Courtesy of Library of Congress

Rebecca Gratz 1781-1869

Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to prosperous and observant Jewish parents, Rebecca Gratz devoted herself to philanthropy, particularly in the cause of disadvantaged Jewish women and children, notably orphans. At the age of 20, she helped to establish the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, Philadelphia's first nonsectarian women's charitable organization. In 1815, she helped to found the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum, and in 1819, founded the Female Hebrew Benevolent Association. Gratz's concern for Jewish education in a predominantly Christian society led her to establish the first Hebrew Sunday School in America and the Jewish Foster Home. A member of Philadelphia's elite society who regularly mingled with artists and authors but never married, Gratz was purportedly the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott's heroine of the same name in his novel, Ivanhoe (1820).