Bernice Frieze

b. 1913

Bernice Frieze was born in 1913 in Lynn, MA to immigrant parents. Her mother, born in Poland, and her father, born in Russia, both came from large families in which their mothers died young and their fathers remarried soon afterwards.  Both of her parents began working at young ages, and never even entered high school.  Bernice’s family moved to Roxbury and then Brookline when she was a teenager.  Although she had wanted to go to Wellesley College, she received notification that their Jewish quota had been filled and consequently applied to and attended Smith College, where she majored in French.  She graduated from Smith in 1934 with three potential paths; to work as a French interpreter at the United Fruit Company, continue her academic work as a Guggenheim Fellow, or get married to Phillip Frieze.  Despite objections, Bernice chose to get married to Phillip.  Bernice’s father started a business called Gordon Brothers that assisted stores going out of business.  Gordon Brothers is still in existence today and has grown to be a large and very successful company.  It has played a large part in her life because eventually her husband, sons, and grandchildren would go to work for Gordon Brothers.  Bernice was a dedicated wife and mother of two children.  She volunteered often and she and her husband had a number of philanthropic causes; the most important one being the Children’s Hospital, where a room is named in their honor.

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Scope and Content Note

Bernice shares stories of her grandparents’ generation, their lives in Europe, and immigrating to the United States. Both of her parents were born and raised in the Boston area. Bernice explains that her parents were on opposite ends of the political spectrum; her mother was very Liberal, and her father was Conservative. In middle school, Bernice and her family moved to Brookline, where she attended Brookline High School and Mishkin Tefila Hebrew school in Roxbury. Bernice shares memories from growing up, such as the family’s first car - a Model T, the 1918 flu epidemic, the Great Depression, and working for her father’s jewelry business. Bernice graduated from Smith College in 1934 and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, but she turned the opportunity down when she met and married her husband, Phillip. She found work as a cosmetician before starting her family. Phillip came to work for her father’s business as well and stayed with the company until he died. Bernice tells stories from her marriage and family life, the lives of her adult children, and transitioning to widowhood. She discusses their Jewish practice as a family - memories, rituals, and holidays, and Bernice has been a member of Temple Israel for over fifty years. Finally, she reflects on her charitable work in the local community, her hopes for her grandchildren’s generation, and her professional and personal accomplishments. 

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How to cite this page

Oral History of Bernice Frieze. Interviewed by Rochelle Ruthchild . 16 January 1997. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 29, 2024) <http://jwa.org/oralhistories/frieze-bernice>.

Oral History of Bernice Frieze by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.