructor to assistant professor at the University of Louisville in 1926 and to associate professor in 1927. She also served as the assistant dean of women at the university. In 1928, she resigned from the university in protest against the actions of university president George Colvin, which were perceived by many as anti-Semitic and which prompted the departure of history professor Louis Gottschalk. Throughout the 1920s, Landau was also active in community affairs. She taught English and citizenship to newcomers, worked with young women at the Louisville YMHA, and met immigrants at the New York docks on behalf of the National Council of Jewish Women.

After leaving Louisville, Laudau became a teaching fellow at the University of Chicago, and then headed the department of economics and sociology at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. In 1931, she returned to Louisville, where she managed some of her family’s affairs, held several government jobs, and again became active in several service organizations. At a time when only about one in five college teachers was a woman, Landau’s achievements as a university professor and community volunteer led to her inclusion in Who’s Who in American Jewry in both 1928 and 1938.

During World War II, Landau held research positions with various government agencies in Washington, D.C., and a number of college teaching posts in Louisiana, Alabama, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. In 1946, she joined the faculty of the newly established Roosevelt University in Chicago, where she remained until 1954. After her retirement, she returned to Louisville for good, although she did accept invitations to offer courses at Berea College in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

Even in retirement, Landau was a civic activist and a prolific writer. At age eighty-five, she became president of the Women’s Overseas Service League, an organization of World War I volunteers. Throughout her life, she wrote articles, book reviews, plays, and hundreds of letters, many to political figures. She also produced a primer on economics for women, which she attempted on several occasions to publish. She traveled widely, visiting Japan, Holland, and Iceland as early as 1913, and embarking on a year-long world tour by freighter and steamer in 1960.

In 1980, she received the Louisville Jewish Community Center’s prestigious Ottenheimer Award, a prize named for its donor, Blanche B. Ottenheimer (one of Landau’s mentors), and bestowed annually for contributions in the field of human relations. Sara Landau died in Louisville on September 17, 1986, survived by her sister Mathilda. Landau represented a whole category of economically independent middle-class Jewish women in twentieth-century America who both developed their own careers and devoted their energy to volunteer efforts, especially on behalf of their fellow Jews.

Bibliography

Landau, Herman. Adath Louisville: The Story of a Jewish Community (1981); Landau, Sara. Papers. University of Louisville Archives; Schiavone, Colleen, et al. Sara Landau Papers (1991); WWIAJ (1928, 1938).

More on Sara Landau
5 Comments

This article omits a very significant portion of Miss Landau's life and career. She was a Professor of Economics at Berea College, Berea Kentucky during the 50's when I was a student. As has been stated, she was a very beautiful person who was concerned about the welfare of everyone she met, especially the college students. At one time, I was a member of her Class on Money and Banking and she, at her own expense, took us to Louisville to visit the Federal Reserve Branch there. During the day we also visited her friend, Barry Bingham, and toured the Courier-Journal printing plant. We also had lunch at Leo's Seafood Restaurant. She did the same for others attending that class. She took me Ì¢‰âÒunder her armÌ¢‰âÂå while I was there and at one time told me that she could not bear to give a student a bad grade. She felt she was unable to determine whether the student was not trying or whether it was her teaching that was inadequately reached them. It would not surprise me if everyone of her students received only A's and B's. I later returned to Berea to work in the War of Poverty, and shared her friendship again. Sara, while serving in one of her many volunteer efforts, once visited the village of Kasturba in India and was horrified by the condition of the lepers there. She returned and started the Kasturba Fund dedicated to helping the lepers there. Graciousness in most often exemplified by the little things a person does. At one time she invited me and my girl friend to dinner at her house. Her roommate was a Chinese professor at the college and they shared one of the college faculty houses. Her roommate prepared a Chinese style dinner of shrimp that included the shell-tails on the shrimp. My girlfriend and myself, both being from eastern Kentucky, had never eaten shrimp and, indeed, I don't remember ever seeing them in the small stores where we grew up. I do remember seeing the look on her face when we were loudly crunching on the tails. She was far too gracious to embarrass us by saying anything and the tails never hurt anyone. She was one of the truly outstanding persons I have met in my life and that would include President Kennedy, Thomas J. Watson Jr. of IBM, Sargent Shriver and Senator Byrd of West Virginia. I could not judge her to be less than any of them. There are obviously many others who feel the same, especially Berea College graduates. And yes, she most always wore some degree of purple or lavender.

My father, William F. Reeve, lived in a building owned by Miss Sara in his youth. He would frequently take us back to visit her when we were in Louisville.

My memories invariably involve lime freezes served in metal cups that were so cold it made your hand sting, but they were just too good to put down. She always put in a silver straw/spoon and boy did we think that was fancy.

I remember the heavy door with the buzzer on it and the little tiles on the floor. Aunt Sara would open the door, her white hair neatly tucked in a snow white bun. I swear she always smelled of lavender and lilacs.

She and Miss Mattie had a love of purple that made their living quarters a whimsical delight: orchid, magenta, violet, periwinkle, grape. They were all represented.

She had a wedding wall that I loved to stare at. It was covered with wedding photos of people whose lives she had touched. My parents were on that wall. "They must be important people, too" I thought. And of course, To Miss Sara and Miss Mattie everyone was important.

She had photos everywhere. Many with famous people, presidents, and diplomats. She loved when we would ask about them. She taught me early on just how much influence one person can have on the world around them.

She was a class act, a strong determined woman that said what she believed and believed what she said. She was dignified and eloquent yet at the same time simple and sweet. She was not swayed by public opinion. I can only hope that the example that I set for my children and grand children is so positive.

My father grew up in the apartments that Ms. Landau owned.

As a small child we went back to visit Aunt Sara and Mathilda on holidays. She was such a nice and accomodating person with hard rock candy and sweets for her little visitors.

I miss her. She truly was one of the nicest people I have ever had the privilege to know.

Thanks for the story about her.

Warm Regards,

John S. Reeve

Oh, Miss Sara & Mathilda! A trip to Louisville wasn't complete without a visit down to 4th Street. Sarah's modest living room with simple shelves covered with books always fascinated my brother, John. (Especially the ones in French) Sarah was always happy to sit and discuss them or just about anything else! Karen and I were intrigued with the thought of seeing her bedroom. Finally one day we caught a glimpse of it and it was a little girl's dream...creamy wallpaper covered with a garden of violets, a purple chaise, antique dressing table...I still have a purple satin box she gave me that came from that room!

I remember she and I checking on her roses in the back of the building. This was when I was maybe 4 or 5.

Her middle room/guestroom always fascinated me. One wall was literally covered with black and white photos. There were brides and dignitaries. One of the brides was my particular favorite. A dark-haired beauty seated in a full flowing gown--the very definition of elegance. The photos of her with famous people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr, and various presidents/dignitaries made my mind spin with awe. It was peculiar seeing my parents' wedding photo on this wall surrounded by so many famous people! I could have stared at that wall all day, except that her little dining room had two china hutches in it that held all sorts of beautiful china and momentos from her travels around the world, and ribbon candy!

When we weres small and rambunctious Mathilda would entertain us while mom and dad talked with Miss Sara in the front room. Sweet Mathilda. We could always count on her to have a (glass) bottle of Coke for us to share! We always got to try to pop the ice cubes out of the aluminum ice cube tray (Never successfully, I think!)

I agree with my father's post about their generousity. I am honored to have old tour guides/maps from Paris, a lovely silver necklace and postcards (both from Israel), a porcelain creamer, and the aforementioned purple satin box all gifts from her from our various visits thru the years.

I am so thankful for having had Miss Sara and Mathilda in my life. I miss their practical wit and wisdom. I can still remember the sisters bantering back and forth! I too was blessed greatly getting to know them both.

Martha (Reeve) Waddel

In 1944, at the age of five, my family moved into an apartment building on South Fourth Street in Louisville, KY. I later learned that it was owned by a Jewish lady, Sara Landau. I remember attending a Seder with my parents in Miss Sara's apartment, also attended by Misses Minnie and Mathilda. Although we were not biologically related, Sara and Mathilda served as my surrogate "aunts". This practice continued with my children, John (see above), Karen and Martha calling them "Aunt". They were very dear friends to us all. My parents lived in the apartment building until 1961, when my father retired and my parents moved to California. They would stay with Sara whenever they returned to Louisville to visit family and friends in the area. My children liked to pound on her piano when we stopped for a visit, so she gave them the piano in hopes that one or more of them would learn to play. That's illustrates the kind of generousity she had.

Once, she shared an experience while teaching at Berea College. It seemed that a young student was troubled about recent events near his home town. Somebody had enclosed a large area with a high chain link fence and nobody seemed to know what was going on inside the fenced area. He feared that the German's may have established a base of operations to attack us from within (this was during World War II). She asked him where he was from. "Oh, a place you've never heard of. It's a little town in Tennessee called Oak Ridge." She suggested he express his concern to his Senators and Representative.

W. Frank Reeve

How to cite this page

Weissbach, Lee Shai. "Sara Landau." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 28, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/landau-sara>.

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