(1855 - 1912)
Julia Richman was the first woman district superintendent
of schools in the City of New York. Her innovations,
leadership and curriculum brought an entire new dimension to public school
education at the beginning of the twentieth century.
She was born on October 12, 1855. in New York City, the third of
five children of Theresa and Moses Richman. Her father was a painter
and glazier and they lived in Huntington, Long, Island, New York, from
1861 to 1865. They then moved to New York City where Julia finished
her education. The idea of her becoming a teacher caused heated discussions in the family.
In those days, the idea of a Jewish girl going to
work was unthinkable. Despite the objections, Julia stood firm and
became a teacher in New York City.
At age seventeen, she began to teach in the Grammar Department
of one of the largest schools in New York. Her father coaxed her into
teaching part time at the temple Sabbath school. Richman was very
active in the Council of Jewish Women. She worked with them all her
life to improve the Sabbath school system. When she was twenty-nine,
she became the principal of the Girls' Department of Public School 77
and held it for nineteen years. She was the first Jewess and the first
Normal College graduate to acquire such a position.
Julia Richman was deeply interested in Jewish religious affairs. She
had come from a long line of rabbis in Prague, Czechoslovakia, that
dated back to the fifteenth century. She was the director of the Hebrew
Free School Association, first president of the Young Women's Hebrew Association (1896-98) and a member of the Jewish Chautauqua
Society's education council.
She frequently traveled abroad. In 1903, while traveling in Europe,
a vacancy occurred in the Board of Superintendents. She was
unanimously selected to fill the vacancy. When she returned from Europe,
Richman was given the choice of districts by the other four male
superintendents. Much to their surprise, she chose the Lower East Side
instead of an easy uptown district. She was now responsible for 23,000
students and 600 teachers.
She wrote books on curriculum and she started school optical programs,
special schools for delinquents, chronic absentees and above average pupils.
In 1906, she converted her house into a social center
for the Teachers of her district. Richman was actively involved in the
community by fighting prostitution around 1910. She also was very
active in aiding children and established many types of clubs for them
In 1912 she resigned her position so as to give a younger woman
an opportunity to take her place. She had plans for many projects and
activities during her retirement. She sailed to Europe and the day
before the steamer was to land in Cherbourg, France, she was taken ill.
Four days later complications set in and she died on June 24, 1912.
She was fifty-six years old when she died and forty years of her life
was dedicated to the education of children. In New York City, there
stands "The Julia Richman High School" as a tribute to her dedication.
The Talmud says: "It is not our knowledge that God requires; it is
our best that He requires." Julia Richman gave her best and she will
long be remembered.
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.