Bertha Floersheim Rauh was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 16, 1865, the daughter of Samuel and Pauline Wertheimer Floersheim, immigrants from western Germany. Dedicating her life to ameliorating the condition of the poor, the oppressed and the sick, she first worked for over twenty years as a volunteer and for a further twelve years as Director of the Department of Public Welfare of the City of Pittsburgh. She began her community service as a teenager, participating in aid to the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. In 1888 she married Enoch Rauh (1857–1919), who was born in Dubuque, Iowa. Enoch’s efforts to reform local politics earned him a fine reputation and a seat on the Pittsburgh City Council. Both the Rauh and Floersheim families were respected members of Rodef Shalom Temple, the Reform Jewish congregation of the city.
In 1904 Bertha Rauh was elected President of the Pittsburgh Section, National Council of Jewish Women, a position she held until 1919. In this respected volunteer post, she lectured and wrote, spreading the message that it was the responsibility of women to use their “leisure” time to extend mothering beyond their own children to the needy in the community. Rauh initiated several programs that were deemed necessary for public welfare and in consequence were taken over by the city. This was true of the Penny Lunches in public schools, social work at Juvenile Court, outdoor schools for tubercular children, a labor bureau to find jobs for the unemployed, and a Committee to Aid the Blind. This last committee soon formed the Western Pennsylvania Federation of the Blind, and later the National Association for the Blind.
Rauh was a founder of the Soho Public Baths, Consumers’ League, Juvenile Court, and the “Pittsburgh and Allegheny Milk and Ice Association,” which guaranteed pasteurized milk and pure water to poor children in the city. With the cooperation of the National Council of Jewish Women, Rauh argued successfully for penal reform and local and state laws regulating fund raising.
Interpreting commitment to suffrage in terms of expressing “compassion and caring” for women, children and the labor force through legislation, Rauh became a founding member of the Equal Franchise Society and of the Equal Franchise Federation of Western Pennsylvania. She distinguished between the contribution that women and men respectively could make, believing that women would bring sensitivity to decision-making positions, private charity, the city, and the nation. In a speech that was printed in full in the widely read Jewish weekly, she criticized the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies for “a glaring error…the barring of women from the directorate.” All the qualities that women would bring, Rauh continued, “constitute a unique contribution which deserves representation” in the work of all organizations, private or public, that make decisions affecting the people.
By 1919, Rauh was a member of thirty boards. In 1923 she was invited to serve on the Board of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies for a one-year term until January, 1924.
Her experience in a wide range of civic projects and her proven executive ability made Bertha Rauh a highly qualified candidate for a responsible public position. In 1922, Bertha Rauh was the first woman appointed to a cabinet post, when Mayor William A. Magee invited her to serve as Director of Public Charities. His successors, Mayor Charles S. Kline and, later, John Herron, appointed her to two additional terms.
When Rauh assumed her position, a fellow cabinet member offered “congratulations and condolences,” warning that it would take at least fifteen years “to set right the department.” Bertha Rauh accomplished the challenging task in twelve years.
Her first significant move was to change the name of the department from “Public Charities” to the “Department of Public Welfare.” In addition, she immediately launched a program of reform, developing a detailed plan for department improvements of which she sent drafts to political, social service and medical leaders before the work was begun. She collaborated closely with public and private charities, settlement houses, hospitals, churches, and schools. She organized a committee of dietitians and other experienced food service people to study the frequent food riots, and to recommend changes in diet. She convened a committee of nineteen doctors to help plan improved medical facilities. By way of organizing the work of the city office of the Department of Public Welfare, Rauh established a Social Service Department, a Mental Health Clinic, and a corps of District Physicians, each to serve the sick poor in his or her district.
Rauh’s greatest achievement was the transformation of the overcrowded, understaffed, unsanitary and unsafe asylum for the insane and indigent at the Mayview Hospital into a modern psychiatric hospital. The Mayview City Home and Hospital, located sixteen miles from the city of Pittsburgh, consisted of a hospital, housing for the indigent and aging, and a working farm. The physical facilities, from infrastructure to living and service areas, were in dire need of repair and renovation. During her first year as Director of the D.P.W., she introduced new clinics and technologies at Mayview. Occupational therapy, physical therapy, hydro-therapy, oral, eye, nose and throat clinics, a new Xray department, and new laboratories were added. A genital-urinary clinic, the first in “an institution of this kind,” was begun.
Dr. Edward Mayer, a psychiatrist, headed a survey that made recommendations for improvement. Plans were drawn up from 1922 to 1927 when construction began. By 1932, when the extensive renovations were almost completed, the hospital was headed by a medical director and superintendent, and staffed by ten physicians, seventeen visiting physicians, two visiting psychiatrists, nurses and social workers. At that time the population of Mayview numbered 3,000 people. Rauh also introduced a professional social worker to help discharged patients adjust to life outside the institution.
In 1924 and 1925 Rauh successfully lobbied the State Legislature to provide free burials for the indigent poor and “maintenance care and treatment” for the indigent insane.” In response to reports of many cases of rabid dogs, Rauh asked the legislature to provide free Pasteur treatment for rabies victims and to require licensing and immunizing of dogs.
The Depression brought extraordinary demands on staff and facilities, forced the closing of the recently established Bureau for the Handicapped, and involved Rauh daily in referring applicants for relief. Associated Charities, Catholic Charities, Jewish Philanthropies, The Red Cross, U.S. Veterans Bureau, Salvation Army, Children’s Aid Society, and Family and Children’s Commission did their best to meet the requests and Rauh worked hard to secure help for all who qualified, keeping notes on each difficult case
As her term came to a close Rauh was praised in articles and letters from many people. One executive commented that greater than all of the activities of her department “was the introduction of a sympathetic, understanding spirit of friendliness in the offices of the Department.” The Director of Catholic Charities wrote, “Congratulations to you and City Council in passing the ordinance regulating the collection of money for charitable purposes. If you had done nothing else, you would have been a very successful Director of Public Welfare.”
After her retirement from public office Rauh remained active in organization and civic life. She worked for the legalization of birth control and for smoke control. She advocated for a contagious disease hospital that would care for venereal diseased persons from juveniles to seniors and urged moving the General Hospital at Mayview into the city so that the sick could receive regular high quality medical care.
Bertha Floersheim Rauh died on October 21, 1952. She was survived by a son, Richard S. Rauh, a daughter, Helen Blanche Rauh, and a grandson, Richard Enoch Rauh.
“Mrs. Enoch Rauh Address.” Jewish Criterion, January 13, 1913.
Address at the Annual Meeting of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. Rauh challenged the male leaders of Federation to right a “most glaring error, … namely the barring of women from its Directorate” [sic]. In spite of Rauh’s spirited and logical argument, it was several years before Federation made any changes in the composition of its Board.
“Mother Element Needed in National Uplift.” Pittsburgh Press, February 25, 1912.
Speech to Board of Trustees, Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, January 31, 1913.
“Women of Leisure.” Jewish Chronicle, 1915.
Letter to the Editor, The American Jewish Chronicle, April 16, 1917.
Radio Talk. “The Federation of Social Agencies.”
WCAE, Pittsburgh, November 22, 1926.
“An Investment in Human Lives.”The Stateswoman, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, April, 1927.
Rauh, Mrs. Enoch. “Pittsburgh Cares for Her Unfortunates: An Investment in Human Lives.”The Stateswoman, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, April, 1927.
“City Poor Get Better Care.”The Pittsburgher, October 6, 1933.
Letter from “The Misses Shipley’s School, Preparatory to Bryn Mawr College”
to Bertha Rauh, September 18, 1907.
The letter refused admission to Bertha Rauh’s daughter, explaining, “It was easier, not only for us, but also for young girls who wished to be placed in a boarding school, that they should be in harmony with their surroundings. We have therefore been led to believe that the daughters of the Hebrew families can probably work better when placed with those of a similar line of thought.” Archives of Industrial Society, University of Pittsburgh.
DeNardo, Diane C. “ Bertha Floersheim Rauh: A Jewish volunteer social reformer
forges a path to public office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” Master’s thesis,
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, 1994.
A history of the Pittsburgh Section, Council of Jewish Women and Rauh’s place as leader of Council.
“Under the Presidency of Mrs. Enoch Rauh, May 1903–May 1922.” Historical
Society of Western Pennsylvania, Library and Archives Division, Pittsburgh,
In 1999 Richard Enoch Rauh, grandson of Bertha Rauh, donated the Rauh family papers to The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania (HSWP). The Historical Society’s Jewish Archives has been renamed The Rauh Jewish Archives. Included in the donated archive were papers of Bertha Rauh, Enoch Rauh, Richard Rauh (son) and Richard Enoch Rauh. Bertha Rauh’s papers cover the years 1904 to the 1940s.
Selavan, Ida Cohen. “Bertha Rauh, First Woman in a Mayor’s Cabinet.” Paper
presented at Duquesne History Forum, Pittsburgh, October 12, 1981.
Paper includes personal and family information. Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.
Zugsmith, Amelia. “History of the Pittsburgh Section, Council of Jewish
Manuscript courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Libraries, Archive Service Center.
Annals of the Civic Club of Allegheny County. Vol. 2, 1914–1923. Pittsburgh: 1945.
Baum, Charlotte, Paula Hyman, and Sonya Michel. The Jewish Woman in America. New York: 1976.
Blair, Karen. Club
Woman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868–1914. New York: 1980.
Blair coined the term “domestic feminists” to describe the club women who brought home and family values to their activities outside the home.
Capone, Margaret Lynch. A History of the Allegheny County League of Women Voters: Sixty Years of Achievement. Pittsburgh: 1980.
Davis, Allen. Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Progressive Movement, 1890–1914. New York: 1967.
Firor Scott, Anne. Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History. Chicago: 1991.
Harper, Frank C. Pittsburgh of Today: Its Resources and People Vol. 4. New York: 1932:747.
Lord, Walter. The
Good Years, 1900 To The First World War. New York: 1960.
A readable account of the Progressive years in American history, particularly the optimistic conviction that any wrong in society could be righted.
Muncy, Robin. Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935. Oxford: 1991.
Rogow, Faith. Gone to Another Meeting: The National Council of Jewish Women 1893–1993. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: 1993.
Sklar, Kathryn Kish. Florence Kelley and the Nation’s Work: The Rise of Women’s Political Culture, 1830–1900. New Haven: 1996.
Esmond, Ruth. “Mrs. Enoch Rauh—Citizen,” Jewish
Criterion, November 10, 1916.
Article begins with extracts from a letter by John Brashear, “Pennsylvania’s First Citizen” in which he praises the “beautiful family life” of the Rauhs.
“The Pittsburgh and Allegheny Milk and Ice Association.” The Congress Outlet, Vol. 3 (October 1923).
“Who’s Who in Pittsburgh Jewry.” Jewish Criterion, March 19, 1927.
AJHS. “Rauh, Bertha (Mrs. Enoch).” AJYB, 1911–1932.
“Bertha Floersheim Rauh.” Pittsburgh of Today, 1932, 747–748.
“Civic Worker 75 Years Old.” Pittsburgh Press, 1937.
Flemington, George Thornton. “Mrs. Bertha F. Rauh.” History of Pittsburgh and Environs Vol.4. New York: 1922.
“Mrs. Rauh, First Woman To Serve in a Mayor’s Cabinet.” Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette, February 14, 1934.
A Review of Bertha Rauh’s tenure as Director of Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Welfare.
“Mrs. Enoch Rauh, Her Story.” Women’s Digest, Vol. 1, no. 2, December, 1939.
“Salute to Mrs. Enoch Rauh.” Monthly Bulletin of Pittsburgh Section, National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh, September, 1940.
Conway, Jill. “Women Reformers and American Culture, 1870–1930.” Journal of Social History 5 (Winter 1971–72): 164–177.
Leff, Mark. “Consensus for Reform: The Mothers’ Pension Movement in the Progressive Era.” Social Service Review 47 (September 1973): 397–417.
Gordon, Linda. “Putting Children First: Women, Maternalism, and Welfare in the Early Twentieth Century.” In U.S. History as Women’s History: New Feminist Essays, edited by Linda K. Kerber, Alice Kessler-Harris and Kathryn Kish Sklar, 63–86. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: 1995.
Koven, Seth and Sonya Michel. “Womanly Duties: Maternalist Policies and the Origins of the Welfare State in France, Great Britain, and the United States, 1880–1920.” American Historical Review, 95 (October 1990): 1077–1079.
Wilkinson, Patrick, “The Selfless and the Helpless: Maternalist Origins of
the U.S. Welfare State.” Feminist
Studies (Fall 1999).
Wilkinson defines “maternalism” as a “movement of middle- and upper-class women, who, between 1890 and 1930, lobbied the state to assist and protect poor mothers and working women, couching both their proposals and their own activism in an idealized rhetoric of motherhood.” He discusses the paradox between activist “maternalists” who accomplished much and the feminist argument that their acts actually transferred nineteenth century gender bias to contemporary society.
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Krause, Corrine Azen. "Bertha Floersheim Rauh." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 2, 2020) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/rauh-bertha-floersheim>.