Charlotte Schacht Lipsky found an unusual balance between activism and pragmatism: on one hand, a follower of the revolutionary Emma Goldman, on the other, the owner of an interior decorating business. Shortly after her arrival in New York in 1895, Lipsky became involved with the movement led by Goldman. After marrying Zionist leader Louis Lipsky in 1905, she found that her husband’s activism was a drain on their finances. She set herself up as an interior decorator, using her home as a showroom. She was also a member of Hadassah and a founding member of Women’s American ORT, an organization that taught trade skills to Jews around the world.
Charlotte Schacht Lipsky, interior decorator, was born in Riga, Latvia, in December 1879. The eldest of five children, she was the only girl.
Lipsky immigrated to the United States in 1895, accompanied by her mother, who lived with Lipsky until her death. Upon arriving in the United States, Lipsky immediately involved herself in politics, specifically in the Jewish socialist movement, becoming one of “Emma Goldman’s girls” on the Lower East Side of New York.
In 1905, she married Louis Lipsky, known by some as the “dean of American Zionists,” who became a leader of the Zionist movement in America. She had a great sense of loyalty to her husband and took pride in his prominence. On nights when he was not traveling, Louis Lipsky would take tea at the Tiptoe Inn, a cafeteria on 86th Street and Broadway. A group of people who wished to speak with him or to listen to him would join him there. Charlotte Lipsky accompanied him to these teas, for which Louis Lipsky would often pick up the tab for everyone. This habit, in addition to his wish to donate much of his paycheck to the Zionist movement, made it necessary for Charlotte Lipsky to find another source of income to support her family.
Lipsky came from an artistic family. Her brothers Gustav and Henry were both actors; another brother, William, was an art dealer; and all of the brothers painted, even James, who was a businessman. It was this background and her own artistic talents that led Lipsky to her career as an interior decorator. She had no office and no other accoutrements to suggest an official business setting. Her home was her showroom, and business with clients was conducted there. She would accompany these clients on trips to Lower East Side shops to choose fabrics, furniture, or whatever was needed. She would then receive a commission for her help and advice.
In addition to her decorating talents, Lipsky was a sculptor and a singer, giving concerts when she went back to Europe in the summers of 1933 and 1936. She also was a founding member of the Manhattan chapter of Women’s American ORT and was active in Hadassah.
Charlotte Lipsky had three children: Eleazar Lipsky, a historian and head of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency for many years; David Lipsky; and Joel Carmichael, who is a writer and the editor of Midstream magazine.
Charlotte Lipsky died on May 15, 1959 at age eighty.
Carmichael, Joel. Interviews with author, November 14, 1995, and January 1996.
Lipsky, Hannah [daughter-in-law]. Interview with author, November 1995.
Obituary. NYTimes, May 17, 1959, 33:3.