Jennie Franklin Purvin
Of her many efforts to improve Chicago, the legacy that still stands as Jennie Franklin Purvin’s most visible accomplishment is the beachfronts on Lake Michigan for swimming and recreation. Purvin volunteered with a variety of women’s groups and chaired various women’s committees to support mayoral candidates. She campaigned to clean up the beaches of Lake Michigan and ensure public access. She served as president of the local section of the National Council of Jewish Women and of the sisterhood of Chicago’s Sinai Congregation. In 1933, Purvin became the sole female member of the board for the city’s public library. Towards the end of her life, she worked with Mandel Brothers’ Department Store to create the Club Women’s Bureau, an exhibition space for local artists.
Jennie Franklin Purvin was one of a few Jewish women to become prominent in both civic and Jewish communal work in Progressive Era Chicago.
Born in Chicago on August 23, 1873, Jennie had one sister and three brothers. Her mother, Hannah Mayer, the daughter of German Jewish immigrants, was born in and graduated from high school in Chicago. Her father, Henry B. Franklin, came to Chicago from Germany in 1867.
Jennie Franklin graduated from high school in 1891, putting aside college plans to assist in her father’s cigar-manufacturing business. In 1899, she married businessman Moses L. Purvin. They had two daughters, Nata and Janet.
Active in many women’s civic groups, she also chaired women’s committees in support of Chicago mayoral candidates. She was most prominent in the campaign to create clean and accessible bathing beaches on Lake Michigan. Although disappointed in her hopes of being appointed to Chicago’s Board of Education, she was appointed the sole woman member of the public library’s board of directors in 1933. She served as president of the Chicago section of the National Council Of Jewish Women (1920–1922) and of the Sisterhood of Chicago’s Sinai congregation (1925–1927). In her later years, she worked in association with Mandel Brother’s Department Store to create the Club Women’s Bureau, an art exhibition space for Chicago artists, and a camp advisory bureau to advise parents about summer camps.
Jennie Franklin Purvin retired in 1955 and died in Chicago on November 1, 1958. Notable for combining her work in Jewish women’s organizations with a prominent role in Chicago’s general civic life, Purvin’s legacy remains Chicago’s beautiful beachfront.
Kominsky, Neil. “Jennie Franklin Purvin: A Study in Womanpower.” In The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History (1981).
Purvin, Jennie Franklin. Collection. AJA, Cincinnati, Ohio.