Hannah Greenebaum Solomon

Founder of the Jewish Women's Congress and first president of the National Council of Jewish Women.

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Excerpted with permission from the Jewish Women's Archive (JWA). For more information on Hannah Greenebaum Solomon, go to JWA's Women of Valor online exhibit.

Hannah Greenebaum Solomon was born on January 14, 1858, the fourth of ten siblings. Hannah’s father, Michael Greenebaum, was part of the earliest group of Jews to settle in the frontier city of Chicago. The Greenebaum clan was large, prosperous and very close.

Childhood Influences

Hannah's parents set an example of strong civic involvement. Her mother organized Chicago's first Jewish Ladies Sewing Society, where they made clothes for the needy. Her father founded the Zion Literary Society, and was a volunteer fireman. Before the civil war, he famously battered down the door of a Chicago jail, demanding freedom for a fugitive slave captured that day.

Hannah was thirteen years old when the great Chicago fire of 1871 decimated the city. Though the Jewish community was particularly hard hit, the Greenebaum house was spared. While thousands were fleeing the fires, Hannah's parents crowded as many families as possible into their home.

The Greenebaums kept a kosher home, and observed the Sabbath. But Michael Greenebaum also helped found Chicago's first Reform synagogue, and advocated moving the Jewish Sabbath to Sunday because he strongly believed in "the importance of adapting religion to the needs and welfare of people."

Chicago Woman's Club

In 1876 Hannah and her older sister Henriette were elected to the elite Chicago Woman's Club. "Our entrance...was significant for the organization as well as for us, as we were not only the first Jewish women invited into it, but were probably the only Jewesses many of the members ever had met." Many of Solomon's ideas for the National Council of Jewish Women stemmed from her experiences with the Chicago Woman's Club. The club emphasized philanthropy and education, with a course of study that was often as demanding as a first year college curriculum..

Marriage & Motherhood

Solomon describes the two all-important strands in her life as her family and the National Council of Jewish Women. At the age of twenty-one she married businessman Henry Solomon, and the strand of family completely dominated her early years. She devoted herself to raising her three children-- Herbert, Helen, and Frank.

When Hannah, in her mid-thirties, began to organize the NCJW, she had the strong support of her husband and children. Even in her busiest years, however, family still came first for Hannah. Her autobiography contains more doting reminiscences of children's crayon portraits, her oldest son Herbert's chemistry experiments, and cooking her famous sweet and sour gefilte fish, than it does details of her career.

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