Sarah Lavanburg Straus: Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls
In 1887, when Oscar S. Straus (1850-1926) was minister to Constantinople, he and his wife Sarah Lavanburg Straus (1861-1945) became friendly with Baron Maurice de Hirsch and his wife Clara. The Baron, considered the fifth wealthiest man in Europe at the time, was a banker and philanthropist who devoted himself to benevolent causes. The Strauses were helpful to the Baron as he decided how to allocate his enormous fortune.
When Baron de Hirsch died suddenly in 1896, his wife continued his philanthropic work. Among her many charitable interests was her concern for the welfare of young immigrant working girls in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. She donated $200,000 to build a home for them, pledging additional funds to maintain it once the building was completed. In all she donated more than $600,000 to this project.
The Clara de Hirsch Home on East 63rd Street in New York was a model for similar trade schools throughout the country. It provided lodgings, vocational training and social activities to a largely unserved population. Their mission was to improve the girls’ mental, moral and physical condition while training them to be self-supporting.
Sarah Lavanburg Straus was the Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls’ first president and continued in that position until her death in 1945. Other Straus family members served on its board including Sarah’s husband Oscar, Oscar’s brother Isidor, their sister Sara Straus Hess, brother Nathan’s wife Lina -- and in later years, their children and grandchildren.
As society evolved, the needs of the population of immigrant working girls changed too. In 1960 the Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls merged with the 92nd Street Y where, today, there are no longer lodgings, but they still promote programs of all kinds for assimilating newly arrived individuals from around the world.
“Oscar Solomon Straus: Lawyer, author, Merchant, Philanthropist” Straus Historical society Newsletter Vol. 5 No. 1 (New York: February 2003); pp. 1-7.
Friedman, Reena Sigman. “Clara de Hirsch Home for Working Girls” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. (March 2009)
“Clara de Hirsch Home for Working girls opens” Jewish Women’s Archive.
Source: The Straus Historical Society