Posted by Jon Federman
In Part I of this story, we learned about Jacob and Lina Hecht and how Lina leveraged her social prominence to establish educational, health, and job-training programs for needy Jews in late 19th-century Boston. In Part II, we learn how Lina improved those lives even further through more charitable programs that taught self-sufficiency and served as a model for the work performed by JF&CS today.
Mrs. Lina Hecht worked with her husband throughout the 1870’s and 1880’s to professionalize the United Hebrew Benevolent Association (UHBA) to ensure uniform and evenly distributed services to the Jewish poor of Boston. In 1895, the UHBA merged with Mrs. Hecht’s Hebrew Ladies Sewing Circle, as well as the Free Employment Bureau, the Charitable Burial Association, and the Leopold Morse Home for the Aged and Infirm Hebrews and Orphanage, to form the Federation of Jewish Charities of Boston.1 Mrs. Hecht organized the fundraisers that made the merger financially possible and was one of only three women appointed to its founding board.2 Thirteen years later, in 1908, Mrs. Hecht became the first woman vice president of the Federated Jewish Charities.3 She was also the only female mentioned in Israelites in Boston, a publication of short biographies by Rabbi Solomon Schindler, published in 1889.4
By 1889, Mrs. Hecht had started a Jewish Sunday School for immigrant children, hoping to teach them both the basics of Judaism and the American way of life.5 Mrs. Hecht believed that the progress of the world “rests upon the breath of the school-children and that they in turn influence the parents.”6 Along with pioneering social activist Golde Bamber, she expanded the school in 1890 to become the Hebrew Industrial School for Girls (HIS), located in Boston’s North End.7 The school’s primary purpose was to educate young female immigrants in a trade (particularly sewing, tailoring, millinery, and cooking) so that they could provide for themselves in their new country.8 Mrs. Hecht even went as far as presenting the plan for her school to the Baronesses Rothschild and de Hirsch in Paris and successfully obtained their generous contributions to fund the school.9
Under Mrs. Hecht’s guidance, a partner school for boys was opened in 1892 in Boston’s West End. For four decades, the schools taught good citizenship, Jewish history and culture, and economic self-sufficiency to immigrant children and their families. In just the first five years, 1,200 children were taught to be self-respecting wage earners.10 Following her death in 1921, the schools merged into a new headquarters in the West End and were renamed the “Hecht Neighborhood House.”11 The name followed the relocation of the school and community center to Dorchester in 1936.12
Lina Hecht focused on issues that are still relevant to JF&CS today. She shifted the focus of charity from the simple distribution of money to the needy to a comprehensive, social work model. Realizing that immigrants, children, families, and the aged needed more than just a handout, Mrs. Hecht hoped to improve lives by making people self-sufficient – teaching women to sew and make clothing so that they could find jobs, pay rent, and have food on their tables. The motto for the school she founded was, “a good Israelite will make a better citizen.”
Lina Hecht was concerned about the individual and the family within the greater fabric of society. As described in Representative Women of New England, “she spreadeth out wide her open palm to the poor… strength and dignity are her clothing.”
Jon Federman is the JF&CS Staff Writer. A practicing attorney for more than 15 years, he is thrilled to bring his legal and persuasive writing skills to the JF&CS Marketing Communications department. Jon has a BA from Tufts University and a JD from Boston College Law School. In his spare time he is an exhibiting photographer and an award-winning cartoonist. Jon lived in London, England for five years before returning to Boston in 2011.
1. Susan Ebert, “Community and Philanthropy,” in The Jews of Boston, ed. Jonathan Sarna and Ellen Smith (Boston: Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, 1995), , 218-19.
2. Ellen Smith, “Lina Frank Hecht,” in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia (Jewish Women’s Archive, 1 March 2009).
6. Julia Ward Howe and Mary Hannah Groves, Ed’s., Representative Women of New England (Boston: New England Historical Publishing co., 1904), 334.
8. YMHA-Hecht House Guide; Ebert, 215.
9. Howe and Groves, 334.
10. Ebert, 215.
13. Ebert, 217.
14. Ward and Groves, 334.