Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Rebecca Gratz Club

(This post was revised on March 7, 2011, to reflect more and more accurate information which I recently discovered.)

I have received so many queries about the Rebecca Gratz Club that I feel I should write a post on the subject. The problem is that although there are records pertaining to it at Temple University in Philadelphia, the Club is on the very periphery of my research. I do not have time to delve into the primary documents of which I am so fond.

I have looked through some secondary sources, which often contradict each other, and this is as much as I can say. Most people agree that in 1904 a group of Jewish women in Philadelphia founded a boarding house for immigrant Jewish girls working on their own in the city. Besides housing the organization provided "naturalization" services like English lessons to help the tenants adjust to America. Its location may have been on North 6th St. It may not have been called the Rebecca Gratz Club from the start, but somewhere along the way that was the name given. (Some sources use the term "Rebecca Gratz House," and I am not sure if this is a mistake or an earlier version of the name.)

In the 1920's, the Club moved to 532 Spruce St. where the words "Rebecca Gratz Club," carved into the arch over the courtyard gateway, are still visible. As immigration was being stifled by new legal restrictions in the 1920's, the Club began to accept single Jewish women born in America who were in the labor force or going to school in Philadelphia. At this time, there were many women's boarding houses in the city, most run by religious groups, to provide secure housing and to support the religious identity of their tenants. In the 1950's the popularity of women-only residences was waning, and the Rebecca Gratz Club took on a new role, as a nonsectarian half-way house for girls and women who had been under hospital care for emotional problems. In the years to come the organization would modify its services to meet new needs, offering residential care for troubled girls who could not live with their families and outpatient care for the girls' families and to teenagers in the community.

In 1976, the Club opened a treatment unit for severely disturbed adolescent girls and in 1978 it introduced a program which developed "foster care homes for adolescents who wanted to remain with their baby....By living in homes of foster parents" the girls could finish high school and learn the parenting and life skills needed to be self-sufficient.

The Club moved to Wynnewood in the early 1980's. In 1987, it merged with another organization and became known as SERV/Greater Philadelphia. In 1990 SERV became the mental health division of Tabor Children's Services, a private non-profit organization to support children and families. All that remains of the Rebecca Gratz Club is the building on Spruce with its carved name above the gate; it was sold to a developer sometime ago and has been turned into condominium.

I will editorialize here by saying that the women who founded the Club must have been themselves inspired by Rebecca Gratz's contributions to the common good, especially by her work helping Jewish women. By naming their endeavor the Rebecca Gratz Club they were announcing that they were carrying on her legacy and also using her name as an inspiration to their tenants for what a Jewish woman could achieve in America.

I am sorry this post is so meager. If anyone has more information, please leave a comment.

(The new information I have added is from Invisible Philadelphia: Community Through Voluntary Organizations, edited by Jean Barth Toll and Mildred S. Gillam. The entry for the Rebecca Gratz Club, which deals mostly with its modern incarnation as a mental health facility, is by the Executive Director during the 1980's and 90's and is much more reliable than any other secondary source I have discovered.)


  1. As tears are running down my face, I lived at The Rebecca Gratz Club in the 60's, and I have been planning to tell my story in a book about my journey.It changed my life forever, and it was at my Rabbi's suggestion I go there.Sadly it was not an appropriate fit, or reason to be there. Shalom J

  2. I went to Rebecca Gratz in the 70's and I still keep in touch with 3 of the girls that used to be in my class there, we often talk about getting togather to find others that went there the time we all were there.Rebecca Gratz has really changed our lives for the better, and we all agree that it was the best place for us young women to learn and grow. So, on the behalf of us all, we'ed like to say to the staff of Rebecca Gratz of the 70's.. Antonia. R

  3. My grandparents were cook and maintenance man at The Single Jewish Woman's Boarding House in 1912 or 1913 located at that time at 719 North 6th St. in Philadelphia. Could this have been the original Rebecca Gratz Club? I'd certainly appreciate knowing where I could get more information about this establishment. Would Temple University have records open to the public regarding this?

  4. I think that the Boarding House was almost certainly the forerunner of the Rebecca Gratz Club. There are supposed to be documents about the organization at the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center at Temple. Good luck with your research.
    I would be interested in hearing about anything you can discover.

  5. My grandmother often talked fondly about her stay, when she was 16 or 17, at the Rebecca Gratz Club. That would have been in 1926/1927. She left home because of an abusive father. She met my grandfather there. He would come and visit and play their piano. She also met my "Aunt" Minnie there. They were friends for life. They were all U.S.-born Jews.

  6. Thank you so much for your comment. I think Rebecca Gratz would have been very proud that the organization she inspired provided a safe place for young women. It was said by one of her great-nieces that when Rebecca was running her Sunday School she looked very benevolently upon the young men who appeared at the end of classes to walk the young women teachers home. I think it would have pleased her that the Rebecca Gratz Club also fostered romance.

  7. I stayed at Rebecca Gratz Club and the neighboring Emma Loeb House in 1971-1972. Does anyone know how to get records for that time period?

  8. I'd like to reply to "J" from the first post. It sounds like you and I had similar experiences. I'd like to read your book. Please let me know the title and where I can buy it.

  9. My mother lived there in the early to mid-1940's because both of her parents were schizophrenic. She knew the mother of PA state senator Allyson Schwartz. Both women dated their future husbands during that time. Some of the residents were small town girls who stayed at the Gratz Club while studying nursing at the Pennsylvania Hospital. My mother told me one young woman committed suicide in her room. I imagine it could be quite lonely for a shy person living on her own in a big city.

  10. My mother, a Jewish woman born in 1935, spent a year there after between graduating from high school and marrying a year later. I forgot about this until an African-American woman in her late 50's mentioned to me that she spent the last years of being a foster child at the Rebecca Gratz House. She told me they taught her to cook and gave her her first job. She asked me to invite her to my Seder, having fond memories of the Seders she attended at that time.

  11. Sounds like Rebecca Gratz had a massive effect on so many people!

  12. My mother, Rachel Lorber, arrived in the United States at age 16, in the year 1949. She stayed with the Brand family in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, and attended high school there, from 1949-1951. Her cousin, Molly Brand, was an English or History teacher at the same high school. In 1954, she became a U.S. citizen. She had many jobs like Walgreens, Cleaners, Nanny, Maid and a bus girl, at the restaurant inside Gimble's Department store. She also worked at Goldsmith Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sewing labels on men's coats. Then she was transferred to the office. For 4 years, she worked at Philadelphia National Bank, as a bookkeeper. In 1955, she went back to France. At the time, her address was listed as the REBECCA GRATZ CLUB in Philadephia, 532 SPRUCE STREET, After that, she moved to New York City, and lived at the Young Women's Hebrew Association (similar to the YMCA and YWCA). Does anyone happen to remember her? It would have been between 1950 & 1960. Thank you for any help.

  13. My wife worked as a cook at the facility in the late 70s, when it was known as a "home for wayward girls." Not a politically correct name anymore but that's what it was called. Most of the girls were referred there by the courts as an alternative to jail time. My wife -- who did not have much interaction with the girls -- remembers them as generally unhappy, even surly. My wife continued to work there when the operation moved. By the way, the post says it moved to Wynnewood. That's not correct. It moved to Wynnefield, a stone's throw from the old Adams Mark hotel off City Line Ave. (now torn down).

  14. Even though it has been turned from rooms to apartments, the structure of the building is visible. I'd love to know what kind of room overlooked the fountain in the garden facing 6th St. - was it a sunroom or offices? Was the big room by the entrance, overlooking Spruce, a dining room? Who had the balcony over the entrance - did staff live there to supervise the front door? Where was the kitchen? If anyone sees a floor plan, it would be fun to have.

    1. I wish I could help you, but I have no information about the interior. Records of the Rebecca Gratz Club are held by Temple University in their Philadelphia Jewish Archives collection. Perhaps there is something there, but as my focus is on Rebecca Gratz herself, rather than the Club, I have not yet looked through this material. Do you live at the RGC? I would love to see the interior as it is now if you could give me a tour.


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