Gratz Family Collection
Gratz Family Collection
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Gratz Family Collection

The Gratz family of Philadelphia began when Bernard Gratz (1738-1801) emigrated to America from Poland in 1754. Along with other merchants, he signed Non-Importation Agreements to boycott British goods during the Stamp Act and Townshend Act crises prior to the Revolution. The Gratz family wholeheartedly supported the American patriots, and supplied goods to the Continental Army. Bernard and his younger brother Michael helped found one of the first synagogues in America, which in 1773 evolved into Philadelphia's Congregation Mikveh Israel. After the War, the Gratzes became involved in a successful struggle for equal rights in Pennsylvania. Michael's son Hyman founded Gratz College, but it was his daughter who is the "jewel of the Gratz dynasty."

Rebecca Gratz achieved literary immortality when, after hearing of her charm, beauty and goodness, Sir Walter Scott introduced a Jewish female character into the work that was then in progress. He even named the heroine (of Ivanhoe) "Rebecca." While she never married, Rebecca made a home for her unmarried brothers, and reared the nine orphaned children of her sister Rachel Moses. In her twenty-first year, she became secretary for the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, and in 1815 Rebecca was a founder of the Philadelphia Orphan Society. But, perhaps her most significant accomplishment was the founding of the Hebrew Sunday School Society, the first of its kind in America, and the model for all Jewish education in America. When she died in 1869, at the age of 88, Rebecca Gratz was mourned as one of the foremost women in America. Rabbi David Philipson wrote in the introduction to the Letters of Rebecca Gratz: "All accounts agree in praise of this unusual woman. Beautiful in face ... noble of soul and pure of heart, she is not unworthy of having applied to her the exquisite words used of a rare woman by George Elliot, that 'were all virtue and religion dead, she'd make them newly, being what she was.'"

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