Hannah Greenebaum Solomon founded the National Council of Jewish Women in 1893, the oldest active Jewish women's volunteer organization in America. She was also active in philanthropy and the civic life of Chicago.
She was born on January 14, 1858, the fourth of ten children of Sarah and Michael Greenebaum. Her parents emigrated from Germany and her father soon became a very successful hardware merchant in Chicago. Hannah's parents were important figures in Chicago's growing Jewish community and belonged to the reformed temple. She went to their religious school where German and Hebrew were taught.
On May 14, 1879, she married Henry Solomon, a young merchant who shared her interest in classical music and the arts. They had three children Herbert, who died in 1899, Helen and Frank, who replaced his father as the head of the business when he died in 1913.
Hannah Solomon and her sister, Henriette Frank, were always active in many social clubs and organizations. They became the first Jewish members of the Chicago Women's Club. Henriette became its president in 1884 and the club became more involved in the problems of children and women.
In 1890, Hannah Solomon was asked to organize a national Jewish Women's Congress for the World Columbian Exposition Parliament of Religions to be held three years later. She managed to get together many Jewish leaders and their organizations for the first such assembly in America. This Congress made this assembly a permanent organization called the National Council of Jewish Women. Their goals were to teach all Jewish women their obligations to their religion and community.
Hannah Solomon was elected as the Council's first president and served until 1905 when she was made honorary president for life. During her tenure, local chapters sprung up throughout the country and they became active with the social issues confronting women. Solomon was active in many other organizations in the Chicago area. She and Susan B. Anthony represented the Council of Women of the United States at a convention of the International Council of Women in Berlin in 1904.
She was involved in helping the Russian-Jewish immigrants who were crowding into Chicago in the 1890s. With funds received from the Chicago section of the National Council of Jewish Women, she formed the Bureau of Personal Service, an organization designed to give guidance and legal advice to these new Jewish immigrants.
Her interests were wide when it came to working for the betterment of life for women. Solomon worked with the Illinois Industrial School for Girls in 1905 and had the school rehabilitated and moved to a more desirable area. In 1907, she became president of the school and instituted many positive changes. She was an active member of the Women's City Club and was responsible for many civic reforms. Solomon was involved in the founding of the Chicago Juvenile Court and was on the board of the Chicago Civic Federation. She was instrumental in helping to improve the laws and city ordinances affecting juvenile delinquents and the underprivileged.
Hannah Greenebaum Solomon died on December 7, 1942. Her legacy to the United States and Judaism was the establishment and the development of the National Council of Jewish Women, an outstanding Jewish women's volunteer organization.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress