Marion Simon Misch
Marion Simon Misch was doubly remarkable, as both a Jewish community leader and the first woman in New England to run a department store. Misch organized the first Jewish Sabbath school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, later moving to Providence, Rhode Island, where she overtook the operations of her husband’s department store after his death. Misch devoted herself to a myriad of Jewish and secular organizations in addition. Among many other things, she worked to expand music programming as a member of the Providence school board, served as the first Jewish president of the Rhode Island Federation of Women’s Clubs, and was the president of the National Council of Jewish Women from 1908 to 1913. Misch lectured internationally on topics ranging from music and education to women’s issues.
Marion Misch participated in a great number of volunteer activities through her lifetime, all the while running a successful business following the death of her husband. Her primary interests centered on education and Judaism, and her volunteerism reflected her concern for these issues.
She was born on May 13, 1869, in Allentown, Pennsylvania (some sources state Newark, New Jersey), to Louis Benjamin and Rachel (Pulaski) Simon. She had a brother, Milton (of Providence, Rhode Island), and two sisters, Marguerite Simon (of East Providence) and Mrs. Aaron Padding (of Albany, New York). Her early years were spent in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where she attended the public schools and normal school. She also studied privately with Rabbi de Sola Mendes. At age fourteen, Marion organized the first Jewish Sabbath school in Pittsfield. Later, she worked as a schoolteacher. On September 3, 1900 (some sources state 1890), she married Caesar Misch, and the couple had one son, Walter. After their marriage, they moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and opened a department store, which Marion Misch ran after her husband’s death in 1921. This store was the only one in New England to be headed by a woman.
Misch was very active in both Jewish and non-Jewish activities in Providence, including serving on the Providence school board for fifteen years. In this position, she oversaw the extension of music education in the schools. She served as president of the Rhode Island Federation of Women’s Clubs, the first Jewish woman to hold this post. Her activism in Providence was extremely broad. She was founder of the Providence Plantation Club, director of the Providence Society for Organizing Charity, director of the Providence District Nursing Association, honorary president of the Providence Section of the national council of jewish women, vice president of the Providence Civic and Park Association, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Music Clubs, and director of the Providence Association for the Blind. She was the first woman appointed to the Providence Playground Committee and was in charge of purchasing all supplies. She was reappointed to this position by both Republican and Democratic mayors.
Misch served as president of the National Council of Jewish Women from 1908 to 1913. Her volunteer efforts in the Jewish community also included acting as director of the national federation of temple sisterhoods, president of the Montefiore Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Association, president of the Sisterhood Temple Beth El, and member of the board of trustees, Temple Beth El. She was also a member of the Miriam Hospital Association, the Jewish Orphanage Association, and the Hebrew Educational Center.
Misch lectured throughout the United States and in Canada, Germany, China, India, and Australia, speaking on such topics as music, education, and women’s and Jewish issues. Her publications include Selections for Homes and Schools (1911), a collection of Jewish prose and poetry, and a “Children’s Service” for the Day of Atonement, which she wrote with Dr. Henry Englander.
AJYB 24:182, 43:361–362.
Obituary. NYTimes, January 20, 1941, 17:4.
Rogow, Faith. Gone to Another Meeting: The National Council of Jewish Women, 1893–1993 (1993).
WWIAJ (1926, 1928).