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Henrietta Szold Inducted Into National Women's Hall of Fame

Hadassah founder posthumously honored in Seneca Falls, home of women's rights movement
Genever McBain

HENRIETTA SZOLD INDUCTED INTO NATIONAL WOMEN'S HALL OF FAME
Hadassah founder posthumously honored in Seneca Falls, home of women's rights movement

(New York, NY - October 8, 2007) - Nearly 150 years after her birth and more than 60 years after her death, Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (NWHF), yesterday in Seneca Falls, NY, the birthplace of the American women's rights movement.

Five of the nine 2007 Hall of Fame inductees are historical figures, including Szold. Accepting this posthumous honor on her behalf was Nancy K. Falchuk, National President of Hadassah, which Szold founded in 1912. In the audience were three great nieces of Henrietta Szold.

In her acceptance remarks, Falchuk stated that Szold richly deserves to be honored by the National Women's Hall of Fame.

"She dedicated her life to fighting ignorance, injustice, anti-Semitism and disease. She never stopped fighting the fears and hatreds that divide people and nations. [She followed] pursuits that would transform people's lives for the better and help repair the world.

"As we approach Hadassah's centennial year, her legacy of commitment and caring and improving the world through practical deeds lives on in the work of the hundreds of thousands of Hadassah women today. Henrietta Szold-American patriot, leader, dreamer, and builder-is a true inspiration to us all."

Henrietta Szold, 1860-1945, was an educator, social pioneer, editor and visionary figure in modern American and Jewish history. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, at the outbreak of the Civil War, she was the oldest of eight daughters whose parents had only recently arrived in the United States from Hungary. Growing up in an immigrant community, she fast learned that education was empowerment and in 1889 opened a night school to teach new Americans English and civics. By the time the program was taken over by the City of Baltimore in 1898, it had more than 5,000 Jewish and non-Jewish graduates. With this project, Henrietta Szold not only "invented" the concept of night school in America, but she created a model for immigrant absorption in the U.S. A trailblazer, she soon went on to become the first full-time (and female) secretary of the Jewish Publications Society, the premiere publisher of Jewish liturgical and secular texts.

One of her gifts as an innovator that served her community throughout her lifetime was her special ability to develop replicable, working models that could be operationalized by others. In 1912, following a life-changing trip to pre-state Israel where she saw dire poverty and intractable disease, she founded Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. From the start, the organization served a dual purpose - as a path to self- and community- empowerment for American Jewish women and a provider of medical and social services to the people of Israel. A fervent Zionist, Szold moved to Israel in the mid-1930s and became the first director of Youth Aliyah, the operation that brought thousands of children from Europe to Israel on the eve of World War II. She died in her beloved Jerusalem during the waning days of the war.

Though her achievements were numerous and varied, perhaps her greatest legacy is Hadassah, which today numbers 300,000 women with members in every Congressional district in the U.S. Now in its 96th year, it has changed the way American Jewish women view themselves and their world, and has contributed greatly to building the medical and social infrastructure of Israel.

Also inducted to the National Women's Hall of Fame yesterday were master chef Julia Child (1912-2004), philanthropist Catherine Filene Shouse (1896-1994), end-of-life activist Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1926-2004), and suffragist Martha Coffin Wright (1806-1875). The other inductees represent an array of contemporary endeavors and include an engineer ( Dr. Eleanor K. Baum), a social reformer (Swanee Hunt), an environmental advocate (Winona LaDuke), and an astronomer (Dr. Judith Pipher).

With their induction, these nine women bring the total to 226 women inducted into the NWHF, the first national membership organization recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of great American women.

 

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