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Louise Waterman Wise

Louise Waterman Wise spent her career caring for Jewish refugees and lost souls of all kinds, from American orphans to Holocaust survivors. A graduate of the exclusive Comstock Finishing School, she rejected New York high society for social work, teaching art at settlement houses, and married Rabbi Stephen Wise in 1900 over the objections of her parents. During their six years in Portland, Oregon, she founded the Free Nurses’ Association, and after returning to New York, where Rabbi Wise established the Free Synagogue, she created the synagogue’s Child Adoption Agency in 1916, which placed thousands of Jewish orphans in Jewish homes. In the 1920s she translated French works on Judaism and Zionism into English, and many of her translations became Reform prayer book mainstays. In 1931 she began helping refugees through the women’s division of the American Jewish Congress, creating Congress House, where refugees found shelter and support. After America entered the war, Congress House became Defense House, caring for more than a quarter of a million Allied servicemen. For her efforts, she was offered the Order of the British Empire, which she refused. A lifelong Zionist, Wise supported Hadassah’s efforts to build nursing services in Palestine and witnessed the negotiations that led to the Balfour declaration.

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Louise Waterman Wise and Justine Wise
Full image
Louise Waterman Wise with her daughter, Justine Wise Polier.
Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society.
Date of Birth
July 17, 1874
Place of Birth
New York, New York
Date of Death
December 10, 1947

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Louise Waterman Wise." (Viewed on December 16, 2017) <https://jwa.org/people/wise-louise>.

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