Rebekah Kohut honored for fifty years of communal activism
U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, NYC Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, Henry Morgenthau, and 800 others honored Rebekah Kohut’s 50 years of communal work at a special dinner on November 21, 1935. Chaired by the novelist Fannie Hurst, the dinner assembled a wide array of political, cultural, and philanthropic notables who spoke of Kohut’s varied contributions, her role as “a great moral teacher,” and her pioneering efforts to apply scientific principles to charitable work.
Kohut was presented with a check for $10,000 from Felix M. Warburg as the first installment of a promised fund of $50,000 that she was to be given to distribute to her own favorite charities.
Kohut was a notable activist in the Jewish and secular communities in the areas of education, social welfare, and women’s organizational life. She came to the United States from Hungary as a child, growing up in Richmond, Virginia and San Francisco where her father served as a rabbi.
In 1887, while in her early 20s, Rebekah married the traditionalist New York rabbi Alexander Kohut, a widower with eight children, six under the age of 13. Rebekah devoted herself chiefly to these children and to her husband’s scholarly work until his death in 1894.
In succeeding years, Kohut devoted herself to the expanding world of Jewish women’s organizational life and the financial support of her family. She was the first president of the New York Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, gave public lectures on Jewish subjects, and opened a private school in cooperation with her stepchildren.
During World War I, she became involved in employment work, which led to her role as an advisor on unemployment to New York governor Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early 1930s. Her efforts to bring relief to devastated European Jewish communities after World War I led to her leading role in convening the World Congress of Jewish Women in Vienna in 1923 and being elected as the organization’s first president.
Sources: Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 749-751; New York Times, November 22, 1935.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Rebekah Kohut honored for fifty years of communal activism." (Viewed on December 1, 2020) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/nov/21/1935/rebekah-kohut>.