Florence Schornstein spent a lifetime making New Orleans a better place to live, and Hurricane Katrina only strengthened her resolve. Schornstein began her career as a civic activist during the civil rights movement, focusing on voter registration and school integration. Through Save Our Schools, she worked to reduce racial tensions and keep children in public schools after the passage of Brown vs. Board of Education. She also volunteered her efforts for women's equality and pro-choice rights. She took on leadership positions through the National Council of Jewish Women and served as Chairwoman of the board of United Way before creating Success by 6, a precursor to the Head Start program. As director of the New Orleans Parks and Parkways Department, Schornstein marshaled 13,000 volunteers to transform vacant lots into gardens, maintain the city's green spaces, and raise funds for park projects. Her Parkway Partners' ReLeaf New Orleans project replaced trees on public property that were lost in Hurricane Katrina. In the wake of the hurricane, she was also active in rebuilding childcare centers in New Orleans, helping families get back to normal.
Florence grew up as an only child and lived in a loving home with extended family. Although her family was not wealthy, Florence had valuable educational opportunities. She attended Newcomb College, the women’s college of Tulane. Florence discusses her fifty-year marriage to Richard, a businessman. She also shares stories about her children and grandchildren. Florence is a proud grandmother, recently celebrating her granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. She discusses her relationship with Judaism and how she has become more religious. Florence recalls visiting Israel as a representative of the Council of Jewish Women. She was the first and only woman to Chair the Board of Governors of Touro Infirmary, where she was born. Florence also discusses the challenges of being Jewish in the South. Florence describes her role in the Civil Rights Movement, promoting equity and voter rights throughout the South. Whitney Young and Bobby Kennedy were important role models. She also talks about her involvement with Magic Land, a preschool for disadvantaged children of minorities, the United Way, the International Women’s Forum, and other nonprofit organizations. Finally, Florence reflects on her involvement in humanitarian causes and how it relates to her Judaism. She hopes young Jewish women can become active in their community as well.
How to cite this page
Oral History of Florence Schornstein. Interviewed by Abe Louise Young. 11 January 2005. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 5, 2023) <https://jwa.org/oralhistories/schornstein-florence>.
Oral History of Florence Schornstein 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.